The Daily 750

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Heroes and Criminals

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Another magnificent day in history.

Today's hero:

He is Robert Jackson, the chief American prosecutor in this trial:

The Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal began 60 years today, November 20th, in Nuremberg. The sentences: 12 deaths by hanging, three life sentences, four prison sentences of under 20 years.

Franklin Roosevelt appointed Jackson to a number of positions including, in 1941, to the US Supreme Court, from which he was granted a leave of absence to prosecute the Nazi war criminals (a position also of appointment from FDR). Jackson never went to college. Josh says, "He read the law, like Abraham Lincoln."

One of Jackson's most famous quotes is a bit of a paraphrase from a dissenting opinion he wrote in a case in which the majority of the Supremes said that, in 1949, Arthur Terminiello, a Catholic priest, had not committed the act of disorderly conduct when his outrageously vitriolic, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic rant to a group of sympathizers in a Chicago auditorium, incited the protestors outside to riot. "There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom," Jackson wrote, "it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact." Thus the phrase: "The Constitution is not a suicide pact." In other words: The Constitution is not intended to grant rights so broadly as to bring down the nation.

Why is it that, in the annals of crime, it's almost always the criminals and almost never the heroes who are remembered?