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That justice be seen: the American prosecution's use of film at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:20 authored by Kevin Patrick Reynolds
This dissertation examines the use of motion-picture film by the American Prosecution before and during the „Trial of the Major War Criminals? at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Germany, 1945-1946. My research is based on never before used material including newly discovered film, official papers, and private letters. I argue that investigating the use of film, more than any other medium, enables us to comprehend the American Prosecution?s vision of justice after the Second World War. I focus on three crucial themes: the political, juridical and moral concerns of the American planners and prosecutors. Although much historical scholarship focuses on American designs to „re-educate? Germans, I show that the American planners of Nuremberg felt that the education of Americans was also essential. The trial was designed to draw a distinction between Nazi „barbarism? and „Western civilization? and presented an opportunity that Americans used to promote their political values at home as well as abroad. They used film to affirm and showcase – to millions of their fellow citizens – some of the values and methods of liberal democracy. The American planners and prosecutors viewed the Nazi defendants as responsible representatives of the German people and used the controversial doctrine of „conspiracy? to facilitate the new principle of individual accountability in international law. Additionally, they also proclaimed that planning and waging „aggressive? war had constituted, years before the Nazis came to power, criminal activity. Yet representing „conspiracy? and „aggression? with film graphically exposed the limits of law in dealing with unprecedented injustice. The particular form of spectacle arising from the American use of film at Nuremberg has remained overlooked by scholarship in a variety of relevant fields. The American Prosecution staged a form of morality play with film. The aim, however, was not the redemption of the Nazi defendants; it was, rather, only to condemn and punish them. The Americans confronted the defendants with images of atrocity, as well as images of themselves. This technique functioned as a theatrical device in which onlookers felt that they could examine the defendants for signs (or the absence) of remorse. This spectacle enabled the presentation of a particularly powerful moral case against the defendants and the Nazi ideology they had espoused. This dissertation, therefore, offers a new contribution to our understanding of the visual culture of legal procedure by using an historical case-study of transitional justice after the Second World War.


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