I was in Nuremberg during the war crimes trials which followed WWII. My father, Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor, was Chief Prosecutor during the second, American phase. The French, Russian and British staffs had gone home to continue trials at home, but the US stayed longer, and scheduled about 400 additional defendants. They were divided into twelve categories: judges, doctors, industrialists, etc. There were 142 convictions and ten death sentences. I remember the high spirits of the occupying troops and tribunal staff, The joy of triumph and victory. I danced with them in the ballroom of the Grand Hotel, where the officials and court lawyers spent their evenings. I scared myself by looking into seemingly-bottomless bomb craters, played in the war-shattered wreckage of our commandeered townhouse, and listened to stories told by the servants, who were tearfully glad to be fed and sheltered during the hunger-stricken post-war years.
The scene in Charlottesville, Va., three years ago -- the Confederate flags, the tiki-torch Nazis, the lethal use of a car against counterdemonstrators -- left Joan Wallach Scott feeling perplexity and horror, as she recounts in On the Judgment of History (Columbia University Press). It was not just the thuggish hatred on display, which was nothing new. Beyond that there was a kind of menacing shamelessness about all of it, even before the president gave his wink of approval: a defiance of the idea that slavery, white supremacy and fascism had been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Whether it was justice only for the benefit of the victors is our challenge. Will we let international law be a tool only for the powerful? Or will we use Nuremberg as a tool for "Reason over Power"? If we let the Nuremberg Principles be used only against the enemies of the powerful it will have been victor's justice and we will be "putting the poisoned chalice to our own lips." If instead we, we the people, work, demand and, succeed in holding our own high criminals and government up to these same laws it will not have been a victor's court. Justice Jackson's words are an important guide today, "The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils."