A native’s significant speech
Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of Robert H. Jackson’s opening statement before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
Jackson, a native of Warren County, Pa., and Chautauqua County who by 1945 had already made his mark on the national stage as U.S. Attorney General and a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, delivered a speech that laid the groundwork for international law and human rights; a speech that even now serves as a bedrock for international criminal trials and international law.
Speaking for more than three hours, Jackson made legal arguments that condemned the Nazis and their actions from the moment they took power in Germany to the time of their defeat. Jackson struck a tone that was analytical, deliberate, thorough and, in the end, hopeful.
“But the ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to law. And let me make clear that while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.
We are able to do away with domestic tyranny and violence and aggression by those in power against the rights of their own people only when we make all men answerable to the law. This trial represents mankind’s desperate effort to apply the discipline of the law to statesmen who have used their powers of state to attack the foundations of the world’s peace and to commit aggressions against the rights of their neighbor,” Jackson said near the end of his opening statement.
Saturday is a day for all residents here to be proud of a native son who made a lasting mark on the world with the power of his convictions and impact of his words.
It is also a day that should serve as inspiration for a generation of children who should know that they, too, can make a difference in the world.
Most importantly, we hope that Saturday is a day when the world stage –a stage upon which Robert J. Jackson was for at least one day the biggest star — takes the following words of Jackson’s to heart.
“The American dream of a peace-and-plenty economy, as well as the hopes of other nations, can never be fulfilled if those nations are involved in a war every generation so vast and devastating as to crush the generation that fights and burden the generation that follows. But experience has shown that wars are no longer local. All modern wars become world wars eventually. And none of the big nations at least can stay out. If we cannot stay out of wars, our only hope is to prevent wars.”
As we enter the third decade of the 2000s, let our leaders take Jackson’s words to heart. The best wars are the wars you don’t fight in the first place.