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The True Foundations of the Nuremberg Tribunal

2,409 words

Dresden_angel [1]Translated by George F. Held

Editor’s Note:

The following excerpt from Maurice Bardèche’s Nuremberg ou la Terre promise (Nuremberg or The Promised Land) (Paris: Les Sept Couleurs, 1948) argues that the true motive of the Nuremberg Tribunal was to provide retroactive justification for massive Allied atrocities against Germany and its allies. The title is editorial.

Let us note initially, as a starting point, that this legal action against Germany, or more exactly against National Socialism, has a solid basis, a basis much more solid than one generally believes. Only, it is not the one proclaimed. And things, in truth, are much more dramatic than they are said to be: the basis for the charge, the motive behind the charge, is actually much more distressing for the victors.

Public opinion and the prosecutors for the victorious powers affirm that they have set themselves up as judges because they represent civilization. That is the official explanation. But that is also the official sophism, for that is to take as a first principle and a certainty what is precisely under discussion. It is at the end of an open trial between Germany and the Allies that one would be able to say which camp represented civilization. It is not at the beginning that one can say that, and above all it is not one of the parties on trial who can say it. The United States, England, and the U.S.S.R. brought in their most erudite lawyers to support this childish argument. For four years our radios have repeated: “you are barbarians, you were overcome, and therefore you are barbarians.” For it is clear that Mr. Shawcross, Mr. Jackson, and Mr. Rudenko speak no differently at their desks at Nuremberg when they proclaim the unanimous indignation of the civilized world, the indignation that their own propaganda caused, supported, guided, and which can be directed by them at will, like a swarm of locusts, against any form of political life which may displease them. However, let us make no mistake about it, this prefabricated indignation has long been and, all in all, still is the principal basis for the charge against the German regime. It is the indignation of the civilized world which requires the trial, it is that too which supports its conduct, it is in the end everything: the judges at Nuremberg are only the secretaries, the scribes of this unanimity. One puts on us by force some red glasses and then invites us to declare that things are red. Now there is a program with a future for which we have not finished counting the philosophical merits!

But the truth is very different. The true basis for the Nuremberg Trial, the one which no one has ever dared to point out, is, I suspect, not fear: it is the spectacle of the ruins, it is the panic of the victors. It is necessary that the others be in the wrong. It is necessary, for if, by chance, they had not been monsters, how would the victors bear the weight of all those destroyed cities, and those thousands of phosphorus bombs? It is the horror, it is the despair of the victors which is the true motive for the trial. They have veiled their faces before what they were forced to do and, to give themselves courage, they transformed their massacres into a crusade. They invented a posteriori a right to massacre in the name of respect for humanity. Being killers, they promoted themselves to policemen. After a certain number of deaths, we know that any war becomes obligatorily a war of the Right (Droit).[1] The victory is thus complete only if, after having taken over the citadel by force, one also takes over the consciences by force. From this point of view, the Nuremberg Trial is an apparatus of modern war which deserves to be described like a bomber.

We had already tried to do the same thing in 1918, but then, the war having been only a costly military operation, one had been satisfied with palming off on the Germans the aggression card. Nobody wanted to be responsible for so many deaths. We made the vanquished do this by obliging their negotiators to sign a statement that their country had been responsible for the war. This time around, the war having become on both sides a massacre of innocents, it was not enough to obtain that the vanquished recognize themselves as the aggressors. To excuse the crimes committed in conducting the war, it was absolutely necessary to discover some even more serious ones on the other side. It was absolutely necessary that the English and American bombers seem the sword of the Lord. The Allies did not have a choice. If they did not solemnly affirm, if they did not prove by any means whatever that they had been the saviors of humanity, they were nothing more than murderers. If, one day, men ceased believing in the German monstrosity, would they not demand an accounting for the devastated cities?

There is thus an obvious interest on the part of British and American propaganda and, to a lesser degree, of Soviet propaganda, to support the thesis of German crimes. This will become even more obvious if one keeps in mind that, in spite of its publicity value, this thesis obtained its definitive form only rather late.

In the beginning, nobody believed it. Radio broadcasts endeavored to justify entry into the war. Public opinion indeed feared a German hegemony, but it did not believe in a German monstrosity. During the first months of the occupation the officers said: “They are not going to hit us again with that stuff about German atrocities.” The bombardments of Coventry and London, the first air raids on civilian populations, spoiled this bit of wisdom. And so too, a little later, the submarine war. Then the occupation, hostages, and reprisals. And then with the help of radio broadcasts public opinion managed to reach the first degree of intoxication. The Germans were monsters because they were unfair adversaries and because they believed only in the law of the strongest. Opposite them: the correct nations which were always beaten because they conducted themselves in everything with honesty. But people did not really believe that the Germans were monsters; they saw in all this only the same themes of propaganda which had circulated at the time of the Kaiser and Big Bertha.[2]

The occupation of the territories in the East and, at the same time, the fight undertaken in all Europe against terrorism and sabotage provided other arguments. The Germans were monsters because they were everywhere followed by their killers; the myth of the Gestapo was put on its pedestal: in all Europe, the German armies installed the reign of terror, the nights were haunted by the sounds of boots, the prisons were full, and at each dawn shots rang out. The purpose of this war became clear: millions of men, from one end of the continent to the other, fought for the liberation of the new slaves; bombers were given the name “Liberator.” This was the time when America entered the war. People did not yet believe that the Germans were monsters, but they did already view the war as a crusade for freedom. That was the second stage of intoxication.

But these images did not yet correspond to the voltage of our current propaganda. The retreat of the German armies in the East finally made it possible to give the word. It was the moment that they were waiting for: for the German reflux left wrecks. There was talk of war crimes, and a declaration on October 30, 1943 permitted the public, to everyone’s general satisfaction, to learn of these crimes and to foresee their punishment. This time, the Germans were certainly monsters, they cut off the hands of little children, just as had always been said. It was no longer just force, it was cruelty. From this moment, the civilized world had rights (droits) against them: for in the end there are some delicate consciences who do not admit that one should punish treachery by air raids or that one should regard an authoritative regime as a crime against common law (droit), whereas everyone is ready to punish executioners of children and to place them outside the laws (droits) of war. They were caught in the act red-handed. This idea was diffused and exploited. People started to think that the Germans could very well be monsters, and so they reached the third stage of intoxication, which consists of forgetting what was being done each night in the air-raids by thinking angrily about what was happening each day in the prisons.

This was the military situation which they had desired since the start, in order to be able to manipulate people’s minds. And for this same reason this situation needed to be maintained. It became all the more necessary when, shortly after this date, in December 1943, the methods of bombardment changed: instead of having military targets, the Allied aviators received the order to adopt the tactic of carpet bombing which destroyed whole cities. These apocalyptic destructions required, obviously, a corresponding monstrosity. One felt so strongly the need for this that they set up, as of this date, a powerful organization for the detection of German crimes, whose mission it was to move in on the heels of the first waves of the occupation, just as the formations of police followed the advance of the armored troops into Russia. This analogy is suggestive: the Germans ethnically cleansed, the Americans accused, each went about their business with great urgency. The Allies’ investigations, as one knows, were crowned with success. They had the good fortune in January 1945 to discover the concentration camps of which no one had heard until then, and which became precisely the proof that one needed, an obvious offence in a pure form, the crime against humanity which justified all. They were photographed, they were filmed, they appeared in many publications, they were made known by a gigantic publicity campaign, like a brand of pen. The moral war was won. The German monstrosity was proven to be a fact by these invaluable documents. The people who had invented the camps did not have the right to complain about anything. And the silence was such, the curtain had been so abruptly, so skilfully pulled away, that not a voice dared to say that all this was too good to be perfectly true.

It was thus that German culpability was affirmed at different times by different reasons; and it should be noted that this culpability increased as the bombardments of civilians multiplied. This synchronism is in itself rather suspect, and it is all too clear that we should not approve without scrutiny the charges of governments which have so obvious a need for a currency of exchange.

It is perhaps useful to point out that in technical terms the trial was an admirable production. After having presented our most sincere compliments to the technicians, Jewish for the most part, who orchestrated this program, we would like to be able to see clearly and to find our way around in this pièce à tiroirs,[3] where the accusations arrive just in the nick of time like dramatic reversals in a melodrama. Thus it is to this task that we will stick. And, of course, this small book can only be a first stone. It will contain more questions than assertions, more analyses than documents. But is that not at least something: to put a little order in a matter which they have willfully presented in a confused manner? They have done their work so well that today no one dares any more to call things by their proper names. Everything altogether is called monstrous: the acts, the men, the ideas. People’s minds now are stupefied, they are benumbed, inert, they grope about in a wadding of lies. And sometimes, when they meet truths, they back away with horror, for these truths are proscribed. The first object of our concern will thus be a kind of restoration of the evidence. But this work of correction should not be limited to the mere facts of the case. The Nuremberg Court judged in the name of a certain number of principles, in the name of a certain political ethics. There is a reverse side to all these accusations. One is proposing a future to us, one does so by condemning the past. It is into this future also that we want to see clearly. It is these principles that we would like to look at directly. For we already foresee that these new ethics refer to a strange universe, a universe with something sick about it, an elastic universe where our eyes no longer recognize things: but a universe which is that of others, precisely that of which Bernanos[4] had a presentiment when he feared that one day the dreams, locked up in the sly brain of a small Negro shoeshiner in a New York ghetto, would come true. We are there. Our minds are doped. We have been struck by Circe. We have all become Jewish.


[1] The word “droit” occurs 154 times in this text; it usually means “law” or “right” (in the sense of “a legal or moral right to do something”). Le droit also sometimes, as here, seems to mean “the right” in the sense of “what is right,” i.e., what is both legally and morally right (a sense not exactly recognized in the dictionaries). It is not always easy to determine which of these three senses of droit is appropriate. For that reason I have sometimes indicated in the translation, as here, where droit occurs: the reader can then decide for himself which is the appropriate meaning. (Il diritto in Italian and das Recht in German carry the same meanings as le droit and have greatly factilitated the work of Bardèche’s Italian and German translators.) The word loi, which also means “law,” occurs 49 times in the text. For the sake of clarity, I have sometimes also indicated in the translation where it occurs.

[2] Big Bertha the biggest German artillery gun in World War I, with a caliber of 420 mm. (16.5 in.).

[3] pièce à tiroirs an “episodic play,” usually with a light theme.

[4] Bernanos Georges Bernanos, French right-wing Catholic writer, best known for his novel, Diary of a Country Priest (1936).