World War II was, and remains, a stain on humanity’s existence, but we are taught in school that we did learn two things from it. First, wars of aggression are the highest of war crimes and those who perpetrate them will be held to account. Second, the mass slaughter of people must never be allowed to happen again, and any sight of such actions must be called out.
While these lovely sentiments have kept persons in activist groups sane for many a decade, they are being eroded and must be defended.
The war was fought for two major reasons, the first was to allow Germany to expand into more living space as they aimed to exert and extend their industrial/economic/military might. Second was the ethnic/race/gender/sex/religious war which saw the extermination of not just 6 million Jews but also 1 million gypsies as well as hundreds of thousands of gays, blacks and Catholics. Not to be forgotten are the almost 20 million Soviet citizens who were murdered simply because they were Asiatic and thus, like the Jews and others, expendable.
Apart from the death camps, there was shelling of cities, strafing of hospitals, siege warfare, destruction of water/power supplies and all other manner of actions which now constitute war crimes. The Nuremburg trials brought to justice not only those who led soldiers in the field but also those politicians and civil servants who drew up directives, medical doctors who committed torture as well as businesspeople who profited off slave labour.
The prosecutor made key statements for future generations to remember — that if Nuremberg was to be more than a show trial, if the Allies really were different from the Nazis, then they would ensure that the template set by the trials would be used for all international conflicts, even if the allies were the guilty parties. If not, he went on to say, Nuremburg would be nothing but a show trial and victor’s justice.
In today’s world, can we say that the spirit of Nuremburg is still alive? Look at Afghanistan, El Salvador or Germany, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. Look at the situation on the US border, in the jungles of the Amazon and Central Africa, as persons work as slaves extracting minerals for American, Canadian, European and Asian mega-corporations, and ask yourself, was “never again” a serious statement or merely a catchy slogan?
Many powerful forces would have you believe that “never again” is simply a remembrance for those Jews who died in the camps, or that the Nurnberg trials were simply about holding the Nazis accountable for riding roughshod over Europe. They are sorely mistaken. The trials represent a demand for abusers of power to be held to account and a reminder of a duty to help those in need, wherever they are.
The people demand justice. If the justice is not done, if they do not see the spirit of Nuremburg upheld, then sure as night follows day, we can expect to relive the horrors of that age with the bonus of new weapons and forms of propaganda dissemination. We see this happening in Europe as barriers remain erect, migration is curtailed, and rights of the migrants are whittled away so they become an underclass. We see this in the US as they reel from losses in fields afar and try to compensate by doubling down on Latin America and the Caribbean, recreating their old living space.
We must not allow the concept of “never again” to be stolen, and we must never let the statements from Nuremburg be forgotten. Too often, statements and declarations are left to the dustbin of history, forgotten by all, but not these, ideas and values for which almost 100 million died — civilians and combatants included. If we can’t call a spade a spade, and state that what is going on in Myanmar is ethnic cleansing and must be stopped and the leaders held accountable then why did we try the Nazis? If we can’t acknowledge and hold accountable the British for their actions in Kenya as they tried to hold on to that bit of ‘living space’, then what was the war about?
The line was drawn a long time ago and the mark remains clear then as now. Either it’s okay to slaughter millions of people, systematically remove them from their lands, or it’s not. Either might makes right or we are all beholden to the spirit and text of those trials. There is no middle ground.