Nuremberg or the Promised Land
By Maurice Bardèche
Published in Paris in 1948 by Editions des Sept Couleurs
Note: a paraphrase in English of the French original is given in smaller print.
It is hard to justify the hard facts of the destruction brought about by the Second World War on Germany. So it has to be presented as that most moral of wars. The morality of the war has superseded all critical thought about it (except, perhaps by some right-wing thinking historians) and to question the morality of the war sets one beyond the pale. (Pat Walsh in Irish Foreign Affairs 4).
Bardèche was one such right-wing writer and he writes from beyond the pale, as a member or founder of various right-wing groups and a friend and defender of collaborators; Jean-Marie Le Pen spoke at his funeral in 1998. Bardèche said of himself: ‘I am a fascist writer’. Before the war he had written on literature, art history and film. He was not interested in politics until he was imprisoned from September 1944 to April 1945, without charge; according to one account, he was imprisoned to force his brother in law Robert Brasillach to surrender himself, which he did. Brasillach was then shot as a collaborator. Bardèche was very close to him, and it seems as if his death, and the part he, Bardèche, unwittingly played in it, had a profound influence in his thinking. In 1948 he wrote ‘Nuremberg or the Promised Land’; it contains a criticism of the trials as a victors’ trial or lynch law which others have also made; but it goes further than others have done by describing the far reaching consequences for the future of making ‘the international community’ the foundation of justice: this is the promised land of the title.
Bardèche is described as a holocaust denier in some places; on the contrary he does not deny the holocaust, but refers several times to the extermination of the Jews and the many proofs of it that exist, and once to ‘the fatal shower’; he qualifies as a denier because he thinks that the facts should be studied as other facts in history, away from political pressures.
Since I was brought up in France in admiration of the Resistance and fear and revulsion at the thought of the torturers of the German and French police and collaborators, it is with mixed feelings that I read Bardèche’s book. I certainly would not admit to my mother that I had it in the house, never mind read it. I could not discuss with her, or my other friends and relations, his views on collaboration. Right and Left in France are agreed that the Resistance was good and Collaboration bad, in the abstract. Two examples : on the right, Sarkozy ended his speech to Parliament in Versailles with an invocation of the Charter of the Resistance, and on the left a new film glorifying the Resistance has just been released (the Army of Crime).
Yet it is clear that a country that has signed an armistice with a conquering army and been occupied by it has no choice but to have a certain number of its inhabitants collaborating with the occupants, on pain of having a much worse time of it. Since life has to go on, administration, schools, hospitals, police service etc have to carry on functioning; they cannot be totally independent of the occupying force, (although they were for a time in the non occupied part). There had to be a certain number of people going between the surviving French institutions and the enemy. Collaborating was a necessity, not something people did to get at the Resistants. Being on the losing side at the end of the war, collaborators were considered, not as a necessary evil, but as evil, and people like Bardèche lived in fear and revulsion at the thought of the treatment meted out to his friends and others, this time by Resistants and others on the winning side.
This is something I knew nothing about; I suppose there was some talk of excesses committed at the end of the war by people associated with the Resistance, but it was minimized; we were shown photographs of women having their head shaved, which was spectacular and stood for the whole picture.
Bardèche was very aware of the role ‘atrocities propaganda’ played in politics, and that the same act is judged differently depending on who committed it. Anthony Beavor in his 2009 book on the Normandy landings described the bombing of Caen by the Allies as a war crime. The controversy over the bombing of German cities dates from the eighties. Bardèche was conscious of the nature of the bombings from the start. The man who opened the bomb magazine of his flying fortress above a city full of civilians inspired him with horror. He was equally repulsed by the horrors of war, regardless of who committed them. He was therefore wary of letting description of atrocities be the basis on which to make moral judgments.
His views echo that of the historian Arnold Toynbee writing in the context of the aftermath of the First World War.
This is what Toynbee wrote of the malevolent effect of ‘atrocities’ on the public mind in 1922:
“As people read of them, they have the double luxury of being confirmed in their views (for they seldom read the other side) and of giving way to moral indignation. They write to the Press or petition the Government to take active measures against the offending nation. They rarely reflect that previous measures of the kind for which they appeal may have provoked the very atrocities that have just aroused their feelings. Because they are indulging their feelings, and not using their reason as they would use it in circumstances where they were more directly responsible for what was to be done, they thirst for vengeance and forget to look for remedies. Thus they overlook the obvious and fundamental fact that atrocities are committed in similar exceptional circumstances by people of every nation and civilisation, and that whatever may be the duties of Governments, the mission of philanthropists is not to punish crime but to remove the cause.
(The Western Question in Greece And Turkey, pp. 91-2) Quoted in Pat Walsh, Ireland’s Great War on Turkey p419
The atrocities of the holocaust were made to play a political role, that is to justify Allied atrocities, and to exculpate the Allies from the worst crime of all, that of starting the world war.
Bardèche saw that the attempted extermination of the Jews was made to play the role of a solution to overwhelming general guilt: this was a war against evil, and therefore the war was justified and everything done by the Allies justified. ‘They turned their massacre into a crusade.’ (p17)
This crusade was not just morally wrong at the time, it has implications today. The notion of the indignant ‘international community’ was born, and today it justifies the destruction of the Iraqi nation and continues to justify the bombing of civilians. The Nuremberg trials had very far reaching implications for the future because it henceforth imposed an American globalist view of the world (the promised land) and destroyed the notion of national independence. (Bardèche does not use the term ‘globalist’.)
The Nuremberg trial imposed a globalist view of the world in two ways:
1. It did away with the defence of ‘obeying orders’. The independence of nations is based on their military capability and that in turn is based on military discipline. Once there is something above the orders given by the state, which a soldier is compelled to obey on pains of being found guilty by the victors after the battle, then you remove the independence of the state.
But obeying orders was not accepted as defence. p221 since the August 1945 statute: ‘the statute establishes that those who have committed criminal acts can find no excuse in superior orders.’ Shawcross: even a simple soldier is not obliged to obey an illegal order. International obligations come before national laws. 222 Conscientious objection is a duty. This destroys the notion of sovereign nation. If the conscience of humanity has decided a country is wrong, the citizens of that country have a duty to fight their own rulers. We are no longer the soldiers of a nation, but the soldiers of moral law. Now democracy is the nation and the nation is nothing if it is not democratic. It is excommunicated and all its inhabitants are evil unless they fight their own country.
There is a universal state which governs consciences; the universal conscience rules everyone, without any written text: there is a line, which all must follow. This line is transmitted most often by the radio.
Under the pretext of attacking an authoritarian regime, the notion of authority is attacked p232; to bind Germany, we are binding ourselves. This means we accept a superior anonymous authority.
This could work in a Marxist world, where the internal law of a country is subordinate to the rule of proletarian dictatorship, like the third internationale.
At the Nuremberg trials the nation state as supreme was replaced by ‘the international community’ or ‘the international conscience’, which defends ‘human rights’. The problem is that the ‘international community’ is an abstract idea, without content and it does not enjoy unanimity. It is in fact embodied by the United States.
This has economic consequences:
Where national sovereignty stops, world economic dictatorship starts.101.A people can do nothing against the merchants once it has given up the right to say: here, contracts are of such and such a nature, customs are as follows, and you pay a tax to take part in our society. The United States of the World are only in appearance a political conception: in reality it is an economic one. It is the politics of the open door, as happened with China. We are all China now.
The notion of human rights, also abstract and not grounded in real people, is hypocritical: it should mean that all men enjoy them, but in reality they are unenforceable, since only a nation state can protect its citizens, and applied selectively, for example, whites refuse them to blacks:
The respect of the person means that non whites are of the same value as whites, and this is not recognised by the white nations. We are partisan of human rights but we want to do to blacks what we accuse the Nazis of having done to the Jews. 240 And not just to the blacks, but to the Indochinese, the Balts, the Volga Germans etc, and also the proletariat of all countries, who do not see their rights defended by the defence of human rights.241 In other words we defend human rights in a completely abstract manner. It is the defence of an abstract person, without country, only connected to the voice of international conscience.
The Nuremberg trials were themselves a fraud; it was summary justice, the winning side punishing the losing side. This would not matter too much; what mattered was that people were being made to believe that this was proper justice on which precedent could be based.
The Nuremberg trials were fraudulent because:
They were based on principles of ‘law’ which were not law when the acts were committed and the accusers were themselves guilty of war crimes
1. The law was made retrospective: decided on 8 August 1945, it applied to acts committed before that date.
That meant that after any world war, the victors can decide what will be a crime; it could be decided that blockading a country is inhumane and against the laws of war. Field Marshall Montgomery said: ‘I want to win the next war, because I don’t care to be hanged.’ He understood the solidity of the new jurisdiction.
Any world war would now be a war of Right against Wrong. International law was the negation and destruction of the notion of law.
Law was written down and was there for all to see; but now there was only the international conscience, which is the same as Volksempfind [public opinion] which the Germans were criticised for relying on.
Among the notions imposed as a basis for the trials were
– obeying orders not being a defence
– that the Nazi party was not a political party but a criminal organisation and its members common criminals
– that the Briand-Kellogg pact made war an illegal act and that therefore everything Germany did in the war was illegal
– that the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war was not sufficient to judge the acts committed.
The Nuremberg trial added a complement to the Hague Convention for the conduct of modern warfare but that complement cannot be generally accepted; for example it left out blockade and the bombing of cities.
There were four charges brought against Germany:
1. conspiracy; the political action of the Nazi party from its beginnings
2. crime against peace: having started the war
3. war crimes
4. crimes against humanity
1. How could you know beforehand whether the organisation you belonged to was not criminal? The French shopkeeper who joined Croix de Feu is in the same situation as the German shopkeeper who joined the nazi party in 1934.
Previously justice attacked specific acts; now acts are judged according to what cause they served.
Previously justice also enquired about intentions.
The Nuremberg judges condemn the politics of the nazi party, and by extension of any party that claims the rights of land, work, tradition and race. This had implications for parties in countries of the rest of the world that have similar principles.
2. crime against peace; but France and England also bore responsibility in starting the war.
Germany is accused of having started the war (by invading Poland which forced France and UK to declare war) and extending it by invading neutral countries. The proof was contained in the Hossbach note and the Schmund file, which showed that Hitler wanted to have war.
Could not similar documents from the Allies side also show that they prepared for war?
Allies war preparations were not brought to the attention of the tribunal; no allied document was brought to scrutiny. Poland bore some responsibility; before 1939 Poland did not want to have talks or make agreements. (p62)
In fact Great Britain took the initiative of war by declaring herself in a state of war against Germany on 3 September 39 (and then France later the same day.)
Germany wanted negotiations after her invasion of Poland. Hitler thought he was starting a local military operation; England deliberately turned it into a world war. (66) There were strategic acts of aggressions committed in the invasion of Poland, but how do they compare with the act of starting a world war? These acts do not belong to the same order of magnitude, they are essentially different acts. Those who started the war are responsible for the acts that were inevitably committed during that war. If England had not declared war, Oslo would never have been occupied.
Churchill etc wanted this attack on Poland.
Nazi Germany did not necessarily want war. Everyone had reasons to want war (USSR to avoid being trapped, Great Britain and France to finish Germany off, Germany to stop a stifling policy against her), no one was innocent. Germany was not against peace but against the disposition of the Versailles Treaty, which were impossible for the Allies to keep to, since they made life impossible for Germany. Her expansion into Poland could have been tolerated; the division of Poland had happened before; what happened to Czechoslovakia was not fair, but not worse that what happened after the war with the transfer of millions of Germans [from East Prussia].
3. The distinction between war crimes and crimes against humanity was never made very clear, and sections three and four were often confused. The French delegation made a disgraceful contribution by trying to claim that there was a will to exterminate the French people, which was patently false, and by presenting anecdotal and hearsay ‘journalism’ instead of evidence.
The tribunal relied on the Hague Convention of 1907; but international law according to this convention would not be enough to attack Germany, so the category of crime against humanity had to be invented. It proved difficult in practice to distinguish between the two categories.
The abundant literature on German atrocities [in France] contradicts what we have seen: 40 million Frenchmen have seen Germans for three years in their towns, in their farms, in their houses, on their roads, and they have not found that they were monsters. We must make the difference between the way Germans treated French people and the way they treated Russians: there is no comparison and it is dishonest to suggest that the French suffered the same fate. The Russians did not exact revenge on the Germans for what they suffered and so a fortiori we should not.
It is wrong to condemn the Germans alone for atrocities when the Allies are also responsible for atrocities, during this war (bombing of cities, Hamburg, Dresden) after the war (the occupation of Germany, the end of the war in France) and in the colonies (Indochina, Madagascar).
German war crimes must be judged in the light of circumstances and all similar acts must be condemned whoever committed them, ie the Allies also. You could compare for example the behaviour of the Germans in occupied France with what happened when Germany itself was occupied, the nature of the occupation imposed by the Allies.
There were crimes committed by the winning side in France at the end of the war in horrible circumstances.177 In the atrocities race we won’t lose by very far.178 We also have our war criminals. 181
We condemn, like everybody else, including the Germans themselves, the systematic extermination of the Jews; but we put it on a par with the extermination of the Slavs and the bombing of German cities.193 The policy of extermination was conducted by a few (Himmler) and others knew nothing of it. The charge should not be directed at the German people, but at individuals given too much power. Nazism was not necessarily directed to the extermination of Jews: they wanted them away from the political and economic life of the country, which could have been done by reasonable and moderate methods.
Our conscience only wakes up when our interest speaks. We accept the perversity of our own people, we accept the torture and extermination of our enemies. We don’t try to know what is happening in the Soviet Union; we are not looking to investigate the crimes committed during the occupation of Germany at the end of the war. Also we tolerated the bombing of cities: 80 000 in Hamburg in four days, 60 000 in Dresden in 48 hours.
If I had to rank the British Air Marshal who ordered carpet bombing and Himmler, I would not put Himmler first.
We defend civilisation but also calmly entertain the idea of destroying Soviet cities by atom bombs, and even welcome the idea, in the interest of civilisation.
Both sides should have been prosecuted for war crimes:
It would have been justified to prosecute individual cases of officers going beyond their orders and committing atrocities, which in any case would have been covered by the Hague Convention. We could have punished on both sides; then say to the Germans: try and forget your sufferings as we try and forget ours; let us rebuild our cities and live in peace.
The Allies were appalled at the consequences of what they had done (Bardèche says ‘panic stricken’). The description of the concentration camps served a purpose: to justify the atrocities committed by the Allies in their conduct of the war, and to justify the war in general. What was used was a description of the camps when they were discovered were at their worst since food supplies had ceased, when the number of prisoner was greatest, because of the general disorder at the start of the German defeat. Yet the picture presented for example of Belsen in 1945 was claimed to be representative of all camps at all times.
Not all camps were extermination camps like Treblinka, Auschwitz and Maidanek.
Because the evidence was used politically, it changed with time; for example the testimony of survivors initially showed a variety of different experiences, but with time witnesses changed their report to what was wanted, or refused to testify anymore, or witnesses who did not say what was wanted were no longer asked to testify.
The question ‘how did you survive’ is a question many survivors can not answer without embarrassment.150.
Evidence given by the French delegation, in particular by Communists, attempted to follow the policy of making no difference between Jews and non Jews, which made no sense in the context of deportations:
The Germans pursued a policy of extermination of Jews in Western countries, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Netherlands said that of 126 000 deported, 110 000 were Jews.
There was no will to exterminate the French but there was a will to exterminate the Jews, there are many proofs of that.
Other people at the time knew all this too but were not saying it, for political reasons. They knew that the Nuremberg trials were not dispensing what had been regarded up to then as justice (since new laws were used which were not law at the time of the offences); that the Allies had committed atrocities (which could not be justified after the event by the discovery of the camps; since the camps had not been the motive for the bombings); that the notion of ‘the morally appalled international community’ was not a solid foundation for jsutice but the basis on which the winning side was going to impose its will on all from then on; that doing away with ‘obeying orders’ as justifying actions removed the independence of countries; that evidence of the attempted extermination of the Jews was exploited for political ends (to make the war look like a fight of good versus evil).
I have no sympathy with the stand point that allowed Bardèche to have this objective view: he was antiglobalist, pro-countryside and country. He was against capitalism, which destroys nations and communities, robs ordinary people of their identity and reason for living. Communism is no better. Europe now is to be ruled either by the United States or the Soviet Union, and both are bad. His alternative seems to be a Europe of closed agricultural societies, (that is, closed to immigrants and to Jews). He was very European: in the title of his magazine ‘Defence of Occident’ Occident means Europe and certainly not ‘the West’.
Bardèche claimed he was not anti-Semitic, on the contrary he wished the Jews could find a homeland and live together there in peace. However he blamed the Jews for the war, since their influence turned what could have been a local invasion into a world war; this is the origin of the idea that ‘Jews caused the war’. Earlier in the book Bardèche explained that France and Britain deliberately chose to involve the world in war but towards the end of the book he added that influential Jewish individuals played a role in the decision making process of France and Britain.
The Jews played a role in the war: when there was a question of whether to turn the invasion of Czechoslovakia or Poland into a world war, they said yes. p188. We are no longer a great nation, perhaps have stopped being an independent nation because their wealth and influence was stronger than that of French people who were attached to the land and wanted peace. They were also the first persecutors of those who wanted to protect their fellow citizens from the worst of the occupation. France is a country where we have been settled for longer than they have, where our parents were settled, which the men of our race had made great. This war the Jews had wanted, they have paid the price for it that all wars demand. We have the right not to count their dead with our dead. 190
Furthermore, the attitude of Jews during the épuration (punishment of collaborationists or people so accused after the war) has hardened French people’s attitude towards them.
Bardèche deplored the defeat of Germany in 1945 for a number of reasons:
On the one hand, Germany was a defence against communism, because it offered the workers not just fair reward for their work but also moral inspiration, joy and pride.
The antidote to bolshevism had a name [Nazism] something which brought the secret of life and greatness. The only revolutionary system that could oppose Marxism has been destroyed.
The only system that could help us escape capitalist enslavement without accepting the soviet one. German workers were happy. Now only the red soviet flag protests against injustice. We need social justice as much as steel and coal. We need a Western Europe closed both to American and to Soviet influence, a Europe both antidemocratic and anticommunist.
On the other hand, Nazism guaranteed the fundamental rights of people: that of being among themselves, with others of the same nationality, protected by the laws of their own countries as long as they were law abiding.
Nazism guaranteed national independence, politically and economically. A person (une personne humaine) for me is a father with his children round him at table in his farm, giving them soup and bread, or in his suburban house, or in his third floor flat, talking to his children; we defend the person and all that belong to it, children, house, work, field. We say this person has the right to see his children fed, his house inviolable, his work honoured, his field his own. For his children to have bread means no black, asian or semite will take his place in the city, that he won’t be the slave of foreigners; that he will be free to express his opinion and will be protected by the prince if he obeys the law; he will be able to say what his work is worth; the black, the asian or the semite will not determine, from Winnipeg or Pretoria, what his work is worth. Foreign workers won’t have a political voice in his country. These are human rights. ]
Bardèche was never a very successful fascist leader; the movements he founded were short lived; he was not a typical far righter: he rejected the cult of leaders, the idea of a single party, rejected the intellectual poverty and intransigeance of fascist groups, and thought that there had never existed a good model of a fascist state. His standpoint allowed him to have insights about the Collaboration and about ‘the international community’ and human rights in the abstract to which others are blind, because of their own standpoints. However, because of his standpoint, his ideas are as good as useless in terms of the influence they can have generally.