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Reviewed by:
  • Perspectives on the Nuremberg Trial
  • Michael J. Kelly
Perspectives on the Nuremberg Trial, Guénaël Mettraux (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008), xxvi + 800 pp., cloth $160.00, pbk. $70.00.

Guénaël Mettraux is defense counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. In his position at the The Hague, and through his prior experience working in chambers at the Tribunal, Mettraux is uniquely placed to see firsthand the delivery of international criminal justice. As such, he is certainly well-qualified to edit this tome on Nuremberg.

Perspectives on the Nuremberg Trial is a collection of thirty-two articles and essays and seven appendices that cover well-trodden ground. As the progenitor of modern international criminal law, the Nuremberg trial is a touchstone for all who practice in the field today—lawyers and judges alike. Indeed, key portions of the International Military Tribunal’s sixty-year-old opinion still are cited regularly by international criminal tribunals. Consequently, Mettraux’s challenge is to make relevant what already has been said about Nuremberg. Many of the articles in this book consider the Control Council trials and even the trial by the International Military Tribunal at Tokyo alongside Nuremberg, but the main thrust of the contributions centers on the initial collective trial of twenty-one Nazi co-conspirators conducted by the IMT in Nuremberg from [End Page 498] November 21, 1945 through October 1, 1946 and led by Justice Robert H. Jackson as the chief prosecutor.

The term “perspectives” in this work is clearly used in the sense of disciplines, not criticism. Mettraux seeks to offer here the legal (both contemporary to the trial and in historical retrospect), the political, and the philosophical perspectives.

The section of the book devoted to the legal perspective contains seventeen articles dating to the mid- to late-1940s and written by those who participated in the IMT’s construction and operation. This material offers insight into what key participants such as Justice Jackson were thinking at the time. Another nine articles offer a retrospective on Nuremberg from varying periods after the trial. Although the contribution by Telford Taylor in this section provides tactical analysis of how the trial unfolded, most of the other pieces are strategic in viewpoint. More here by other Nuremberg prosecutors such as Benjamin Ferencz, Whitney Harris, or Henry King would have added a welcome technical and tactical dimension to the legal discussion.

The political section devotes scant attention to the social science of the trials. Questions of what the trials meant for the German people, for American perceptions of justice, and for Europe as a whole on the societal level are left unaddressed. The first two pieces, by Henry Stimson and Arthur Goodhart, are articles from the 1940s on law. The second piece, by David Luban, focuses on the development of the law as it was forty-two years after Nuremberg, as well as on the rule of law and the nexus with relevant bureaucracies.

The third piece, Karl Jaspers’ 1961 work dealing with the question of German guilt, is the gem in this section; it seamlessly crosses the philosophical and political lines with the legal lines and it addresses heady issues handily. For English-speaking readers, this article is a treat. An older piece from 1954 by Jackson, and a newer one by Mark Osiel encouraging more such trials, round out this part of the book.

The appendices include constitutive and organic documents of the IMT, and an extensive bibliography includes references to websites. Again, Mettraux’s volume is very useful for those beginning in the area of international criminal law. For those who want to experience the significance of the Nuremberg trial from as close as they can get, the early articles from the 1940s achieve this. They make up half the volume and take the reader back to the era in which the trial took place.

The main point on which I would quibble slightly with Mettraux’s selection is the lack of full-fledged criticism of Nuremberg. With the exception of Hans Kelsen’s well-known piece and that of Dr. Hans Laternser, who finds some fault with the trial process, the...


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pp. 498-501
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