Vercors: Are war crimes only committed by the vanquished?
From Les Animaux dénaturés (1952)
Translated by Rita Barisse
“Imagine…if what constitutes the essence of man comes to be legally defined, will not our obligations towards man be defined by the same stroke: since anything that threatened that essence would automatically be a menace to humanity. All the rights and duties of man, of social groups, of societies and nations, towards one another, in all latitudes, of all creeds, would for the first time be founded on the very nature of Man, on the irrefutable elements that distinguish him from the Beast. No longer would those rights and duties rely on utilitarian and hence destructible conventions, on philosophical and hence assailable theories, or on arbitrary, hence corruptible and changing traditions – let alone on the blind fury of passions.
“For do we not often see that what is a crime for one group of people is none for their neighbors or their foes? – who may even extol it as a duty or an honor, as we could see in the case of the Nazis? And was it not useless to create in Nuremberg a mere law which was not, in its very foundation, acknowledged equally by all? For today we find that, in the name of German traditions, the friends of the condemned drag the law from its lofty eminence as a safeguard of Human Rights down to the disgraceful level of a safeguard of Human Might – and we cannot crush them with the proof of their abject mistake. That is why today we see the Nuremberg laws, in spite of all the hopes that went into their making, gradually dissolving into shadows, and in those shadows new crimes prepared…”
“Humanity is not a state we suffer. It’s a dignity we must strive to win. A dignity full of pain and sorrow. Won, no doubt, at the price of tears…”