Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Prelude to Nuremberg: Allied War Crimes Policy and the Question of Punishment

(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998)
312pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: $34.95; ISBN 0-8078-2433-X.

Kochavi, in this well-researched history on the creation of the Allied policy concerning war crimes, has done a great service by investigating the political processes in conflict during the five years before the Nuremberg trials began in late 1945. There are few histories of the political and diplomatic attitudes and bickering of Eden and the Foreign Office, FDR, Russia and the Allies whether at war or sitting on their neutral hands. It was not an easy road for the governments-in-exile and the major Allies to agree on notions of punishment for 'aggressive war' and 'crimes against humanity'. We learn from Kochavi that cooperation on basic rules were difficult even to setting up the United Nations War Crimes Commission to simply collect evidence for cases to be tried after the war. The USSR obstructed to claim a major place at the trials. These disagreements were a mirror of what was to happen in the post-war years at the UN and during the early disagreements of the Cold War. Add to this the fears of the governments-in-exile and you have a recipe for disaster, where nothing would have been done.

This topic is relevant to war criminal concerns in present-day Yugoslavia. A war crimes judge stated recently that fighting must cease, the ravaged country must be willing to hand over suspected criminals and the rule of law prevail rather than each group revert to barbarism by shooting their criminal suspects without trial. Kochavi alludes to this in the Czech assassination of Heydrich where the repercussions were that hundreds were executed as a payback. In a sense properly constituted trials of war criminals begins the process back from the hell that was war to a civilised humanity.

Seven well-constructed chapters with sub-headings outline a well-balanced history up to the Nuremberg Charter. Kochavi rightly does not focus on what was happening to the Jews in Poland because the little that was known was incomprehensible. Eden has told us this in the past and recently the US Prosecutor, Telford Taylor (1992) stated that even though he worked in intelligence he was ignorant until late 1945. Richard Breitman Official Secrets (1998) has revealed US and British suppression of information about the Nazi killing operations when they cracked police codes. This reader however wished that the author would have shown us the stages of awareness as the policy-makers came to realise what had happened at Babi Yar, Lidice and Katyn.

This original analysis on the origins of the Nuremberg tribunal is an important reminder that the prosecution of war crimes depends more on force majeur than on legal debates even in our own time with Rwanda, Sudan or Yugoslavia.

Ray Duplain,
Deakin University

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page