Published Date

August 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 11: What Shall Be Done with the War Criminals? (1944) 

The “War Criminals” problem will face us again at the close of this war as it did in 1918. The Moscow Statement quoted at the beginning of the text lays down general principles. Working out ways of implementing these principles presents many knotty questions, but they are questions which are sure to be of interest to G. I. discussion groups.

This pamphlet is so organized as to be an eminently practical guide to you in conducting one or more discussions on the “War Criminals” problem. Use this material for forum, panel discussion, informal discussion, or debate—whichever method is likely to be successful with your men. The techniques of all these types of meetings are outlined in EM 1, G. I. Roundtable: Guide for Discussion Leaders. The forum requires a good speaker who can address his audience with authority. An informal discussion will be successful with a relatively small group (30 people or less) under the guidance of a leader who can keep the discussion on the track. Panel discussion requires about a half dozen individuals who will prepare themselves to carry on their orderly talk under a chairman and who can attempt to answer questions from the floor. Debate is an interesting form because it is a team competition; its disadvantage is that time for questions after the debate is difficult to arrange.

Whatever form of meeting you select, the table of contents indicates the major issues to be discussed. Scattered through the text are many subsidiary questions. You can make notes of these for your guidance in conducting the discussion. If the subject is to be properly covered within the time allotted, you are advised to plan some scheme for apportioning the hour between your short introduction and the major points it is necessary to have considered by the group.

Material in this pamphlet can easily be used for two meetings. It is suggested that you divide the major points for discussion as follows:


First Meeting

1. Who Are the “War Criminals”?

2. What Happened after the Last War?

3. Under What Laws Shall the United Nations Proceed?

Second Meeting

4. Are “Superior Orders” a Legitimate Defense?

5. Are Chiefs of State Liable?

6. Getting Hold of the Accused

7. How Shall the Guilty Be Punished?


A single meeting can also be planned to cover all seven points above. In this case you can perhaps include points 1 and 2 in a brief introductory talk and limit the general discussion to the last five points.

Chart. You will find a rough chart which lists the major issues a valuable aid in keeping the discussion from wandering too far afield. Be sure to have your lettering sufficiently large to be legible by all present.

Other questions for discussion are suggested below. You may wish to use them instead of or in addition to those suggested in the text. You may find in them suggestions for further discussion.

  1. Should we “forgive and forget,” and not subject the enemy leaders and members of their military and political staffs to punishment? Would you distinguish between the Germans and Japanese in this respect?
  2. Should we distinguish between the leaders and the followers? If so, where shall we draw the line? Shall we limit trial to Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, and their henchmen? Shall we also subject to trial and punishment members of the German and Japanese general staffs who violated the laws and customs of legitimate warfare and civilized criminal law? Shall we include the leaders of the political secret police organizations?
  3. When it was suggested to a prominent international lawyer that heads of state are liable to trial and punishment by an international tribunal, he asked whether Americans and Englishmen would accept the view that their own chiefs of state could be tried by foreign courts. What do you say to this question? Would the trial and execution of Hitler establish a “dangerous precedent” for the future? If trials are in an international tribunal, should it include some judges from enemy countries? Should it hear charges against other soldiers?
  4. If Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini are executed, how can their “martyrization” by future generations of Germans, Japanese, and Italians be prevented?
  5. What about the defense of “superior orders”? Compare the American rule as found in the Rules of Land Warfare, the American rule enunciated in judicial decision, the English rule, the German, and the French.
  6. Do you think an international criminal court should be established?
  7. If one is established should it confine its trials to the classes of cases suggested in this pamphlet? If not, how should the court’s jurisdiction be modified?
  8. What do you think of the Germans’ contention at the close of World War I that trial by a court established by the Allies would be one-sided and unfair?
  9. Do you think we ought to let German and Japanese war criminals be tried and punished in their own countries, by their own courts, and under their own laws?
  10. Should Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, and the other leaders be shot without trial, on the ground that their guilt is notorious and that trials would only give them a public forum for their antisocial views?
  11. Should capital punishment be used in the more serious cases? Are you in favor of or opposed to capital punishment for murders committed in your own state? Are you consistent in your attitude? Is there a basic distinction between the problem of punishing war criminals and that of punishing ordinary criminals?
  12. Most modern American criminology is opposed to punishment as an end in itself or as vengeance or retribution. It believes that the chief aim of “punishment” is reeducation, reform, and rehabilitation of the offender. Do you believe in such an approach to the problem? If so, how can you reconcile it with the proposal to punish war criminals as an end in itself or by way of retribution or vengeance?

In the next section there is a short list of books suggested for further reading if it so happens that you have access to them. The books are not approved nor officially supplied by the War Department. They have been selected because they give additional information and represent different points of view.


Suggestions for Further Reading

War Criminals and Punishment. By George Creel. Published by Robert M. McBride and Company, 116 East 16th Street, New York 3, N. Y. (1944).

“Punishment of Offenders against the Laws and Customs of War.” An article by James W. Garner in American Journal of International Law, vol. 14, pages 70–94, January and April 1920.

“Trial and Punishment of the Axis War Criminals.” An article by Sheldon Glueck in Free World, vol. 4, pages 138–146, November 1942.

“Punishing the War Criminals.” An article by Sheldon Glueck in New Republic, vol. 109, pages 706–709, Nov. 22, 1943.

Prosecution and Punishment of War Criminals. By Sheldon Glueck. To be published in the fall of 1944 by Alfred A. Knopf, 501 Madison Avenue, New York 22, N. Y.

War Guilt Trials. By Harold Kellock. Vol. 1, no. 11, of Editorial Research Reports, 1013 Thirteenth Street, N.W., Washington 5, D. C. (1943).

International Law and Totalitarian Lawlessness. By Georg Schwarzenberger. Distributed by Thomas Nelson and Sons, 385 Madison Avenue, New York, N. Y. (1943).