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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Wars of Aggression

(4 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 44, 4 November 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Robert H. Jackson, United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg trial, recently clearly formulated the primary reason for the hanging of several of the leading figures of the Nazi regime.

It was for the “planning, preparation, incitation, or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or conspiracy or participation in a common place to do so.”

Despite the musty legal rhetoric characteristic of this parasitic profession, the meaning emerges clearly enough.

Equally clearly stated is that the Nazis were not executed for the crimes they committed against the German people – and, in particular, the German labor movement – except insofar as these acts were part of the war preparations. This concept, said Jackson, with that transcendent historical objectivity of a person who has never had to risk his hide under fascism, “does not fully protect minorities against discriminations and persecutions ...”

But let us overlook this for the time being, as well as many of the other criticisms which have been directed against the trial: the fact that the defendants were tried for an act which was not recognized as a crime in international law when they committed it; the fact that the real criminals, the capitalists, were not put in the dock, etc.

Let’s get down to the nub of the matter – the theory of aggressive war.


One simple fact, which all the propaganda whitewash in the world cannot obliterate, reveals the trial as a fraud. It is this: that if aggressive war is a crime the Russian leaders should have been in the dock along with the Germans for their actions following the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939.

“Jodl was grinning like a fox,” reports G.M. Gilbert, the prison psychologist, “‘So now they want to hide the fact that there was a secret treaty! ... The war probably never would have been risked if Hitler hadn’t had this agreement in his pocket!’”

For almost every crime of the Nazis in “the persecution of individuals or minorities on political, racial, or religious grounds where it is a domestic policy in preparation for such war” a Stalinist counterpart can be brought forward. That Justice Jackson only now announces this reveals that he has not only been chummy with Russian war criminals during the past year but that in our accelerated age foreign policy can rapidly change in the few months since the trial began. Yesterday’s ally is now an enemy. That Jackson does not look very bright under the circumstances is really not his fault.


Marxists have long pointed out that it is not aggressor nations which cause war but capitalism itself. Capitalism will only produce goods for a profit. When it cannot dispose of a glut of goods on the home market it attempts to sell them abroad. When it does so it invariably collides with other nations attempting to do the same thing. The result is war. That was the meaning of World War I, which was precipitated by Germany’s attempt to build a colonial empire at the expense of the Allies, and muscle-in on a world market largely controlled by the United States, England, and France. It was the basic cause of World War II.

Viewed in this fashion, an actual aggressor nation, in the sense of a nation which unleashes the armed struggle, usually is the one whose need is greater. It may be seeking booty which another nation long ago acquired and has fattened on. Hence the Nazi diatribes against “plutocratic England.” Both are morally culpable.

The term “aggressor” has very useful propaganda value. Every nation seeks to inveigle its opponent into being an actual aggressor in the military sense. From the point of view of the propaganda fed its own people, every nation has always waged a defensive war. In an age of secret treaties, economic pressure, propaganda, and imperialist diplomacy, every power finds it easy to create this impression in its own interest against an opponent.

For instance, the United States was undoubtedly the victim of aggression at Pearl Harbor, and it was a godsend for President Roosevelt, who was going against the grain of the American people in his war drive. But it was a defensive war on the part of the Japanese, also.

The following report, written from Honolulu by Hallett Abend on the eve of the war, has in it all the simple facts necessary for Japanese leaders to prove to the Japanese people that they were being made the victims of United States aggression:

“... already today, as a result of the freezing of her assets and the cessation of her trade with the United States, all parts of the British Empire, and the Netherlands East Indies, Japan is suffering almost the equivalent of a naval blockade. If it continues for another half year her industries will collapse.”


College professors, those nasty old maids of both sexes who wind up in capitalist editorial offices, professional politicians, army and navy officers, and other unclassified organic matter, diffuse the comforting myth that our military leaders are models of ethical thinking and conduct. Such is, of course, far from the truth. The question of defense or aggression is almost solely one of expediency – that is, of weighing against each other the propaganda and military value of following a course of aggression or of defense.

Abend shows the division of opinion which existed on this question just prior to the war: “Not only in the Philippines but in Batavia and Singapore there are few doubts that Japan will take provocative action. In some high quarters there’s insistence that the democracies must take direct action even if Japan remains quiet; that her striking power must be destroyed – now.”

War guilt? It is nothing but the reflex of international policy.

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