Letter to the Editor

“The soldier can no longer refer to an ‘order from above’!”

Two years ago I had to prepare history lessons on the topic “The Nuremberg Trials” and I came across an idea that was new to me. It was a principle that also determined the trial – besides the ban on war(s) of aggression against another people – and that was the idea that superior orders were no longer recognised as alleviating guilt. This was one of the principles in the conduct of the trial – and it was necessary; because all these persons determining in the Nazi state talked their way out without exception on orders “from above”, emphasised their allegedly strong sense of duty to have acted “in the name of the German people” – nobody deviated from it in the course of the trial! They hoped for a reduction of sentence. The fact that the judges at the Nuremberg trial no longer recognised the principle of command necessity means that every young soldier today must be aware of how he or she must behave as a soldier towards, for example, the civilians of the enemy, the prisoners of war of the enemy and the wounded soldiers of the enemy without breaking international law. Because the soldier can no longer refer to an “order from above”! In school lessons, such questions are usually lost. 
  I find Professor de Zayas’ idea in his interview on the Nuremberg Trials (cf. Current Concerns No. 28/29 of 24 December 2020) that war crimes must be punished, regardless of victor or vanquished status, and that the expulsions from Eastern Europe actually belong in court and those responsible for them should be held accountable, very important. Even Aristotle postulated a “secure and just peace” as the end of a war – actually self-evident! – and I wonder why mankind is reaching its limits in thinking and finding new possibilities in international coexistence. Perhaps progress is already visible in this direction, but if nothing moves except the eternal question as to which countries should have the non-permanent seats in the Security Council, and if the General Assembly of the 193 states in the world only takes place once a year, then this seems to me in any case too meagre and too little! 

Susanne Wiesinger, Freiburg i.Br. (Germany)

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