I just finished the book “Unbroken.” Unbelievable. After reading the story, which was partly about the horrific war crimes committed by the soldiers of the Japanese Empire during WWII, I was interested in looking into America’s role in prosecuting war criminals after the surrender of the Axis Powers.
The most notable acts of justice transpired at the Nuremberg Trials in Germany. These trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II. Basically, Nuremberg was the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the Third German Reich.
The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Germany. The first of these trials would surround major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). Held between November 20, 1945 and October 1, 1946, the Tribunal was given the task of trying 23 of the most important leaders of the Third Reich.
One of the most notorious defendants, Martin Bormann, was tried without him even being present in court while another, Robert Ley, committed suicide within a week of the trial’s commencement. Not included in the trials were Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, all of whom had committed suicide several months before lengthy indictments were handed down.
While all of the Allies commissioned prosecutors who would conduct these trials, the United States had a major role in the conviction and execution of some of worst criminals in the history of this world.
In 1945, President Truman appointed United States Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who took a leave of absence from the Court, to serve as U.S. chief of counsel for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. He helped draft the charter which gave the legal basis for the Nuremberg Trials and served in Nuremberg as the United States chief prosecutor at the international trial.
Many people, including myself, also revere Justice Jackson as one of the best writers in history, and one of the most committed justices to due process protections from overreaching federal agencies.
But, Justice Jackson would have to put his duties at the Supreme Court on hold. He pursued his prosecutorial role with a great deal of vigor and strength. For example, he would refer to Reich Chancellor Hermann G�ring (who also committed suicide) as being “half militarist, half gangster.” That may have been one his milder statements Jackson made about these enemies of humanity.
Jackson’s opening and closing arguments before the Nuremberg court are widely considered among the best speeches of the 20th century.
Albert Speer, Adolph Hitler’s Chief Architect and a defendant at Nuremberg, was quoted as saying this about Justice Jackson:
“The trial began with the grand, devastating opening address by the chief American prosecutor, Justice Robert H. Jackson. But I took comfort from one sentence in it which accused the defendants of guilt for the regime’s crimes, but not the German people.”
While Jackson was at times perhaps overzealous, (he was rebuked by the Tribunal for losing his temper repeatedly during the proceedings) I can understand how passion and the desire to seek the truth can often overwhelm a man.
Robert Jackson was not a soldier and is not the most well-known figure in American history. However, his strong devotion to seeking justice at Nuremberg ensured that the world would witness swift and harsh justice for those who caused the deaths of millions of people before and during WWII.
He is a man who deserves to be remembered and honored in American history.