1939: The Balance Sheet: Paradoxes and Imponderables -- Part 11
Germany's rationale for war in August 1914 was that it was their right as a nation to defend itself, and that a pre-emptive attack was necessary before Russia could complete their military deployment.
In a hostile capitalist world, the Soviets justified their alliance with Nazi Germany.
A number of respected scholars have questioned if hatred of Jews was the main reason that Germans joined the Nazi Party or voted for Hitler.
Fear of Communism may have been the main force driving Germany in the 1930s.
Hitler was similar to previous German statesmen, businessmen, and military leaders in his desire to expand to the east.
Both world wars are to be explained by Germany's inexorable rise and Europe's other major powers' refusal to accept it or be able to adjust to it peacefully - a central theme of this volume.
The first Nuremberg trial did not draw the attention of most observers because of the debatable issues.
The leaders of Nazi Germany were being brought to justice after years of war and the publicity surrounding the concentration camps in the summer of 1945.
A lot of people claimed that they didn't know anything about the atrocities committed in the camps.
Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop denied knowledge of what Hitler was planning in regards to the war with other nations and the genocide against the Jews.
Historians debate about what the Germans knew about what was happening in the camps.
At the time of the Nuremberg trials, little credence was given to the claims of the defendants that they knew little about what Hitler was thinking or doing.
Evidence was presented that exposed them as liars.
What has impressed subsequent observers is how little these men fit into the stereotypes of Nazi leaders.
Streicher came out with the lowest score on the IQ tests.
The head of the Luftwaffe, who was second in command to Hitler, was also an unnerving defendant.
He had been ridiculed for putting on a lot of weight and living in luxury.
He proved more than an intellectual match for Jackson on the stand.
In his testimony, Goering seemed not to be intimidated or guilt-ridden, as he had scored 138 on the IQ test.
He claimed to have had a number of Jewish friends.
There was no way that Goering would be acquitted or given a light sentence because of the overwhelming evidence against him.
He was sentenced to death.
Streicher was also condemned to death, even if little proof was offered about his criminal actions.
He was found to be criminally responsible for his antisemitic ideas.
If the punishment was death, it was contrary to American notions of freedom of speech.
The majority of those charged with being major Nazi war criminals at the first trial were not seen as fanatics.
Most of the images did not look like hardened criminals.
They could not possibly be described as agents of capitalism in crisis or resentful "little men," members of a bigoted bourgeoisie.
Many of them had promising careers before the Nazi period, and most were better educated and more intelligent than anyone at the time.
At the first Nuremberg trial, it is difficult to identify a distinct Nazi type among the accused.
Twelve were sentenced to death and seven were sentenced to prison.
Three were acquitted, which made it appear that the accused had been given a fair chance to defend themselves.
In the trials of major war criminals, twenty-four prominent Nazis would receive the death sentence, and over a hundred would be sentenced to prison for life.
Many prominent Nazis received light sentences or escaped punishment altogether, despite the fact that the number of death sentences was less than they had proposed.
The Nuremberg verdicts were dismissed as "victors' justice" by a fair number of non-Germans, including legal experts in many liberal-democratic countries.
There was no way to arrive at judgments sufficient to deal with the tragedies and injustice of these years.
There was a similar dilemma in regards to how the Nazi past could ever be "mastered" by future generations of Germans.
"Coming to grips" is a familiar metaphor, but in the case of the Nazi past it seemed that a quantum leap would be necessary, related to the assertion that the Holocaust was unprecedented and incomparable.
The kind of guilt associated with a crime defined in such a way went far beyond the guilt for starting World War I; it had something more in common with the concept of the Crucifixion, that is, standing mystically outside history.
The claim that Hitler had exercised some sort of demonic power caused decent people to lose their moral bearings and follow his orders, even for acts they somehow knew to be immoral.
The excuse that Hitler's will had become the law in the Third Reich was not without plausibility, and some Nazi leaders claimed that they were only working toward the Fuhrer.
It was convenient that many of the people who were close to Hitler were dead.
Hitler and his long-term mistress, Eva Braun, committed suicide at the end of April.
Joseph Goebbels had taken his own life.
His wife killed their six children and then committed suicide.
After he was captured, Himmler used a hidden glass capsule of cyanide to kill himself.
The logic of the position that Hitler's will was the law pointed to the conclusion that no one was responsible or guilty.
The nation was under some sort of spell.
Using a different metaphor, Nazi leaders had been mere pawns in a giant totalitarian machine that had crushed all notions of personal responsibility and operated according to its own inhuman logic.