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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

War Guilt of Military Leaders

(28 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 43, 28 October 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

When the Nuremberg trial verdicts were announced recently, General Eisenhower stated that he was “a little astonished” that the sentence of death was imposed upon field marshal Keitel, the former chief of the German high command. “I was surprised,” he said, “that they found it so easy to convict a military man. I thought the military would provide a special problem for the tribunal.”

Cheered by the tribunal’s ruling that the German general staff and the high command were not criminal organizations, Colonel D.F. Fritzsche, deputy American intelligence chief in Europe, more fully expressed the idea behind Eisenhower’s statement.

“It is very encouraging to any staff officer,” he fluted, “that the court has not set a precedent under which he might some day be prosecuted just for doing his job in helping plan the military defense of his country. This phase of the trial affects all members of the military profession in all countries who might be on the losing side some time and be prosecuted for it.”

Now this is a really remarkable statement. Among other things – it says in passing – as befits a mere trifle! – that the trial was a frame-up and that the defendants were prosecuted not for waging aggressive war but for being on the losing side. We shall return to this subject in the future. It is an important one. But what interests us now is the concept enunciated here: that the military bear no responsibility in waging modern war, that the staff officer is “just doing his job.”


Just what is the role of the staff officer, what is his responsibility?

In one sense the staff grade officer in all countries is only a hired hand of the capitalist class, whose inescapable quest for markets, raw materials and peoples to exploit inevitably leads to war. The capitalist is the real criminal. The economic needs of the capitalists determine basic policy, which is carried out by the military.

The politicians are likewise merely the hired hands of the capitalists, doing their basic bidding. This applies to a Churchill as well as to a Goering. In terms of actual economic weight in a country they are, more often than not, insignificant.

The military and political leaders of a country are specialists hired by the capitalist class as a whole (much as the individual capitalist may hire a time-study man or engineer to run his factory efficiently) to prosecute the capitalists’ internal and foreign policies most effectively. But they share the guilt of the capitalist class just as certainly as Al Capone’s triggermen shared his.

Though the officer caste is essentially the servant of a country’s ruling class it often has great independent power. The. military has always been prominent in governmental affairs. One has only to recall such diverse names as Napoleon, Frederick the Great, or Gustavus Adolphus to verify that fact. In World War II there was not ah important conference held, such as at Teheran, Casablanca, or Potsdam, without the presence and active participation of the military.


The military assumes a prominent role especially in times of crisis, when class tensions become sharp. Kapp, Ludendorff, and Goering in Germany; de Gaulle, Darlan, and Petain in France; the regime of the colonels in Poland; Franco in Spain; Badoglio in Italy; Batista in Cuba; Chiang Kai-shek in China – all witness the responsibility of the military in the events of our time.

The tendency for military men to intervene more and more in the economic and political life of the United States is very pronounced today. Unlike following World War I the generals have not disappeared into the Sargasso Sea of civilian life. They form important sections of the governing personnel of the country.

One has only to recall the pro-consul role being placed by MacArthur in Japan, the intervention of Marshall in Chinese affairs, the power exercised by Clay in Germany, or the constant trips of Eisenhower throughout the world cementing military and political ties to recognize this fact.

The increased specific gravity of military personnel on the home front – now largely in preparation for war against Russia – is also manifest. Their influence is constantly being exerted everywhere. A casual reading of the paper is enough to show that.


No, whatever persons like Eisenhower may care to make us believe, the higher echelon officers are doing more than just a job. They are an integral part of the capitalist war machine and, along with the capitalists and their political servants, bear their share of the responsibility for the horrors of modern warfare.

Just as he was to be hanged at Nuremberg Julius Streicher said, “The Bolsheviks will hang you one day.” We can safely let Colonel Fritzsche and his associates among the Allies worry about the legal justification which the trials may give the Russians for such an action.

The socialist movement has long since rendered its verdict on all war makers, German, Russian, English, and American alike:

They’re all guilty.

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