Thursday, September 27, 2012
Do the Right Thing
General Anton Dostler being tied to a stake for execution by firing squad on Dec. 1, 1945 in Aversa, Italy. Dostler had been convicted of war crimes by an American tribunal. He had ordered the execution of 15 captured Americans soldiers who, in uniform, landed behind German lines in order to blow up a train tunnel. You can view a video of his execution here. This was the first Allied war crime trial. Dostler's defense, Superior Orders, was that he was only passing along an order of another general. This "I was only following orders" was here seriously undercut by the fact that an officer under him, Alexander, Prince of Dohna-Schlobitten, one of the last Germans flown out of Stalingrad, had refused to sign the execution order and was dismissed from the Wehrmacht for insubordination. Dohna lived to be 97, dying in 1997. Dostler didn't make it to 1946.
We never gave the Superior Orders defense much weight in any of the war crime tribunals dealing with WWII war crimes. It is never a lawful order to commit a war crime. It's a tough choice for those being ordered to do such things, however. Since Nuremburg, however, the Superior Orders defense has been at times more effective, as with Lt. Calley after the 1968 massacre at Me Lei.