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Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals Paperback – January 15, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0691092782 ISBN-10: 0691092788

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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Studies in International History and Politics
  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691092788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691092782
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #726,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Gary Jonathan Bass, of Princeton University, offers a vigorous, liberal endorsement of war-crimes trials at a time when they're coming under close scrutiny in the aftermath of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. This book--Bass's first--takes its title from U.S. prosecutor Robert Jackson's opening statement at the Nuremberg trials, following World War II: "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason." Nuremberg is, of course, widely regarded as a glowing success; other war-crimes tribunals fall far short of its mark. A strength of this book is Bass's willingness to deal with these realities. His defense of war-crimes trials doesn't rest on head-in-the-sky notions about international justice. He argues, simply, that they're in the interest of democratic, peace-loving nations: "It is not that these complicated and often muddled trials are too noble to question; it is that the other options could be worse."

For an advocate, Bass is refreshingly honest: "Do war crimes tribunals work? The only serious answer is: compared to what? No, war crimes trials do not work particularly well. But they have clear potential to work, and to work much better than anything else diplomats have come up with at the end of a war." Apathy and vengeance, which Bass considers the two alternatives to tribunals, are both worth avoiding, he says. The bulk of Stay the Hand of Vengeance focuses on how nations dealt with war crimes following the Napoleonic era, World War I, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the crumbling of Yugoslavia, and several other episodes. Bass, who was a journalist before becoming an academic, writes with great clarity and knows how to combine anecdote with argument to make his point. For those interested in the international prosecution of war crimes from both historical and contemporary perspectives, this is required reading. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

One of the major accomplishments of this impressive scholarly work is to deflate the myth that attempts to stage war crime trials began at the end of WWII. As Bass, a former reporter who now teaches politics and international affairs at Princeton, explains, the Nuremberg trials represent just part of a debate about the legality and effectiveness of endeavors to hold such tribunals, which began at the end of WWI and continues today. Bass judiciously takes a journey through the efforts to hold such trialsAfrom Britain's attempt to try Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1919 to NATO's attempts to try those responsible for atrocities in the Balkans. Despite Bass's obvious support for the trials and what he calls "legalism"Aliberal nations extending domestic laws to the international sphereAhe admits that the Nuremberg trials were the only successful venture to try in a court of law those accused of wartime atrocities. And even he says that what took place at Nuremberg, while "extraordinary," was not perfect, just "far better than anything else that has been done at the end of a major war." Even there, he allows, Britain and the United States were motivated more by a desire for retribution for what was done to their soldiers during the war than by a desire for justice regarding the Holocaust and other atrocities against civilians. The same "selfishness," Bass contends, continues to condemn more recent attempts to bring wartime scofflaws to justice. Balanced and thorough, this book ends on a note of mixed optimism with regard to the future of war crimes tribunals. Do they work? Bass asks. "The only serious answer," he continues, "is: compared to what?"
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you care even a little bit about international justice, you have to read this groundbreaking book. The research is incredibly painstaking--there's unbelievable stuff about the war crimes tribunal after the Napoleonic Wars, and a riveting reconstruction of the failed tribunal after the Armenian genocide. But there's also great journalism about the search for justice in the Balkans. It looks like international tribunals are going to be the next big thing; this is the definitive history, and the definitive analysis.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Gary Jonathan Bass's book is a riveting, thoughtful read into what has been a long-neglected chapter of history. Piecing it all together wasn't easy. Mr. Bass takes sound scholarship, adds good reporting, and weaves a tale that I, frankly, could not put down. Read it. You won't regret it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By John M on January 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is thoroughly researched and footnoted and very well written. It culminates in a balanced account of the development of the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and exposes the role of Western nations in supporting- and in some cases, obstructing the tribunal's work. Bass' thesis is that Western nations value human rights and the rule of law,- but not more than the lives of their own soldiers - thus accounting for the sporadic Western support for War Crimes tribunals. This is provocative book which has many insights into the complexities of international organizations, human rights, and diplomacy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Donovan G. Rinker on September 7, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At the Tehran Conference in 1943, Stalin toasted the summary executions of 50,000 German officers, Churchill privately proposed a number of some 100 major war criminals, Roosevelt kept silent, swayed alternately by Hans Morgenthau, Jr., who proposed some 2500 summary executions, and Henry Stimson, who preferred trials. That Stimson should ultimately prevail in the debate owes as much to accidents of history as to any profound historical moment culminating in Nuremberg. How Nuremberg ultimately played out, and the subsequent notion of holding leaders personally responsible for war crimes, is a tale well worth reading.

Gary Jonathan Bass's book, Stay the Hand of Vengeance, debunks several of the myths that grow from such moments. Still, in reviving the story of Leipzig (trials of German officers after World War I) and Constantinople/Malta (trials of Ottoman officers after World War I), Bass has presented not just a useful set of anecdotes on trials that failed and one that succeeded beyond expectation or intention, but a careful history of what drove efforts to hold such trials in the first place, of the limited political will behind them, the complexity and likelihood of failure.

Bass offers two principle insights: first, liberal states have a tendency to support individual accountability through trials for leaders responsible for war crimes that is unique (illiberal states prefer summary executions without second thought). Second, the tendency for liberal states to desire individual accountability and punishment ("legalism," as Bass uses the term) varies directly with the quantity of suffering experienced by that state: France loses 14 times as many men as America in World War I, and Britain 10 times as many men, and both are far more interested in war crimes trials.
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