Americans, Germans, and War Crimes Justice

Law, Memory, and "The Good War"

by James J. Weingartner


During World War II, both Americans and Germans committed war crimes, but the ways in which the U.S. Army dealt with crimes committed by their own soldiers were drastically different from its treatment of German atrocities. In fact, by the standards the U.S. Army used to try enemy commanders for war crimes, General George Patton could have been deemed a war criminal.

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Cover image for Americans, Germans, and War Crimes Justice

March 2011


Pages 231
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Military History/Genocide and War Crimes

This ground-breaking comparative perspective on the subject of World War II war crimes and war justice focuses on American and German atrocities.

Almost every war involves loss of life of both military personnel and civilians, but World War II involved an unprecedented example of state-directed and ideologically motivated genocide—the Holocaust. Beyond this horrific, premeditated war crime perpetrated on a massive scale, there were also isolated and spontaneous war crimes committed by both German and U.S. forces.

The book is focused upon on two World War II atrocities—one committed by Germans and the other by Americans. The author carefully examines how the U.S. Army treated each crime, and gives accounts of the atrocities from both German and American perspectives. The two events are contextualized within multiple frameworks: the international law of war, the phenomenon of war criminality in World War II, and the German and American collective memories of World War II. Americans, Germans and War Crimes Justice: Law, Memory, and "The Good War" provides a fresh and comprehensive perspective on the complex and sensitive subject of World War II war crimes and justice.


  • . Provides historic photographs related to war crimes and trials
  • . An extensive bibliography of primary sources and secondary literature in English and German related to World War II war crimes and trials


  • . Examines the state of the international law of war as it existed during World War II
  • . Analyzes war crimes during World War II as an international phenomenon
  • . Points out the inconsistencies in how the U.S. Army addressed war crimes committed by Germans as compared to its treatment of similar crimes committed by American soldiers
  • . Compares and contrasts German and American memories of World War II
Author Info

James J. Weingartner, PhD, is professor emeritus of history at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Edwardsville, IL. He received his degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Madison, WI. His published works include Hitler's Guard: The Story of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 1933-1945; Crossroads of Death: The Story of the Malmedy Massacre and Trial; A Peculiar Crusade: Willis M. Everett and the Malmédy Massacre; and numerous articles on World War II war crimes and war crimes trials.



"Weingartner's book is not an ordinary historical account of war crimes and their trials in the European Theater of Operations in WW II. . . . For all students of WW II in Europe. Summing Up: Highly recommended."Choice


"This is a well-designed and well-executed comparative study of war crimes committed by Germans and by Americans, and their prosecutions, during World War II. Weingartner guides the reader through the incidents themselves, as well as the ensuing investigations and trials, offering pithy summaries of the presentation of evidence and counsels' arguments. He adds accounts of the trial aftermaths and offers sage, and fair-minded comparisons of the uneven ways that the post-war military tribunals treated German and American defendants. A major contribution."—Peter Karsten, University of Pittsburgh and author of Law, Soldiers and Combat

"James Weingartner has peeked behind the verities of the American 'good war' mythology. He reconstructs the brutal killing of 7 American flyers in Borkum by German civilians angered by the wholesale bombing of German cities in August 1944 and the assassination-style killing of 6 German civilians by American soldiers in Voerde in March 1945. On the basis of a painstaking analysis of extensive court records, he juxtaposes and compares the two postwar trials of these war crimes and arrives at a measured conclusion of 'two kinds of justice' being meted out by American military courts. In this tightly argued analysis of the two court proceedings he never succumbs to moral equivalence. Neither does he shy away from calling American war crimes by their name. His conclusions on juxtaposing the two very different World War II memory cultures in postwar Germany and the United States – one trying to master the past and one wallowing in the patriotic gore of the good war -- should help Americans confront the shades of grey in their past. Weingartner's painful reconstruction of German and American war crimes and their trials is a must read for both student of World War II and transitional justice."
—Gunter Bischof, Marshall Plan Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and a Presidential Counselor at the National World War II Museum

"James Weingartner's compelling book takes readers beyond ironic slogans such as the 'good' war into the agonizing search for justice in two war crimes trials, and how the results have been remembered and forgotten. It is a revelatory and cautionary tale for our own time."—Edward T. Linenthal, Author of The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory

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