Misjudgment at Nuremberg

The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir

by Telford Taylor
Knopf, 703 pp., $35.00

A Crime of Vengeance: An Armenian Struggle for Justice

by Edward Alexander
Free Press, 218 pp., $22.50

Ethics and Airpower in World War II: The British Bombing of German Cities

by Stephen A. Garrett
St. Martin's, 257 pp., $45.00

On February 22, 1993, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to establish an “International Tribunal to Prosecute Persons Responsible for Humanitarian Law Violations in Former Yugoslavia.”1 Based on the Nuremberg model, the tribunal was the first such body to be created since the end of World War II. Its ostensible purpose was to consider all war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia, but no one doubted that the Council members were mainly reacting to Serbian atrocities in Bosnia.

While discussing the resolution, several speakers made it clear that, in accordance with the principles laid down at Nuremberg, defendants would not be able to avoid responsibility by arguing that they were “simply following orders.” Other speakers, such as the Spanish delegate, pointed out that establishing the tribunal was only a short-term ad hoc measure: a longer-term solution would be to create a permanent international criminal court with universal jurisdiction that could prosecute all grave breaches of international law.

On May 25, voting unanimously, the Security Council officially created the tribunal. According to the UN announcement, its headquarters will be in The Hague, but it is likely to set up courts in countries much closer to the former Yugoslavia. They will be able to impose prison terms but not to sentence anyone to death. The secretary-general of the UN has urged that those found guilty serve their sentences outside the former Yugoslavia and he has asked other countries to accept such prisoners.2

The new tribunal bears some resemblance to the original War Crimes Tribunal, which sat at Nuremberg in 1945 and 1946. But the Nuremberg court was created after the enemy had been defeated in a total war lasting almost six years. This court is being set up without the slightest intention of defeating and apprehending the criminals. Instead, UN officials in Belgrade continue to enjoy the hospitality of President Slobodan Milošević, a primary candidate for indictment in the proposed war crimes trial. What is more, the Serbian regime has, at least formally, become an ally of the United Nations in its attempt to persuade that other group of criminals, the Bosnian Serb leadership, to sign a peace agreement.


Telford Taylor reached the height of his career in a more resolute and less cynical world. One of the last surviving participants of the Nuremberg trials, he has had a distinguished career as a lawyer and as a leading member of the American prosecution at the first Nuremberg trial. Promoted to brigadier general, he subsequently served as chief prosecutor for the twelve other Nuremberg trials.3 During the last forty-odd years, he has been practicing and teaching law in New York City.

The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials describes both Taylor’s stay at Nuremberg and the activities of the judges, prosecutors, lawyers, interpreters, stenographers, researchers, reporters, secretaries, and hangers-on who made up the Allied contingent there. In occupied and devastated Germany they created for themselves, Taylor writes, a pleasant, “semi-colonial life-style,” on which he looks back with some nostalgia.


This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $99.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.