Sunday, March 7, 2010

Here's the Quote

Actually, two, from the movie Judgement At Nuremburg, script by Abby Mann  (these excerpts are at the conclusion of the movie, so please don't read further if you don't want a spoiler)   I tried to summarize their content in a line or two of my recent post, but in fact they lose something if not enjoyed in their full version, so here 'tis...

Emboldens and italicizations (below) are mine for brevity and emphasis.  Both excerpts contain the same powerful concept and have given me much food for thought since watching this movie. 

The longer of the two is this speech given when the tribunal (for Nazi war crimes) has reached its final decision. Again, if you'd rather see the movie first, skip this spoiler.

This is the speech which struck me with its insistence on the responsibility of the individual and to the individual.  Here is the classic Spencer Tracy ...the typed script for closer reading follows:

The tribunal is now in session. God bless the United States of America and this honorable tribunal.
The trial conducted before this tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than 10,000 pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded. Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment.

Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government-organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations.  The tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.

Herr Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany.  There is truth in this.  The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization.  But the tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions. Men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men. Men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees the purpose of which was the extermination of human beings. Men who, in executive positions, actively participated in the enforcement of these laws illegal even under German law.

The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime, is guilty.

Herr Rolfe further asserts that the defendant Janning was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of his country. There is truth in this also.  Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. 

But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the government of which he was a part.  Janning's record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial.  If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.  But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary, even able and extraordinary men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.

No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them. Men sterilized because of political belief. A mockery made of friendship and faith. The murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country, too, who today speak of the protection of country, of survival. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat.  Then it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way.

The answer to that is: Survival as what?  A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self.

It's what it stands for.   It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult.

Before the people of the world, let it now be note that here in our decision, this is what we stand for:
Justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

And, in the final scene, the newly-convicted former Third Reich jurist Ernst Janning speaks in private from his prison cell with Judge Haywood, the American judge who presided over the tribunal:

Judge Haywood,  the reason I asked you to come...
Those people...those millions of people...
I never knew it would come to that.
You must believe it.
To which Judge Haywood replies:

Herr Janning,
it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.



David in Kansas said...

Powerful stuff indeed; and as I was listening to the scene and finding myself in agreement of every word, it occurred to me that the Nazis could have uttered the same words and believe them to be true as deeply as I do. In my old age I have come to find that beautiful concepts such as Liberty and Love when filtered through the lens of fear can be used to justify any act. Beautiful stuff nonetheless. Thank you for posting it.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...


The phrase: "under a national crisis, ordinary, even able and extraordinary men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination" should be carved in stone. Above the entrance to every law school.

More importantly, every high school.