Trump Time Capsule #41: 'We Remember the Nuremberg Trials'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

What Patrick Healy and Helene Cooper of the NYT report today is highly unusual and deserves attention. The unusual aspect is active-duty general officers (a) speaking about party politics this directly, if anonymously, during the heat of an election campaign, and (b) doing so to criticize a Republican rather than a Democratic candidate. (In my experience senior flag officers are not as politically conservative as the military as a whole, but overall they are conservatives.)

Yes, of course, senior military officials have been politically aware and involved since the days of Gen. George Washington. But as with so many things touched by Donald Trump, what is happening here is outside the normal range.

The officers who spoke with Healy and Cooper were responding to Donald Trump’s speeches about finally getting serious in the war against terror. His recommended steps include bringing back waterboarding (“I love it! I think it’s great!”) and intentionally killing the family members of suspected terrorists (rather than doing so as “collateral damage” from targeted strikes):

At the Pentagon, interviews with more than a dozen top generals revealed alarm over many of Mr. Trump’s proposals for the use of American power, even among officers who said privately that they lean Republican…. A number of top-ranking admirals and generals said the military is governed by laws and rules of engagement that are far stricter than politicians may realize.

And justifications that troops would be “following orders” are unlikely to sway war-crimes courts, they said.

“We remember the Nuremberg trials,” said Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, now retired, who was in charge of training the Iraqi Army in 2003. “Just following orders is not going to cut it.”

To be clear about this: senior active-duty military officers are warning that a man who could become president might give orders that would expose them to war-crime prosecution later on. For time-capsule purposes, this is part of the public record just days before the Republican party officially makes this man its nominee, and three-and-a-half months before the country decides whether to make him Commander in Chief.


(I’m not using a picture with this installment, because the obvious ones on the “just following orders” theme would be too heavy-handed.)

I am aware that the pace of these entries is picking up unsustainably, but that’s because the news is too. Also, we’re about to launch some new convention-coverage threads, about which I’ll say more soon.