Friday, November 4, 2011

Victors' Justice (Germany #13)

MUNICH--How could this (Hitler’s rise to power, death camps) have happened?
          Most historians point out the centuries of never-ending European conflict preceding WWI, the ruinous peace terms Germany was forced to accept after losing that war, the beggaring of the German people during the Great Depression, and the failure of Germany’s weakened democratic government to solve the country’s economic problems (unemployment, hyper inflation).
According to a Zen proverb, “When the pupil is ready, the master will come.” In this case, Germany was the pupil. The master was a charismatic, rabble-rousing Austrian, who used propaganda brilliantly to scapegoat Jews and Communists. Promising to end Germany’s suffering and restore the country to greatness, Hitler was freely elected. Then he immediately overthrew the government.
Instead of simply demonizing Germans (who along with the Brits are our most reliable allies in the world today), Americans might look closer to home. I don’t think it takes a genius to find parallels between post-WWI Germany and contemporary America. The point here is that, as free people, we must all remain ever-vigilant to keep the would-be Nazis in our midst from ever gaining control again. And I don’t just refer to those who proclaim themselves neo-Nazis.
What about the German people back then--were they all Nazis? According to someone in whom I place great confidence (my tour leader/law professor Joachim), once Hitler came to power almost everyone either bought into his crap or at least went along with it, some for personal gain. But considering what the Nazis did to anyone who didn’t go along, how much choice did they really have?
After WWII, the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal began a process of “de-Nazi-fication” to prevent former Nazis from returning to power. Germans were divided into four categories: 1) the ring leaders (most were eventually executed); 2) the helpers (such as the factory owner who accepted slave labor to meet Nazi production quotas); 3) the fellow travelers (those who passively supported the Nazis); and 4) the innocent (not many). But there were many younger men who were judged to have been “misled” by their government and thus were allowed to resume their careers in such fields as law and medicine.
This represented a huge change in the way the winners treated the losers. Instead of the traditional “victors’ justice” (where the winners exact war reparations and vengeance), Nuremberg began the system of international justice still in use today. Because some who were charged with war crimes were actually found innocent at Nuremberg, the German people were forced to realize that there really had been German war criminals. This helped to win the peace that we still enjoy today.

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