This time I’m separating the usual intro to these ethics potpourris with the enumerated stories. I began by noting that this is the anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremberg Trials in 1945, as notable an ethics milestone as one could imagine, from several perspectives. The trials were an admirable effort to make grand statement about the line of inhuman evil that even war could not justify and that a world would not countenance. They were also significantly hypocritical, just as the post-Civil War trial of Andersonville Prison commander Henry Wirz, the sole judicial precedent for Nuremberg, was hypocritical, punishment inflicted on the losers of a terrible war that could easily have been brought against the war’s victors if the results had been reversed.
There really was no enforceable international law to base the Nuremberg Trials on, making the trials illegal if not unethical. Did they stop genocide? No, and one could argue that the show trails didn’t even slow genocide down. They did, I guess, make people think; one important result of the trials was that the films of liberated death camps, made by U.S. troops and supervised by the great Hollywood director George Stevens, were finally shown. How much the trials made people think is much open to debate. I have always been fascinated by the issues raised by the Nuremberg Trials, and Abby Mann’s 2001 stage version of “Judgment at Nuremberg” was one of the productions I oversaw at The American Century Theater. Directed by Joe Banno, it included post show discussions after every performance, some with D.C. area historians, lawyers and judges as guests. Incredibly, I felt, the show had never been produced in the Washington D.C. area, professionally or professionally. Disgracefully is perhaps the better word. TACT’s was a professional, thoughtful and excellent production, yet the Washington Post refused to review it. “Dated,” was their verdict on most of my theater’s productions. The apathy about “Judgment at Nuremberg” was a major factor in persuading me to end my theater’s 20 year-long mission of presenting neglected American stage works of historical, cultural, theatrical or ethical significance.
But I digress. While I was checking to see whether I had noted this anniversary before (I had not), I found the following post, which was the earliest Ethics Alarms entry featuring a reference to the Nuremberg Trials. Written in 2012, it makes fascinating reading today, so here it is. One nostalgic note: Among the commenters on that post more than a decade ago were Michael Boyd (last heard from on this date ten years ago), Brook Styler (final comment), Chase Martinez ( left in 2015), Julian Hung (last heard from in August of last year), Danielle (who wished me a Merry Christmas in 2016, and vanished), Modern Knight ( final comment in 2017), and several one-time commenters who never returned. But Michael Ejercito was among them, speaking of loyalty. The good kind.