Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I have written about the classic film Judgment at Nuremberg many times. I am doing it again because I have been doing a lot of reading about some of the other war crimes trials conducted in post-World War II Germany, and I have been following the abject racism and white nationalism being espoused at the 2020 Republican National Convention, which might was we’ll be called the Trump Party Coronation Celebration, rather than anything that ever related to a political convention staged by any political party in American History.
In fact the GOP has subordinated itself to Trump so much that they did not even bother to publish a party platform, other than pledge their undying and absolute loyalty to the policies and actions of Trump; which change from minute to minute because of his emotional immaturity, need for control and approval, even the approval of bonafide dictators like Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi, North Korea’s Kim, and Turkey’s Erdogan. The list of dictators he admires could go on and on, but I will leave it with them, because honestly such pathetic people bore me, as does Trump. Like them, Trump will lie underneath the dung heap of history whether he wins this election or not, because there is nothing redeeming in his life, character, or actions.
Today I am following my writings about Trump and the 2020 Trump Coronation with another post regarding two of the most riveting monologues in film history, from the great drama, Judgement at Nuremberg, which is unique not simply because it dealt with the trial of the Nazi Judges, but because it took direct aim at the actions of Senator Joe McCarthy, and others who spread fear and terrorized the nation in the name of Blind patriotism and toxic nationalism. That makes it doubly interesting, but to twist the pretzel a bit further, McCarthy’s chief counsel and advisor was Roy Cohn, the future advisor and mentor to President Trump. There can be no greater connection of evil in American Politics, and it sounds like the perfect double play of evil, McCarthy to Cohn to Trump.
McCarthy and Roy Cohn and Trump and Cohn Below
McCarthy was directly responsible for the deaths of many and his shameless campaign to destroy the lives and reputations of thousands of loyal and decent Americans of all walks of life. This included men General and Secretary of State George Marshall, who not only helped lead the Allies to victory in the Second World War, but helped engineer the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan to bring Western Europe out of the abyss of war and Naziism.
Sadly, when McCarthy launched his attack on Marshall, Marshall’s friend and colleague of many years, Dwight Eisenhower did not speak up for him for fear of losing Wisconsin in the 1952 election. He won the state handily not needing the support of McCarthy. However, Eisenhower, instead of making a frontal attack to condemn McCarthy decided to let McCarthy burn himself out. In the following year and a half McCarthy ruined more lives and had the highest approval rating of any politician, in the land, has except Eisenhower. Then, riding high in the polls McCarthy went after the Army, accusing its leaders of being Communists or supporting Communism. However, the counsel for the Army, Joseph Welch went on the attack and destroyed McCarthy and his campaign of lies and smears. His classic reply to McCarthy and Cohn was devastating, interrupting Cohen’s diatribe Welch exclaimed “Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” It was a pivotal moment. Afterward, McCarthy’s polls crashed, the hearing were ended, Cohn resigned as McCarthy’s Counsel and McCarthy was censured by the Senate. He never recovered his previous prominence. He died at the age of 48 of hepatitis. That being said a significant part of the American political Right Wing still admires McCarthy just as they do Trump. The reason as Welch asked McCarthy and Cohn I ask any defender of Trump: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last have you no sense of decency?” Of course that is a rhetorical question, because anyone who would defend Trump today has surrendered all decency.
So on to Judgment at Nuremberg…
In this segment of the film, which is a fictionalized version of the Judges Trial, Burt Lancaster plays an accused German Judge and Spencer Tracy plays the role of Chief Judge Dan Heywood who gives his verdict is one of the most telling sequences in cinema regarding what it means to be an American. I used to show it in the first session of my military ethics class at the Staff College and since the majority of my students had never seen the film, it usually left them in silence. So tonight I am just going to leave it with you to watch, read, and contemplate. Ask yourself, who are we, and what do we stand for?
This is especially true when the President, politicians of the majority party in the legislature, pundits, and politically minded preachers make no bones that they have every intent of persecuting those who are of certain races, religions, or political beliefs that they abhor, often using the most scurrilous charges, and outright lies in order to demonize them, dehumanize them, and open the door for normal, decent, and even brilliant people to justify government sponsored cruelty and injustice that defies the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution itself.
Please, watch the videos and read the text. Ponder them your heart, because they speak to something that is not a historical aberration, not just a dramatic film, but something that affects the human condition and is present right here and right now in our own country.
First we deal with Lancaster and his portrayal of Ernst Janning, who in any other time would have been and remained a respected jurist with an international following. At the end of the trial he interrupted his defense attorney played by Maximilian Schell to say:
“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.
I had reached my verdict on the Feldenstein case before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty, whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual in which Feldenstein, the Jew, was the helpless victim.
Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must interrupt. The defendant is not aware of what he’s saying. He’s not aware of the implications!
Janning: I am aware. I am aware! My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps. Not aware. Where were we? Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in Reichstag? Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau?! Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried off to their extermination?! Where were we when they cried out in the night to us. Were we deaf? Dumb?! Blind?!!
Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must protest!
Janning: My counsel says we were not aware of the extermination of the millions. He would give you the excuse: We were only aware of the extermination of the hundreds. Does that make us any the less guilty? Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.
Emil Hahn: Traitor! Traitor!
Judge Haywood: Order! Order! Order! Put that man [Hahn] back in his seat and keep him there.
Janning: I am going to tell them the truth. I am going to tell them the truth if the whole world conspires against it. I am going to tell them the truth about their Ministry of Justice. Werner Lammpe, an old man who cries into his Bible now, an old man who profited by the property expropriation of every man he sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich Hofstetter, the “good German” who knew how to take orders, who sent men before him to be sterilized like so many digits. Emil Hahn, the decayed, corrupt bigot, obsessed by the evil within himself. And Ernst Janning, worse than any of them because he knew what they were, and he went along with them.
Ernst Janning, who made his life excrement, because he walked with them.
The next is the summation of the trial by Judge Haywood.
“The trial conducted before this Tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than ten thousand pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded.
Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.
Herr Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this. The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the Tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions, men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men, men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees, the purpose of which was the extermination of humans beings, men who in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws — illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.
Herr Rolfe further asserts that the defendant, Janning, was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of this country. There is truth in this also. Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.
There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.
Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!
Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”
Think about it. I hope in the age of the faux patriotism and blind racist nationalism of the Trump Regime that it makes you uncomfortable as hell if you follow him unequivocally, or turn a blind eye to his crimes.
Have a nice night.