Document Analyst's Report

During January I worked through the documents and corresponding trial transcript for the defense of Alfred Jodl, the head of the military operations staff, and began work on the documents of Artur Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian Nazi who played a role in the German takeover in 1938 and served as the German governor of the Netherlands during the war.

Strategy, or lack of it: Jodl argued that he had no role in setting military strategy during the war (he just "followed orders"), and moreover that there was no strategy in the military high command at all, just Hitler's ad hoc decisions. (General George Marshall reported after the war that Germany's campaigns did not reflect any strategic plan.) Arguing against the charge that he had helped plan the attack on the USSR, Jodl cited a report by General von Falkenhorst in October 1940 that Hitler was planning something completely different: He was focusing on "the question of the occupation of the Atlantic Islands with a view to the prosecution of war against America at a later date." Another factor working against planning by the high command was Himmler's growing influence in the war. Jodl's work diary noted in May 1940 that "The unlimited expansion plan of the SS causes general apprehension."

A soldier's honor: Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of the high command, had acknowledged that orders he had issued included violations of the laws of war, and asked that he receive a corresponding military punishment, execution by firing squad. (He was hung.) Jodl attempted a stronger argument, that he had acted dutifully and honorably within his role as a soldier, and had personally opposed violations of international law, such as the execution of Allied commandos and bomber crews, so that he was not guilty at all. The British prosecutor addressed this point directly. At the end of his cross-examination and the presentation of evidence of the violations that had been committed by the military, he asked Jodl, "do you still say that you are an honorable soldier and a truthful man?" Jodl replied, "I still affirm that." He was convicted and executed.

Arguing with Hitler: As Allied bombing intensified in mid-1944 Hitler directed that any Allied air crews that had attacked civilian targets and then been captured should be left to suffer the "popular fury" of lynch mobs. In March 1945 he was angry that the order had not been carried out by the military and that soldiers had even protected downed pilots against angry civilians, and he ordered that captured bomber crews were to be "liquidated by the SD," the SS security service, and that any officer who disobeyed the order should also be shot. The military commanders, including Keitel and Goering, and even Kaltenbrunner the SS police chief, opposed the decision, partly because it was a violation of international law and contrary to their professional ethics, but they knew it was useless to make that case with Hitler. Instead they argued that it would be impossible to sort out which crews had bombed which targets and that the executions would provoke retaliation against German pilots. Hitler objected to the latter point as showing "the cowardice of the Luftwaffe." The order was not issued.

Matt Seccombe, 5 February 2024