The Nuremberg paradox: how the trial of the Nazis challenged American support of international human rights law

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Joseph A. Ross, Lecturer (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Mark Elliott

Abstract: This dissertation is an intellectual and legal history that traces the evolution of human rights concepts by focusing on American participants who were at the center of the Nuremberg Trial—Robert Jackson, Francis Biddle, and John Parker. It addresses questions such as: What impact did the Nuremberg Trial have on international human rights law in the postwar period? How did Jackson, Biddle, and Parker understand human rights, national sovereignty, international law, and international engagement before the Trial? Did their views change as a result of their Nuremberg experiences? What challenges, if any, did they face in upholding human rights when they returned home? The answers to these questions reveal a key paradox surrounding Nuremberg. A paradox seems to contradict generally received opinion yet is still true, which is an apt description of the Nuremberg Trial. It was a pivotal moment in the development of international human rights law, and of the U.S. commitment to internationalism. One way of measuring Nuremberg’s importance is through the impact it had on Jackson, Biddle, and Parker’s thinking after the Trial ended. These men had already endorsed the idea of “crimes against humanity” and the need for international trials before they received their appointments, which is part of the reason why they were chosen. At Nuremberg, they confronted atrocities of such an extreme nature that they devoted themselves to the Trial’s great purpose: that “never again” would the world allow this to happen. Aggressive war, genocide, racial and religious persecution were among the worst crimes that had to be eradicated. Paradoxically, though, while each participant demonstrated an enhanced commitment to human rights after the Trial, each one also faced his own challenges in applying these principles at home. Jackson faltered on anti-communism, and Parker on civil rights. Only Biddle out of the three went the furthest in consistently advocating human rights.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Francis Biddle, Human rights, International law, John Parker, Nuremberg Trial, Robert Jackson
Nuremberg Trial of Major German War Criminals, Nuremberg, Germany, 1945-1946 $x Influence
International law and human rights
Human rights advocacy
Biddle, Francis, $d 1886-1968
Jackson, Robert H., $d 1892-1954
Parker, John Johnston, $d 1885-1958

Email this document to