21A045 Laws and Wars by Jim Davies, 11/23/2021  


Benjamin Ferencz is a most remarkable man, as I discovered last month from a 15-minute video. Strongly recommended: watch it here. When recording it he was one hundred years old and very lucid (he's now 101) and is the only person extant who prosecuted war criminals at Nürnberg.

Raised in poverty in NYC, he won a scholarship to Harvard and read law, graduating in 1943 in time to join the invasion of occupied France. After seeing some of the horrors of the concentration camps as WW2 ended, he was sent home, ranked a Sergeant.

Happenstance then brought him, as a Harvard lawyer and a Jew, to the notice of General Patton; he was recalled, promoted to full Colonel, and given a staff of 50 to help hold the Jew-killers in the Einsatzgruppen to account. He picked 22 of them as most responsible, and obtained 22 convictions. Death penalties were applied and 4 were executed. These were men who had followed the advancing army Eastwards in and after 1941 and systematically rooted out Jews and shot them - men, women and children - as they stood on the rims of mass graves. Their government had euphemized the groups' mission by the term "task forces." Ferencz spent time counting how many they'd killed, and gave up when he reached one million; I had thought it was fewer. These lives were extra to the ones ended in the concentration camps.

Afterwards Mr Ferencz dedicated himself to International Law, and to opposing warfare. I sense he is on the political Left, but he consistently opposed the Democrat wars (Korea, Vietnam) as well as Republican ones (Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan.) He coined the slogan "Law, Not War" to spread the idea that nations should be subject to supra-government rules, rather than resorting to slaughter.

It's there that I part company with him; he was of course right about the "war" bit but wrong about law being a viable alternative. It's not, and cannot be.

First, Nürnberg itself was a legal travesty. The victors rounded up the leaders of the conquered nation and accused them of breaking the law; yet that was very obviously not true. Many of them used the defense that they had merely "obeyed orders" in the service of the German State; and obeying orders is to keep the law, not to break it. So as to get convictions, the prosecutors had to create new and retroactive "law" on the fly; namely that the Nazi killers had committed "crimes against humanity" or "war crimes." Yes, indeed they had, but those crimes had never been written in the book of rules they were obliged to follow, in the service of their nation. On the contrary, the elimination of the Jewish race was commanded explicitly from the very top.

So the problem was that "the Law" was dead wrong, totally immoral. Law and ethics are unrelated.

Second, international law would be far worse than what applies now. It implies a "one world government" or supra-state layer of rulers, forcing a pattern of conduct down the throats of the entire human race; all 8 billion of us, governed by a single élite. No, thank you very much.

It's already being tried, in part, and is meeting heavy weather. The EU attempts to impose EU laws on members, trumping national laws; and the people don't like it. Britain has aleady quit. Others are unhappy, - Pat Buchanan picks Poland as an example. Then there's the UN, fortunately a toothless tiger after 75 years. Not only are such external laws unpopular, if a nation has a constitution that sets limits on its government's powers, external laws may cause it to exceed those powers and therefore be illegal. Conflict results, and could be resolved peacefully only if a sweeping majority of residents wished them to take precedence. Signs are that such a change is highly improbable.

Ben Ferencz is clearly a smart guy, yet he failed to think logically. If one opposes war, Step One is to ask who starts them. The answer, in every case in history, is that governments do. Step Two must then be to eliminate that source; so if you want to abolish war, you must abolish government.

We aim for that here on the ZGBlog, but Mr Ferencz has been doing the opposite - by trying to add an extra layer of government, to impose laws on the rest. That could only make things worse.

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