08 December 2022

War crimes

A few days ago, I saw the made-for-TV docudrama Nuremberg, an extremely compressed three-hour dramatization of the postwar International Military Tribunal that tried 21 German individuals and six organizations from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. For better or for worse, our current understanding of war crimes and crimes against humanity were largely formed by that tribunal's judgments.

Links to some Nuremberg background documents:

The reasoning given by the Nuremberg judges for their judgments of organizations (along with their definitions—on page 413—of the charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and conspiracy).

Their reasoning for their judgments of the individual defendants.

Comments by Charles Wyzanski, published in The Atlantic both during and after the trial, concerning his important misgivings about the process.

By the time I'd watched this film, I'd already heard Margarita Simonyan, head of Russia's government-affiliated media channel RT, say that if Russia lost in Ukraine, The Hague awaited even the lowliest of the Kremlin's employees.

Then, last weekend, I watched Mikhail Fishman on TV Rain interviewing Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union board president Yevgeny Zakharov. Fishman asked Zakharov about European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's proposal to set up a specialized court to prosecute Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine. Zakharov did not see this happening very soon but thought that, with 42,000 war crimes already alleged or under investigation, such a tribunal was needed.

Zakharov mentioned two major problems: first of all, there is the sheer volume of murders and summary executions, torture chambers, forced deportations and filtration camps, and other forms of cruelty repeated often enough that the word "systematic" seems to apply. This massive caseload is beyond the resources of local jurisdictions to cope with. This seems to call for a tribunal at the international level, but then the question of legitimacy arises. The United Nations is the most obvious actor, but the nation charged with these offensives has the power to frustrate the U.N., as it has already done by violating the U.N. Charter with the very fact of the invasion.

One of the most infuriating and frustrating aspects of Russia's crimes is Russian president Vladimir Putin's open and frank admission that the bombing of civilian infrastructure is justified and will continue. There are no circumstances in international law that permit the targeting of facilities on which civilians depend for their existence, but this seems to be of no deterrent value. The opinions of the world carry no weight in comparison with Putin's epic (and genocidal) vision of reorganizing the "Russian World."

Putin's own declarations, both concerning his military goals and his larger context—Ukraine's illegitimacy as a country, its domination by Nazis and drug addicts, its service as a tool of NATO—almost look calm compared to the extremist chorus in Russian media, some of whom have gone on state-controlled TV to charge Ukraine with being dominated by Satanists, with Zelenskyy nominated for the role of Antichrist. This deadly combination of justifications by Putin and his colleagues is a precurser to genocide. Either the international community puts together a response to these assertions or the whole legacy of postwar idealism, the mechanisms it put into place (the United Nations, the International Military Tribunal and its offspring, the whole idea of peace through international law) is at risk, and a new era of cynicism may take its place.

"Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your
medical experiment?" Brian Cox as Hermann Göring,
Nuremberg (2000).

What is unique about Russia's actions? Isn't it true that every "great power" has blood on its hands? Even the USA, whose citizens probably assume a degree of superior righteousness not always justified by facts, was unwilling to ratify the treaty setting up the International Criminal Court—an institution whose very purpose is to try cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

I think it is fundamentally wrong to give history the power to define what is now possible, and block any progress in the future. If the case of Russia's attempt to extinguish Ukraine has any hidden blessing, let it be that it woke us up. Yes, Yemen should already have done so. Palestine should already have done so. But they didn't—at least not yet. If we can now succeed in reviving the mechanisms of global conscience, it may help to bring accountability to the crimes being committed against Ukraine, and then serve as a new and more powerful restraint on the rest of us as well.

Noah's Ark by Edward Hicks, source.
Margarita Simonyan's comments about The Hague came back to me as I began following one of the wilder stories out of Russia: a report by Russian political scientist Abbas Gallyamov based on a Kremlin source. According to this source, already last spring, a plan was being hatched among Kremlin insiders, informally named Noah's Ark, that would provide a refuge for Putin and his top colleagues in the event that Russia lost the war in Ukraine and their hold on power became untenable. According to this strange report, China, Argentina, and Venezuela are among the possible target locations for that group to find safety.

Rebecca Gordon's three conversations about politics.

Philip Yancey asks what makes a church toxic?

How can we (even we introverts) be good companions in grief? Some thoughts from Nancy Thomas.

And finally, a question from Micah Bales: What is a Quaker sermon?

When Mississippi Fred McDowell lays his burden down ... "I'm going home to live with Jesus."


Bill Samuel said...

Nazi Germany committed heinous war crimes, and Russia is doing so today. So there is some satisfaction in seeing those who ordered or committed such crimes being tried for these offenses.

Yet there are real concerns about this:

1. War is by its very nature heinous, and so setting up clear distinctions between allowable war actions and unallowable war actions implies the falsehood that war can be non-criminal. For one thing, wars always seem to wind up victimizing those not involved in combat.

2. It is always the powerful (the "winner" in a post-war case) that prosecutes the less powerful, raising the real question of whether the protection is more about exercising power than justice. In WWII, the Allies committed previous war crimes (some examples: Dresden fire bombing, Hiroshima, Nagasaki) and there were absolutely no prosecutions for these war crimes. In the post-WWII era, there is little doubt that the country which has committed the most war crimes is the USA, yet as the world's strongest power it never faces these consequences.

In the current war in the Ukraine, there is little doubt that the Ukrainians have committed war crimes. Even pro-military, pro-imperialist media like The New York Times and the Washington Post have occasionally reported on them. The number of war crimes committed by the Russians may be far more than those committed by the Ukrainians, but if one mass shooter kills 40 and another 12, does that mean we don't prosecute the one who killed 12? Zelensky has said Ukraine is not bound by international law because it was attacked, but no international law contains such an exception.

kfsaylor said...

"If we can now succeed in reviving the mechanisms of global conscience, it may help to bring accountability to the crimes being committed against Ukraine, and then serve as a new and more powerful restraint on the rest of us as well."

The promotion of, and faith in, the political mechanism of people through the power of the reflective nature, the agency of its institutions and the human agents of those institutions under the influence of thought-entities from the world of concepts to guide and rule human relations, is the source or cause of war, destruction, strife and conflict. It is being under the power and influence of the reflective nature that is the problem. A consciousness and conscience guided and informed through the reflective nature nurtures conflict, strife, death, and destruction.

A living and real peace in human affairs and relationships will never be found through the mechanisms of the reflective nature. In drawing upon, and through faith in, the reflective nature by the use of thought-entities like "peace" (or any thought entity), the human agents of political, religious, educational, and economic institutions foster the opposite as they strive for a reflected or shadowy peace. The process of embracing the reflective nature and conjuring thought-entities from the world of concepts is the intellect fashioned and established in the reflective nature's dialectical paradigm which nurtures a cycle of fluctuation between artificial outwardly established peace and conflict.

There is a different way found in the living and continous inshining presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ and the resulting renewal of the intellect beyond the reflective nature and the cycle of the dialectical paradigm. This different way is through the working and motion of the continuous awareness of the immediate inshining presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ which is established in the consciousness and conscience of human being and renews the intellect by drawing it out of dependency upon the reflective nature to guide and rule human relations. The practical result of a renewed or born again intellect is the experience of direct, continuous and living inshining Presence itself in itself and ongoing awareness of the increase, decrease, or stasis of the intensity of the Spirit's presence in and during human activity, relations, or affairs. This living and continuous awareness of the Spirit's intensity in human affairs is humanity's deliverance from the reflective nature and the dialectical cycle which traps human beings in a process of conceptual conjuration and dependency upon the enchantment of thought-entities like "accountability" and "restraint." The conjuration of the reflective nature and its thought-entities in the conceptual world will only serve to encase human beings in a dialectical cycle which fosters conflict and strife. To transform human relations into this different way, the answer is in turning away from the reflective nature and toward the immediate and continuous (non-conceptual or unreflected or unmediated) awareness of the motion of the living presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ itself in itself and the intellect's liberty from the reflective nature and the dialectical cycle of a reflected consciousness and conscience.