Justice Robert H. Jackson Delivers the Prosecution's Opening Statement

United States Chief Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson (February 13, 1892 - October 9, 1954) delivers the opening statement on the second day of the International Military Tribunal. Truman invested Jackson, a Supreme Court Justice, with the responsibility for setting up the trials, the first International public trial of its kind. He was instrumental in the August 8, 1945 London Conference that brought the United States, United Kingdom. France and the Soviet Union together to prosecute high ranking Nazis in open court. Jackson selected the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg because it was large enough, was mostly undamaged by Allied bombing, and had a jail for the prisoners. Some 640 lawyers made up the American prosecution team. Jackson resigned eleven months later, after the verdicts, because he was embroiled in a public castigation of his colleague, Justice Hugo Black. Truman appointed another Justice as Chief, avoiding both the Black and Jackson factions. Both Black and Jackson were called to resign by the press. When Jackson personally undertook the questioning of Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, and Hjalmar Schacht, legal reporters condemned his ability to cross-examine. Many feel that Goering's ability to stand up to Jackson during his testimony damaged the Justice's reputation. Still, Jackson's opening and closing statements are considered some of the finest International Law speeches in history. His opening statement, which began the prosecution's case, took most of the day. In part, Jackson said, "May it please Your Honors: The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to reason. This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of 17 more, to utilize international law to meet the greatest menace of our times-aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which. leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honors. In the prisoners' dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals their fate is of little consequence to the world..."
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
Date Photographed: 
Wednesday, November 21, 1945