Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!
Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.
Judgment at Nuremberg, (1961)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), loosely based on the trial of German jurists after World War II, is a powerful film. Burt Lancaster, an actor of the first calibre, gives the performance of his career as Ernst Janning. The early portion of the movie makes clear that Ernst Janning is in many ways a good man. Before the Nazis came to power Janning was a world respected German jurist. After the Nazis came to power evidence is brought forward by his defense counsel that Janning attempted to help people persecuted by the Nazis, and that he even personally insulted Hitler on one occasion. Janning obviously despises the Nazis and the other judges who are on trial with him. At his trial he refuses to say a word in his defense. He only testifies after being appalled by the tactics of his defense counsel. His magnificent and unsparing testimony convicts him and all the other Germans who were good men and women, who knew better, and who failed to speak out or to act against the Nazis. Janning’s testimony tells us that sins of omission can be as damning as sins of commission. When he reveals that he sentenced a man to death he knew to be innocent because of pressure from the Nazi government, we can only agree with his bleak assessment that he reduced his life to excrement. Yet we have to respect Janning. It is a rare man who can so publicly take responsibility for his own evil acts.
Yet even this respect is taken away from Janning in the final scene of the film where he attempts to justify himself to Judge Haywood, superbly portrayed by Spencer Tracy, by saying that he never believed that it would all come to the millions of dead in the concentration camps. Judge Haywood delivers his verdict on this attempt by Janning to save some shred of self-respect: “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”
But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.
CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Assume thy greatness, for the time draws nigh,
Dear child of gods, great progeny of Jove!
See how it totters- the world’s orbed might,
Earth, and wide ocean, and the vault profound,
All, see, enraptured of the coming time!
Ah! might such length of days to me be given,
And breath suffice me to rehearse thy deeds,
Nor Thracian Orpheus should out-sing me then,
Nor Linus, though his mother this, and that
His sire should aid- Orpheus Calliope,
And Linus fair Apollo. Nay, though Pan,
With Arcady for judge, my claim contest,
With Arcady for judge great Pan himself
Should own him foiled, and from the field retire.
Virgil, from the Fourth Eclogue (37 BC)
“The very fact that in World War II we chose to fight in alliance with one form of totalitarianism against the other two forms, though all were intrinsically wicked, proves not only the basic sympathy between Western materialism and communism but also the grave mistake of trying to drive the Devil out with Beelzebub.”
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
The start of a new series. In this set of posts we will take a look at truly foolish things said by people I generally admire. First up, this gem from Bishop Sheen.
The idea that we chose to have the Soviet Union as an ally in the Second World War is a doozy. Hitler made the choice when he invaded the Soviet Union. If Bishop Sheen had then wanted us to be at war with both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, he would have had to have been content with Western casualty totals probably five times what they turned out to be, and his proposed course of action would have required the existence of Western leaders capable of explaining to puzzled populations why their nations were going to war with the Soviet Union that was holding down 80% of the Wehrmacht. Such a policy would probably have resulted in an eventual renewal of the alliance between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and led to a conflict that the Western Allies could not have won without resort to nuclear weapons, something that Bishop Sheen of course opposed.
At the end of the War we could of course have launched a new war to drive the Soviet Union out of Eastern Europe. With the exception of General Patton, there was zero appetite among the Western Allies for a new conflict after the vast blood letting that had wrecked most of Europe. I doubt if Bishop Sheen would have supported such a conflict for long, due to his coming out against the Vietnam War in 67. When the going got tough geo-politically, Bishop Sheen tended to hit the road. Continue Reading