Category Archives: Writing
In case you didn’t know, I co-host a podcast with all around swell guy and my good friend Shawn. It’s called the Mundanity podcast, and once a week we talk about all things pop culture, including movies, music, television, and anything else that comes to mind. We have a blast doing it, and if any of you are so inclined to listen that would be just swell. You can listen on our site, listen and subscribe on i-Tunes, or subscribe to our RSS feed using your favorite podcast app. And hey, if you like what you hear or want to tell us that we are terrible, leave us a review and a rating on i-Tunes and let us know what you think.
With that in mind, it occurred to me that most of what I write here falls under the broad category of pop culture, so I’m going to try and move all of that over to the other site from here on out. If you like what you read here then I encourage you to follow me there. I reserve the right to pop into this space from time to time and use this space to write things that fall outside of pop culture sphere, but for now I’m concentrating my efforts there and trying to consolidate. Frankly I’m just too lazy to try and maintain two sites at once.
Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read my stream of consciousness ramblings and follow the site, and I hope you’ll continue to do so over at my new home. If you like what you there you can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and just about any other social media outlet. Shawn’s in charge of that social media stuff and he’s done a great job blanketing just about every site known to man.
Note: Ok, so it’s time for another one of my trips back into the JLo vault, this time revisiting and updating a short paper I wrote over a decade ago during my short-lived tenure in the Masters of Liberal Studies program at Rollins while I was working there. Let me just say at the outset that I LOVED this program of study, which was based “on the premise that studying the great ideas of Western civilization increases intellectual awareness and self-fulfillment.” I will be the first to admit, however, that I don’t have the first clue what the practical value of such a degree would be, but then again practical value is overrated. When we moved away from Orlando the first time many years ago, I had to abandon the program, and it is still something that I regret. Hopefully one of these days I’ll get to go back and try again. Anyway, with that as background, I present to you a paper that I wrote back in 1997 that I recently discovered while going through a box of papers the other day, entitled “The Nuremberg Trails and the Concept of Justice,” with some minor revision and reworking.
This type of long form piece is definitely outside the usual scope of this space, so don’t expect any top ten lists, heavy doses of sarcasm or lengthy parenthetical diatribes. Also, keep in mind I’m not a lawyer or a proper historian, just a guy with a history degree and a hefty World War II background who likes to pretend to be a profound thinker on occasion. I share this with you for two reasons: 1). I think there are some lasting lessons to be learned from the conduct of the trials 2.) It’s my space, I liked the paper a lot and I wanted to publish it. So there. Feel free to enjoy and argue with my conclusions if you want or skip it completely as you see fit.
On November 20, 1945, the victorious Allied Powers convened the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany for the purpose of prosecuting those responsible for atrocities committed during the Second World War. The proceedings, which lasted 187 days, resulted in the convictions of 19 of Nazi Germany’s most notorious war criminals, including Hermann Goring, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, and Alfred Rosenberg. The Allies had promised virtually from the outset of the conflict to prosecute those responsible for war crimes and atrocities committed during the war, and, with the London Agreement of August 8, 1945, established the tribunal that would try the defendants.
So began what was at that time a singular event in world history. Allied soldiers and authorities conducted extensive manhunts for those responsible for the horrendous crimes committed during the war, and though many notable Nazis, including Martin Bormann, Adolf Eichman, and Adolf Hitler himself, either evaded capture or took their own life rather than face Allied courts, most of what Winston Churchill often referred to as the “primary criminals” were brought into custody. Many, including a majority of the defendants at Nuremberg, questioned the legality of such an unprecedented trial, claiming that it was merely a persecution of the vanquished by the victors, and that it would be impossible for there to be a “fair” trial on the model of the Western system of justice. Thousands of Germans had walked into the American and British lines to surrender, knowing that certain death or immediate imprisonment awaited them at the hands of the advancing Russians from the east. Now they were being subjected to what they thought amounted to a “show trial.” After all, Allied representatives, including the Soviets, would act as judge, juror, and prosecutor in every case, and for a country now intimately familiar with the arbitrary “justice” of the Nazi regime, it seemed impossible that there could be a sober, rational weighing of the facts by the tribunal. These men, who claimed that they were merely following the laws of their country and the orders of their superiors, as any patriotic citizen would do, were now being held individually accountable by the world for their actions.
After reading the individual counts of the indictment, the defendants would have some cause to claim that they were being persecuted, at least in part, for purely political reasons. While counts 3 and 4 of the indictment, the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity charges, stand on their own in the light of the massive documentary evidence left behind by the ever-efficient Nazis, counts 1 and 2 could certainly be held up to scrutiny. These provisions of the indictment alleged that the Nazis planned an aggressive war in violation of international treaties and that there was a general “conspiracy” in the country to prepare for the war, including the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, which had been achieved by constitutional, if heavy-handed, means. It is here that the Allies were walking on the shakiest of grounds.
The charge of planning an aggressive war could have easily been turned on the Allies since they too had taken aggressive actions in the name of their strategic or national interest. The Russians had attacked Finland in 1939 to better secure the approaches to Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and the heroic defense of their country by the paltry 200,000 man Finnish army against the overwhelming might of the Soviet Red Army aroused the conscience of the democratic world, especially in the U.S., and nearly lead to Allied intervention on behalf of the Finns. Several months later in the war, British forces had been deployed to occupy neutral Norway in order to cut off supplies of iron ore coming to Germany from Sweden, only to be beaten to the punch by a Nazi invading force. The democratic United Kingdom was, nevertheless, more than willing to resort to many of the same tactics as the Nazis they were now putting on trial. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, had been the driving force behind the Norwegian expedition, and though he recognized the moral and legal issues involved in the invasion, was unapologetic when advocating the mission to his cabinet colleagues, stating, “the final tribunal is our own conscience…Humanity, rather than legality, must be our guide” (Churchill, p. 492).
Churchill’s view are particularly salient here (Note: Well, his views are particularly salient here because I already knew a lot about them, and as they say, write what you know. Anyway, the point still stands. Also, I lied about there not being any long parenthetical digressions.) because he was one of the earliest international opponents of Hitler, and realized that the democratic world’s situation was desperate enough that it must be willing to bend and in some cases disregard the major principles of western ideals in order to defend them. There is no doubt, therefore, why Churchill was initially hesitant to support the war crimes trials. If the situation had been reversed and the Germans had prevailed in the conflict, Churchill would have undoubtedly been facing an entirely different brand of justice at the hands of the Nazis. After the war, he remarked to General Lord Ismay, head of the British Army during the war, that “it shows that if you get into a war, it is supremely important to win it. You and I would have been in a pretty pickle if we had lost” (Gilbert, Churchill: A Life, p.285).
Beyond these immediate practical, personal concerns, it was simply against Churchill’s nature to seek vengeance against a defeated enemy. Throughout his political career, ranging from the time of the Boer War up to the fighting in Vietnam, Churchill always preached unwavering resolution and defiance in the face of an enemy, but once beaten he immediately sought reconciliation with his former foe. He had roundly criticized the harshness of the Versailles treaty, and had sought ways to appease German sensitivities without giving up the dominant Allied position. In fact, he gave his war memoirs a theme which perfect summed up this philosophy: “In War: Resolution; In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity; In Peace: Goodwill.” Even this moral principle, however, had practical applications. Churchill was keenly aware of the growing Soviet aspirations in Eastern Europe, and knew a revitalized Germany was of paramount importance as a bulwark against Soviet expansion.
Perhaps the most difficult legal denunciation against the trial to rebuke was the claim that it was ex post facto prosecution and that the mere inclusion of the Soviet Union in the tribunal itself was an affront to justice. United States Senator Robert Taft, son of the ex-President and Supreme Court Justice, voiced both these concerns in a speech before Congress before the trials. Taft worried that the democratic nations were perverting the judicial process by using it as a foreign policy tool to advance a political agenda, much as the Soviets would. Regardless of the righteousness of the Allied position, the concept of equal justice before the law was far too sacred to violate for any political purpose (Safire, p.601). Soviet inclusion in the tribunal was especially hard to justify, since every one of the specific charges of the indictment could have been brought against Stalin and the Soviet government. The non-aggression pact negotiated with Hitler, which included the secret partition of Poland, was the springboard Hitler needed to go to was since it assured him against fighting a war on two fronts until the time of his choosing (the conspiracy). The Soviet Union willfully sent troops to claim the spoils of Poland, and denounced a very specific non-aggression treaty with Finland moments before Soviet troops attacked the Mannerheim Line (aggressive war). In regards to war crimes and crimes against humanity, Stalin had the same disregard of human life as Hitler, and certainly did not take a back seat to his Nazi counterpart, as his Blood Purges of the 1930’s and the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn clearly showed.
Despite these objections, the Nuremberg Trials were a remarkably just proceeding, and set up a credible precedent for any future international trials. The fairness of the trials can mostly be credited to the efforts of the Anglo-American side to ensure the ideals they championed in their own legal systems became the benchmarks for international law. The most troubling legal question, that this was unjust ex post facto prosecution and that these defendants were being tried for no specific crimes, was addressed by the charter which established the court and by the Allied insistence upon the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers. By surrendering unconditionally, the Germans agreed to abide by any terms imposed upon them by the Allies. Implied in this surrender was the acceptance of the repeated specific warnings made to the Germans, most notably the London Agreement, well before the end of the hostilities that any German war criminals were subject to trial for their actions. For the German to come back after the fact and claim ex post facto prosecution, though perhaps technically correct, flew in the face of common sense and natural law.
The war crimes charter also made specific reference to the defenses most likely to be presented by the Nazis, that they 1). were merely following orders and 2). that they were being tried as individuals for breaking laws designated against countries. Article 8 of the charter states that the “fact that the defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment” (Int. Military Tribunal, p.12). Here the tribunal was acting in accordance with generally accepted convention throughout the world. Few if any domestic courts would accept such a plea, because the precedent would leave the world at the verge of anarchy and at the mercy of manipulative killers (Wyzanski, p.67). Additionally, the Allies specified that the conditions of treaties seemingly aimed at countries applied to individuals, and the Germans in fact accepted such a premise by accepting unconditional surrender.
The charter is also very specific in regards to the protection of legal rights of the accused. Although it would be impossible to remove all notion of prejudicial testimony and publicity from the trial due to the enormity of the crimes committed and the war time conditions in which they occurred, nearly every other basic right of defendants in an American courtroom was preserved. The accused were guaranteed counsel if the desired, could call and cross examine witnesses, were presented with specific charges in writing (in their own language as well), and were allowed to testify themselves and take as long as they wished to present their defense. Goring, in fact, was on the witness stand continually for nine days (Heydecker, p.97). One doubts whether he would have been afforded such an opportunity even by the most lenient American trial judges. Additionally, the defendants were able to petition the court to evaluate their mental and physical condition for trial, as did defendants Hess and Krupp, and the court even determined that Krupp was indeed unable to participate in his own defense and therefore should not be tried.
Another important move by the tribunal was its seeming differentiation between political and criminal activity. Helping Hitler and the Nazis come to power by mainly constitutional means, however distasteful and undesirable, was not a crime and was not treated as such by the tribunal. Individuals such as Hjalmar Schacht and Franz Von Papen, who were charged exclusively under counts one and two, the political charges, were acquitted by the tribunal. In fact, only one defendant, Hess, was convicted solely of the political charges, and all who received a sentence of death were convicted of the specific charge of crimes against humanity. Additionally, the court did not hold those “legitimate” political entities, the Reich Cabinet and the German High Command, to be criminal groups. Even though members of the groups may have committed crimes, the institutions themselves were still blameless, much like our own American experience with Watergate and the office of the Presidency. It is important to note, however, the dissenting opinion of the Soviet Justice (the inclusion of which is another mark for a just trial) in regards to the decisions of these individuals and groups found not guilty; it gives insight into the kind of treatment these defendants would have received had they been left to the Soviets (or their own regime for that matter.)
Perhaps the most important justification for the trial, at least in Western eyes, was the very severity and brutality of the crimes alleged. Rather than justification for the kind of revenge that Stalin prescribed (shoot 50,000 Germans on sight), it was important to bring these men to trial to show the Germans and the world the vast differences between the Allied powers and the previous regime. Stalin’s remark at Yalta quoted above so offended Churchill that he stormed out of the room in protest, furious at the suggestion of punishment with verification of guilt (Gilbert, Churchill: A Life, p.821). Summary executions may have been the calling cards of totalitarian governments, but the Western powers emphasized the concepts of justice and the rule of law.
Despite the enormous task of sorting through the testimony of hundreds of witnesses, thousands of documents, and grisly detail of German war crimes and atrocities, the International War Tribunal conducted a remarkably fair and just trial. Each country involved sent some its most distinguished legal authorities to the proceedings, ensuring that the defendants were afforded every opportunity to defend themselves vigorously and with the advice of counsel in the face of the heinous charges, something their own government would not have even afforded them. In doing so, the court provided a lasting tribute to the the Western ideals of justice and equal treatment under the law, and established a model precedent for international law and a mechanism of punishment for those whose actions severally offended the sensitivities of the international community of nation in times of war.
Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War, 6 vols. Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1948.
Gilbert, Martin. Churchill: A Life. Henry Holt and Co.: New York, 1991.
Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory. (special edition) Easton Press: Norwalk, Connecticut, 1994.
Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill: Never Despair. (special edition) Easton Press: Norwalk, Connecticut, 1994.
Heydecker, Joe and Leeb, Johnathon. The Nuremberg Trial: A History of Nazi Germany as Revealed Through the Testimony at Nuremberg. Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut, 1975.
International Military Tribunal. Trial of the Major War Criminals (Official Text). Published at Nuremberg, Germany, 1947.
Ryder, A. J. Twentieth Century Germany: From Bismark to Brandt. Columbia University Press: New York, 1973.
Safire, William (ed.) Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History. W.W. Norton and Co., 1992.
Wyzanski, Judge Charles E. Atlantic Monthly. “Nuremberg – A Fair Trial?” Vol. 177, No. 4 (p.66-70) April, 1946.
It’s been roughly a month since I committed myself publicly to writing a novel. So far I’d say things are going pretty well. If nothing else, I haven’t stared at a blank page for a while and then abandoned the idea immediately, unlike some previous attempts, so that has to be progress. There’s a modest sized document with the better part of a two chapter drafts saved, as well as a few other one off documents with ideas and scraps of paragraphs that I wanted to capture for possible later use. In addition, my trusty black notebook contains a dozen pages of ideas, fragments, and character notes, and is proving to be a invaluable resource for me, since I tend to think of ideas at odd times. By carrying around the notebook with me I have a way to capture those little spurts of inspiration. (A little bit of fun Eastside High School journalism history here for those of you that remember/care: I wrote the entire satirical “Cheerleading Isn’t a Sport” column in about 45 minutes after bolting upright at 2 AM. Had I not written it then I probably would have woken up and forgotten all about it and saved myself 20 years of getting randomly attacked while walking down the street by very perky assailants. The point of this is extremely long digression is that I’ve got to write stuff down while I’m thinking about it or it will make it to print. Plus, cheerleaders get mad easily and carry grudges.)
I have learned a few things along way, and wanted to share those insights here.
- I haven’t stuck to any type of artificial writing count (i.e., I’m going to write X number of pages or dedicate X hours per day to writing), but I have at least tried to think about things each day and at least jot down notes as much as possible. Knowing myself to more rigid and organized I try to make this process, the staler the ideal will become and the likelihood of me deleting the whole folder increases ten-fold.
- The downside to writing a longer form work is that I find myself with less time and/or motivation to write shorter form pieces, namely here. I do enjoy this though so I’m working to strike a balance between the two. As neither one pays me a dime so far I think it is only fair because I do enjoy this a lot. Plus, there is a nice sense of accomplishment to actually finish something and be able to click “Publish” before getting up from the table.
- When I don’t have to go out in polite society and actually speak to people, I tend to abandon proper grooming rather quickly (much to the chagrin of my family.) Were I a full-time writer I’d likely end up looking like a combination of Ted Kaczynski, early Michael Stipe and a character from Herman Wouk’s “Don’t Stop the Carnival”, so I think it is for the best that I am not at this point.
- Writing narration generally comes rather easy to me, but the long form of the novel is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I don’t have to worry about page length or limits, so I’m free to go with ideas until they dry up. On the other hand, longer is not necessarily better, so I have to fight my stream of consciousness impulses and remember that brevity and conciseness have their virtues too, unless you are David Foster Wallace. And I am most assuredly not him.
- Conversely, writing dialogue is HARD. It’s a lot easier to say you’re going for some Joss Whedon-esque, quirky banter than it is to actually pull it off without sounding like a complete and utter tool. Case in point, I spend the better part of the morning writing about three pages of mostly dialogue and was so disgusted with it when I finished that I printed one of the pages out just to get the satisfaction of crumpling the page into a ball and tossing it across the room. That felt good, my friends.
So in summation, I have no schedule, little expectation the finished product will ever see the light of day, and a certainty that I will never be a screen writer, but I WILL finish this, if only as a gift to myself. Anything beyond that is just gravy. At the very least I can always post it here as some kind of serialized work once it is finished. Just feel free to skip any extensive dialogue passages unless I tell you otherwise.
Some random thoughts while I sit here at the Honda dealer waiting on my car (save your breath ‘I can’t believe you have your car serviced at the dealer’ people – the service was included when we bought the car) and Mr. Jagger is telling me that I’m a pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty girl (hence the reason for the title of this post – yes, I’m that lazy).
I took the lad to see the new Thor movie this weekend. It was basically fine, not bad, not great. The action sequences and some snappy humor made up for the overly convoluted plot and Natalie Portman’s inability to convey any emotion other than her default “befuddled.” In the end it’s a Thor movie, so the big hammer gets thrown around a lot and Tom Hiddleston chews up scenery being charming and awesome and hilarious as Loki. I’m secure enough in my own identity to admit to having a big man crush on Mr. Hiddleston, and Sunday certainly did nothing to diminish that. (For the record and to satisfy Paula’s twitter demands, my man crushes are Hidds and Benedict Cumberbatch. What can I say, my inner id has a thing for self-effacing British actors with striking jaw lines apparently. And yes, I realize that this section sounds a lot like an Onion article. I even wrote my own fake Onion headline to accompany it – “Area Man Totally Comfortable With His Feelings About Tom Hiddleston. Totally.” I shall not hear a negative word against them, understand me? Good…)
Have you taken my advice and gotten into The Returned, yet? Holy schnikes, this is some amazing TV. It’s the Walking Dead meets Twin Peaks meets I don’t know what and is just so very good and one of the most original series I have ever seen. Get on it (Thursdays on Sundance) if that sounds appealing to you…
For the record, I have added both “Hiddleston” and “schnikes” to the spell check library this morning…
One of the more amusing aspects of living in Florida is watching people absolutely lose their minds when November rolls around and the temperature first drops into the 50s (for the low mind you) and the high fails to crack 70. We had that day recently and instead of enjoying the little bit of crispness in the air and taking reasonable measures like say, wearing socks, some folks were dressed as if they were departing Everest Base Camp in Nepal and preparing to assault the summit. (And of course it was 87 within a week of that day. Winter is coming?) We humans are funny creatures sometimes. And, not to stereotype or anything, but many of those well insulated people in question were my Lululemom nemeses. I guess if I had spent that much money on clothes that I have little hope of needing I’d break them out at the slightest provocation too, but then again I am rational and sane… (allegedly)
Speaking of Game of Thrones, I am in the midst of reading the series and have just started Book 5 (I’m about 100 pages into that behemoth). While I enjoyed books 1-3 immensely, the fourth book was an endurance test of the highest magnitude and outright torture. It must be fun to be so successful that you can create these works with characters like Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow that people really enjoy reading about and then just for the hell of it decide that you are going to make people wade through an immense and turgid volume and remove them completely. Don’t do that again, George RR. It took me longer to finish the fourth book than it did the first three volumes combined. But finish I did, despite several warnings to skim it. If nothing else, it was an effective sleep aid. Oh, I did I mention Game of Thrones?…
You may have noticed that I’ve been comparatively quiet on here lately, and I’m happy to say it is because the novel writing has been going well (knocking on soooooo many pieces of wood right now). I’ve written multiple pages (only to sit down and immediately rewrite them all the next day of course, but that is the beauty of file archiving I guess), and have filled many pages in my trusty notebook with notes and scraps of ideas, sentences, etc. I find myself thinking of lines of dialogue or bits of character development at random, so I’ve taken to carrying my notebook with me everywhere I go so that I can capture those little flashes before I forget them. Yes, I have become that guy. Sorry…
I am now blogging in a Starbucks. That sound you hear is a four alarm cliché alert sounding…
Next Monday, I will be striking one of the last entries off my music bucket list. Johnny F*****g Marr, people (That’s not me being profane – it’s his NSFW tour t-shirt, for realz. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a better one to be honest.) I’ve sent him play live once, when he was a member of Modest Mouse, and while it was amazing to see him play guitar (including playing on Fall on Me alongside Peter Buck, which nearly made me lose control of my bodily functions), what I really want to do is see him play songs that he has written, including this hopefully.
So, if you’re going to be at The Beacham in Orlando on next Monday, stop by and say hi. I’ll be the tall, goofy looking guy completely geeking out in the back, probably carrying a notebook and scribbling furiously. And possibly losing his **** completely. (As a bonus, this is a clip of the meeting of the alt college rock guitar gods that I referenced above. Enjoy the amazing Rickenbacker-ness.)