Justice in the Twentieth Century Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1694 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice


In the twentieth century, as in the centuries of the past, most wars and other conflicts were prompted not by what the victims did, but by who the victims were. Horrific atrocities were committed against Jews because they were Jews, against blacks because they were black, against Hutus because they were not Tutsis, and Tutsis because they were not Hutus. After these conflicts ended, two models of retribution became legacies: trial and punishment as the resolution for the Holocaust in Europe, and reconciliation as the resolution for Apartheid in South Africa. These resolutions are polar opposites, yet each one has both strong opponents and equally strong advocates. It is "an eye for an eye" versus the teachings of Jesus and Gandhi. But this dilemma is not limited to strife in whole countries. The same dilemma is presented to families of murder victims: should they seek revenge, or should they seek some forgiveness? This paper examines the arguments for these two positions.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Justice in the Twentieth Century, as in Assignment

After the unconditional surrender of the Germans, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States decided to hold a war crimes tribunal for the trial and punishment of personnel from the Axis countries. The justice of the victorious allies was immediately challenged, since there were no trials for the war crimes of the Allies. However, there is an assumption that a civilized country informs its armed forces about the military code -- what is permitted and what is not. Personnel found guilty of violating this code are tried in their own military courts. Nevertheless, there have been notable accounts of Allied violations that were totally ignored. The French may have violated the Geneva Convention in their treatment of prisoners of war, for example, and the conduct of Americans was not always exemplary. In his autobiography, General Chuck Yeager wrote that some missions of the army air corps were probably war crimes. He cited the motto of "shoot anything that moves," which was often practiced by Americans in the German countryside (Yeager, 1986). He further claimed that he and other pilots often went on missions to avoid court martials for disobeying orders. Yeager admitted that one reason he had hoped the Allies would win the war was because they would have been charged for war crimes had they lost. But the most blatant violation by Allied forces was the bombing of the city of Dresden, which had actually been set aside as a safe haven. In an early morning raid, however, Allied planes over Dresden dropped bombs that destroyed the city itself and 500,000 of its civilians. Not only were the perpetrators of this crime never cited, but the destruction of Dresden remained an unknown happening until the publication of the novel Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, some years later. As prisoners of war, Vonnegut and others were held in a slaughter house named Five that was available as a prison because there was no longer any meat to slaughter. Shortly after Vonnegut arrived there, he witnessed the raid and its horrible consequences, which he described in his fiction. That experience haunted him for the rest of his life.

After searching for a venue suitable for the trials, the tribunal authorities selected Nuremberg. It was both a symbolic and a pragmatic choice. Nuremberg was the birthplace of the Nazi Party; now it would become the Nazi Party's burial ground. Besides, the city's Palace of Justice was large enough for such a complex trial, and it also included a prison where the defendants might be held. Besides, Nuremburg was relatively undamaged by the extensive Allied bombing of Germany. Although initially the Soviet Union had preferred to hold the trials in Berlin, since it was Germany's capital, the compromise was to name Berlin the official home of the tribunal authorities.

The International Military Tribunal began on October 18, 1945. A Soviet judge, Niktichenko, presided over the first session, and 24 major war criminals and six criminal organizations were indicted. They were charged for conspiring against peace, for planning and waging a war of aggressions, for committing war crimes, and for committing crimes against humanity. Of the 12 defendants sentenced to death by hanging, only two were not hanged -- Hermann Goring and Martin Bormann. Rudolph Hess, who was the Deputy Fuhrer until he flew to Scotland to arrange a peace treaty with Great Britain, died in Spandau Prison 1987 without ever telling his story.

The validity of the Nuremberg court, known now as the Nuremberg paradigm, has been challenged many times and for many different reasons. Critics such as Associate Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas argued that overzealous judges had created law after the fact, and to suit the hysteria and views of the times. But the principles of punishment are still charged and defended in the courts of today. Many argue that some form of revenge is necessary for victims. Others agree that although revenge affects the offender, revenge affects the revenger himself or herself even more. One father of a victim of the Oklahoma bombing 15 years ago said he then was in favor of the death penalty for Timothy McVey. Now, 15 years later, his appetite for revenge has abated and he no long favors the death penalty for anyone.

Many believe that punishment of the guilty prevents others from engaging in criminal behavior. But this view is not borne out by evidence, as most murders are crimes of passion. Besides, psychologists warn that punishment may seem to work, but always with heavy costs as the punished carry their resentment. Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, does work, and without a cost such as resentment or other active or passive aggression. However, positive reinforcement requires considerably more patience.

Nowadays, Americans face this leading question: Will unwanted American presence in a country quell the violence of terrorists? Another leading question they face is this one: Will American presence in another country create more violence? This is also the dilemma played out in a recent German movie called The White Ribbon. The narrator begins with a suggestion that perhaps the violence committed in a small community just before World War I was a foreshadowing of the coming of the Nazis and their behavior that led to World War II. The film shows well-meaning parents mete out atrocious punishments to their children, and all "for their own good." The children, in turn, bravely submit to their "justly deserved" punishments, and they never complain afterwards. But, as this film shows so beautifully, the violence creates a violence in them that is even stronger. The children get their revenge.

The so-called "Nuremberg Trial paradigm" brings with it the question of whether relatives in a community should charge and punish those who have abused the rights of their loved ones. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa says it does not. He believes in the approach the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa took when Apartheid ended. No doubt, this approach saved South Africa from a war that most outsiders had predicted would be inevitable once Apartheid was abolished. Archbishop Tutu believes it is more effective than dealing with past violence by arresting, indicting, trying, and punishing. He has argued for this approach, in which perpetrators confess the truth in order to gain forgiveness.

Nelson Mandela must be mentioned here. Mandela spent a good portion of his life in jail, leaving his wife to raise their children. When he was released and elected as the highest official in the land, Mandela faced a segment of his electorate that was white, defeated, and angry. Besides, because of the practices of Apartheid, these were the only experienced workers he had to help him run the country. As the wonderful movie Invictus shows, one of Mandela's solutions was ingenious. He chose the competition for… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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