Jungle justice and where it leads
At the Tehran Conference while World War 2 was going on, the ‘big three’, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill met to discuss issues such as opening a second front in the war, and what to do with German officers when the war was over.
During an informal dinner, Stalin and Churchill, both known for their love of the bottle, began to talk about the fate of German officers following the war. Stalin wanted the top 50,000 German officers be lined up and summarily shot.
Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, is the single source of the story, and it was not the first, nor the last time, she would be accused of embellishment.
The German General Staff, Stalin said, must be liquidated. The whole force of Hitler’s mighty armies depended upon about fifty thousand officers and technicians. If these were rounded up and shot at the end of the war, German military strength would be extirpated. However, Churchill hit the table with his palm and insisted that if such an injustice were to be carried out, he’d rather, be taken out into the garden right now, and shot, rather than sully his own, and his country’s honour, by such an infamy.
Stalin pursued the subject. “Fifty thousand,” he said, “must be shot.”
At this point Roosevelt intervened. He had a compromise to propose. Not fifty thousand should be shot, but only forty-nine thousand. By this he hoped, no doubt, to reduce the whole matter to ridicule.
Remember that Stalin, three years earlier, had ordered the killing of 15,000 Polish officers. Remember that he had authorised millions of deaths and disappearances in Russia during the great purge. There’s no doubt in my mind that if Churchill and Roosevelt had agreed with him that night, fifty thousand German soldiers would have just ended after the war.
The trajectory of the Western powers, and the Soviet Union, at the end of the war, could not be more different. Whereas the Americans and the British treated their domains following the post-war settlement as fairly as was possible, the Soviets came down on their domains with an iron fist.
We all know how that ended.
So, what is the point of telling this tale?
Nigerians, in many cases because of our own history, have a lynch mob mentality. We have a tendency not to look thoroughly at evidence before passing judgement. And then, we proceed to punish, even if the punishment is significantly disproportionate with the crime.
Even in the dispensation of “justice”, there has to be justice. If we continue on this path, we will end up like the Soviet Union. A dismembered nation, in which none of the components lives in peace, security, and progress. That, is our current trajectory.