Considerations of Nuremburg

I was considering writing an article on Ukraine, but truth is that I felt like a broken record. I could go in on how Russia have had military stationed in Crimea for over a century (they lease an army base there, and have done so since the empire still existed), or how NATO-backed governments generally have a brutal and extremely undemocratic track record when it comes to independence referendums (in Catalonia they sent in the goon squads who cracked people’s heads open at the actual polling booths, just as they did in Italy in 1948, and in Greece during the 1970s reign of the colonels).

I could go on about the Minsk agreement, which guarantees autonomy in Donbass and gives the republics of Lugansk and Donetsk every right in the world to ask Russia for backup in the event of a war. Ukraine signed this treaty, and spent 8 years breaking it in a brutal ethnic cleansing which took some 40,000 lives.

I could even talk a bit about Ukrainian history, about how the current government in Ukraine is extremely unpopular, about how it was the product of election rigging, gangster intimidation, CIA funding and even atrocities against the Ukrainian people such as the Maidan massacre.

How they tear down monuments to victims of the holocaust, or how within walking distance from the memorial for the 50,000 Jews who died at Babi Yar, there’s also a street commemorating the Nazi commander who oversaw the massacre.

I guess that’s what yankee liberals mean when they say they want to bring plurality to eastern bloc nations…

I could talk about how this has already happened both in Georgia and in Syria during recent years, how the US government plays both sides of a conflict with false promises of aid and military support only to pull out when the first shot is fired, thereby pitting a nation in a drawn out and brutal civil war.

I could… but what’s the point? Didn’t work with Afghanistan, didn’t work with Iraq, didn’t work with Libya or Syria or Yemen or Yugoslavia. People just point their fingers at the mean dictator man in the Washington Post or whatever, and say “OH SO YOU LIKE THAT GUY AND WANT HIM TO BE IN CHARGE?”

Simply put, people live in a world of facts, and the facts say that Saddam had nukes, that Osama was still in Afghanistan, that Ho Chi Minh was responsible for the Gulf of Tonkin, that Putin wants to rule the world, that Turkmenistan is the site of 6 million people in concentration camps, and that Russia attacked Ukraine for no reason other than that Putin likes to attack stuff.

And why? Because those are the facts. The man on the telly said they’re facts, so they must be.

That’s why, instead, I’d like to engage with the epistemology of facts, and talk about military ethics in general rather than waste my time trying to convince racists and jingoists that the mountains of evidence which contradict the facts might be worth examining. They never examine it, and they never remember it. Every time a war breaks out, the slate is clean, and all notions of credibility, history and not to mention basic critical thinking gets thrown out the window.

Because western liberals live according to a very bloodthirsty philosophy. They have to. Their societies were built by slavery and piracy. So that means that a nation and her people are always guilty until proven innocent, and that the axe must fall as soon as possible. US oil executives are making billions as of writing this thanks to how Russia’s natural gas and oil are cut off from the world, and America gets to enjoy a monopoly market whose naval trading routes are carefully controlled by NATO warships and air force.

And I think the place to start is therefore at the Nuremburg trials. Because what made them so significant was that for the first time ever, a government was actually held accountable for a terrible crime. The precedent of the Nuremburg trial is a significant milestone in the course of human civilisation.

Sadly though, the Nuremburg trial has been quite mythologised.

The reason why it has been subject to mythology is of course to make it irrelevant to the acts of mere mortals. By turning the Nuremburg trials and the Nazis into these legendary and mythical figures who exist beyond any and all parallels to other war crimes and atrocities, it means that contemporary violence is redeemed since no one could possibly do what Hitler did.

And the first problem there is of course that Hitler was never on trial. The people who were on trial were Hitler’s functionaries, and not just high ranking functionaries either. The Nuremburg defense is famously “I was just following orders.” According to the mythology of the Nuremburg trials, the defense would’ve been more like “I was just issuing orders.”

And moreover there’s this misguided notion that the holocaust had something to do with Nuremburg, but that’s another falsehood. The Holocaust was the product of hindsight, to the functionaries and soldiers in Nazi Germany there was no such thing as the holocaust, that word did not exist yet. All that existed from their perspective was a series of contradictions.

The law and military edicts demanded something which contradicted ethics and morality. Even to the Nazis this was evident, because they actually put a lot of emphasis on honour in their military conduct.

So where is the honour is slaughtering civilians? Or torturing people? According to POW statements after the war gathered by the US Military, the Nazis were very aware of these contradictions, and even during the war they would rationalise it as a necessary evil according to later interviews with organisations such as Yad Vashem.

So the Nuremburg very much loses all its meaning when people say “You can’t compare that to the holocaust!”

You don’t have to. The holocaust wasn’t on trial. Individual people within the military, government administration and law enforcement were on trial, and you can absolutely compare them to anyone else in such a position of authority.

The only defining role the government had was the fact that it was held accountable, that’s it. Beyond this, the government was irrelevant since the Nuremburg defense did not hold up. If “I was just following orders” was accepted as a legitimate defense, then the government would be relevant.

But since it wasn’t, that means the Nuremburg trials were about individual people and how they acted when they were confronted by contradictions.

As such it doesn’t matter what country you’re from, or which government you work for, the Nuremburg precedent has just as much pertinence to you as it does anyone else. If your uniform cannot condemn you, then in equal measure, it cannot absolve you.

So simply put: Your government does not need to be comparable to that of the Nazi government. Rather, you simply need to be comparable to an individual Nazi functionary.

So when, for instance, Albert Camus talks about how the Gestapo in Vichy France would assault people in custody, then that’s very comparable to a contemporary policeman who does the same thing, no matter how much they try to pretend otherwise.

And the reason why is simple: The holocaust wasn’t just some deliberate effort done by a unilateral series of hand wringing villains. Obviously the upper echelons of Nazi command wanted it, but from the perspective of the grunts and the rank and file, it was the product of seemingly detached individual actions.

And when those actions all coincided with one another, then we get the holocaust.

So if you are a police officer, and you get a bad order, and you then carry it out, then you’ve done your part, you’ve produced what was the compounding effect that we refer to as the holocaust.

So that’s an argument of outcome. But when you kill or hurt an innocent civilian in an immoral way, then you’re doing what a Nazi did. When this action is repeated several million times, then you’re doing what the Nazis did.

So the point of the Nuremburg trials is that sure, maybe you can’t be compared to the Nazis, but you can be compared to a Nazi.

So that really changes the implications of the Nuremburg trials to me, because that actually makes them useful to ordinary citizens as a way to maintain their democracy and hold people in authority accountable.

The same of course applies to military and not to mention politicians.

As such, we suddenly see a lot of cases which may be examined through such a precedent.

Another dangerous method of propaganda is the cult of the contemporary. Umberto Eco talks about the cult of tradition, but from the looks of things, it is the opposite that is used to justify the most brutal crimes of governments.

Apparently governments exist in this timeless ether, wherein the past and the present are completely disconnected. This can be summed up as “That was then. Why bring up the past?”

Of course in a world wherein law is the basis of precedent, it’s difficult not to bring up the past. The characteristics of crime and punishment is developed through a carefully recorded history. When an ordinary citizens commits a crime, then such a crime is entirely defined by the past and its many precepts. But when a government commits a crime, the cult of the contemporary maintains that there is a 15 second statute of limitations.

And that is a convenient thing, seeing as how the government has the ability to cover up and postpone the consequences, outcome and even dissemination of information. More often than not, the crimes of government are exposed by historians as opposed to journalists. And a law without precedent is a law of immunity, wherein no one can establish a concrete and functional way in which to examine matters of justice. By proclaiming that the past should stay in the past, we also vindicate the present.

And the reason why is simple physics, because the present will always become the past, and since governments do not experience time in the same was as mortal humans do, this means that the past and the present are very abstract things.

And like all cults, the cult of the contemporary have their doctrine, and that doctrine is simply put what we call news media. Since news is always suspended in the present, it trains its adherents to have no conception of the past. To compartmentalise historical record with contemporary record, and divide the two into categories of mundanity and mythology.

Wherein the mythology is contextualised by a kind of Hegelian romanticism, and the mundanity is decontextualised as mere information. This decontextualisation is what propagandists call objectivity, and it demands that the reader becomes detached and indifferent towards the subject at hand.

That is why, for instance, when a black man is brutally beaten and mutilated in the 1960s, he becomes romanticised and mythologised, he is part of “the civil rights era”, a time of martyrdom and innocence, he becomes archetypical to such an era, and the violence done unto him is thereby permitted to be seen as violence.

But when the same thing happens in the contemporary vacuum, when a black man is beaten and mutilated in the same way, except in a news broadcast as opposed to a history book, then we must suspend with such sentimentality and become detached, we must somehow recognise that all lives matter.

Never mind the fact that one life has tears in his eyes, is covered in blood, and is pleading for help, and the other life is clad top to bottom in Kevlar and brandishing a bloodstained nightstick. To concede that this situation may warrant priorities is to “become political” and to “not be impartial.”

But my question is, why is the police not held to this standard? If they were impartial, then no one would be brutally beaten in the first place. Apparently they can be as political and as partial as they want to be, it’s just the public which may hold them accountable that are asked to maintain careful discipline in the face of violence and brutality.

And that is precisely what we witness with Ukraine as well. As the cult of the contemporary now proclaims that the Nazis of the past are different from the Nazis of the present. That when a Nazi of the past is lynching and killing gypsies, this is a crime. But when a Nazi of the present does the same thing, then we must remain objective.

Truth of the matter is that objectivity has always been defined by the guys who own the most newspapers, and unless you’re Rupert Murdoch, then you’re not going to get much benefit from being objective.

There is no inherent natural balance to military and police, that’s why such institutions are capable of upholding a state mechanism. To say that all lives matter is to lie, because there is stark evidence that this is not the case.

Whether that is gypsies in Ukraine, or black people in Detroit, when some people face violence, we’re told to step back and be objective, to let it play out and to not interfere. All lives matter is a very revealing philosophy in this sense, and is far from a new idea in conflict theory.

Rather, it is a politically correct notion of the friend-enemy distinction of political conflict, wherein an enemy is not a person you wish to kill so much as it is a person that you are willing to let die. As it stands, many progressives and conservatives alike have a long list of enemies.

And that is precisely the greatest lesson of the Nuremburg defense, because to say that you were just following orders is to retreat into objectivity. “When I pulled the trigger, I did not kill someone, I simply let them die. It was my commander who killed them.”

As such, my proposal to you, the reader, is to escape the prison of contemporary thinking and objectivity, and to examine history, precept and the many lessons we can learn from this.

To examine and understand the world in such a manner is to develop a far more radical sentimentality, and to become part of the minority of people who find themselves on the right side of history.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store