Of Nazis, Americans, and Educating Against Catastrophe
43 Pages Posted: 12 May 2012
Date Written: May 11, 2012
This article, part of a symposium commemorating the 70th anniversary of a speech Justice Robert Jackson delivered after returning from the Nuremberg trials, explores the role of legal education in preventing mass violations of human and civil rights. It compares the lives of two planners of mass civilian deportations in the spring of 1942: Benno Martin, the German police official (and lawyer) who oversaw the eastward deportation of thousands of Jews from Nuremberg, and Karl Bendetsen, the U.S. Army official (and lawyer) who oversaw the eastward deportation of thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans from the West Coast of the United States. Identifying important similarities in the arcs of the two mens' lives, the article explores some of the all-too-human forces that tend to lead societies — as they led Germany and the United States — away from honestly reckoning with the choices people make to harness their professional energies to advance systems of repression. Indeed, it uses Justice Jackson's own ambivalent response to the wartime imprisonment of Japanese Americans to illustrate those very forces. Finally, the article takes up Jackson's call for deploying education as civilization's last clear chance to avoid the catastrophic mistreatment of minorities. It offers some tentative thoughts about how legal education might provide a moral grounding that would counterbalance the everyday ambitions and administrative pressures that can lead the members of a learned profession to sustain and nurture systems of repression.
Keywords: Japanese Americans, Holocaust, professional responsibility, legal education, Nuremberg, Robert Jackson
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