Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ernst von Weiszäcker, Friedrich Wilhelm von Prittwitz and Graffron, Elizabeth Wilmhurst and Michael Wood

One of my major criticisms of Ernst von Weiszäcker, who was to become the State Secretary at the German Foreign Office under Hitler, was his appearing at the Nürnberg trials pleading, as so many did, that he stayed in office "um Schlimmeres zu verhüten" (to prevent worse happening), could it have been much worse and there he was on trial in Nürnberg in 1947, the really bad boys had already been tried, telling all and sundry that he was a member of the opposition and if he was, the opposition didn't know much about him. Of course, von Weiszäcker was not a unique figure in Nazi Germany and to the best of my knowledge only one diplomat, the German ambassador in Washington, Friedrich Wilhelm von Prittwitz and Gaffron, actually followed the dictates of his conscience and resigned.

Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon, Gordon Brown and the rest of their crazy gang took Britain into two wars and if some arguments might be constructed, albeit on very tenous grounds, for the legality of the first conflict, there can be no doubt that the war in Iraq was illegal. That is why we should pay attention to today's headline in the 'Independent' which reads; "Foreign Office officials thought war was illegal." The story goes on to report that Elizabeth Wilmshurst,  a lawyer at the FO, was the only UK civil servant to resign; she quit her job before the first attacks on Iraq after reminding her superiors invading Iraq would be a "crime of aggression".

Now, we sit back and critise all those "Mitläufer" who prefered to hang on to keep their jobs in Nazi Germany. However, let's stop and think about it for a minute. Resigning from office in Nazi Germany in protest at the government might just have had slightly more serious consequences for German civil servants than resigning in Britain seventy years later would have had for British civil servants. However, what did we have in 2003? One Foreign Office lawyer quiting because of a war which she knew to be illegal. Moreover, it would appear that her boss Sir Michael Wood, "clearly advised"Tony and his chums that the conflict would be illegal under international law.

However, the then Mr Michael, Wood, who was then the FCO's chief legal adviser, didn't resign, he stayed on and was awarded a knighthood in the 2004 New Year Honours list. Yes, that is the problem you see; for every Ms Wilmhurst and Friedrich Wilhelm von Prittwitz und Gaffron there are thousands like Ernst von Weiszäcker and Sir Michael and while we might understand their wanting to hold onto their relatively insignificant careers and wouldn't the world be a much different place if they were to really follow the dictates of their conscience?

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