Monday, January 1, 2007


Summarized from John F. Kennedy's famous "Profiles in Courage":

Robert A. Taft: A Profile In Courage

At the conclusion of any war, difficult decisions must be made between the victors and the defeated. After World War II, for instance, many of the leaders of the Nazis in Germany were put on trial as war criminals by an international tribune. But imagine, for a moment, if at the conclusion of the Vietnam War, if an international court had tried to indict leaders from the U.S. for their role in waging that war. It was exactly that type of prosecution that Republican Senator Robert A. Taft feared when he opposed the Nuremberg trials against the Nazi war criminals.

During the Nuremberg Trials eleven Nazis were found guilty under an indictment for "waging an aggressive war" and sentenced to death. The verdict was a popular one especially in the United States, but Senator Robert A. Taft was not a member of the majority. With nothing to gain and his political future to lose, Taft's conscience and political courage caused him to speak out against a verdict he believed to be an act of vengeance, compromising the American and European justice systems.

Senator Robert A. Taft led conservative Republican opposition to the Democratic administrations of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. In 1931-32 he was a member of the Ohio Senate, and from 1939 until his death he served in the U.S. Senate. Despite his nickname "Mr. Republican," Senator Taft was known to break party lines on issues such as education, housing, health and other welfare measures.

In 1946, Robert Taft was chief spokesman for the Republican Party and it looked likely that Republicans would gain control of both Houses of Congress paving the way for Taft's Republican nomination for the presidency in 1948. When a verdict was reached in the Nuremberg trials, the Senate was not in session and Senator Taft had no obligation to share his views. But Taft's strong belief that the trials were unjust caused him to speak out. "The trial of the vanquished by the victors cannot be impartial no matter how it is hedged about with the forms of justice," Taft said. He believed the Nuremberg trials challenged both the legal structure and the Constitution of the United States and set a dangerous legal precedent worldwide. In 1946 Democrats and Republicans alike branded Taft a Nazi sympathizer. His views were highly unpopular with his constituents and the majority of American citizens.

I question whether the hanging of those, who, however despicable, were the leaders of the German people, will ever discourage the making of aggressive war, for no one makes aggressive war unless he expects to win. About this whole judgment there is the spirit of vengeance, and vengeance is seldom justice. The hanging of the eleven men convicted will be a blot on the American record, which we shall long regret.

Characterized by Kennedy as an act of political courage, speaking out against the trials did not cost Senator Robert A. Taft his career in the U.S. Senate. He continued to serve until his death in 1953. Taft never did accomplish his dream of becoming president, campaigning twice unsuccessfully for the presidential nomination of his party. Kennedy believed Taft showed personal strength and conscientious action in his pursuit of justice and what he felt was the right path, in spite of the fact that his views were contrary to those of the majority of Americans.

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