“Let me be certain I understand you,” the president said. “You are arguing against prosecution.”
“Yes, Mr. President,” he said.
“Even though we have clearly identified the lawbreakers and have ample evidence to prosecute and gain convictions.”
“Yes, Mr. President,” he repeated.
“You’ll need to explain why again.”
“Mr. President,” he began, “I firmly believe it is in everyone’s best interest to simply move on from this point; my colleagues and I all agree on this. We don’t wish to wallow in the past. The people are tired of this matter and want to put it behind them.”
“How can we possibly do that?” the president cried out.
“Mr. President, those at the top who organized it all are gone. There is, obviously, a new administration in power and we know that similar things will not happen. To hold these people accountable for the things they were ordered to do would be unfair. They were doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, and even though matters went much further than any of us would have wanted, prosecutions won’t change what has happened.”
“What about the simple, old-fashioned concepts of law and order and justice?” the president demanded.
The other man sighed slightly. “Sir, those are very high-minded ideals, but many of us believe following them blindly is not pragmatic at this time. These men who could go on trial were among the brightest and most capable. If we prosecute them, it will send a signal that government service is dangerous and no place for bright, capable people.”
“These men have lied, have sanctioned torture, and have had people killed. That doesn’t deserve a response from our legal system?”
“Mr. President, we greatly fear that any prosecution could establish the precedent for a new administration taking revenge on the previous one every time there is a regime change. It would be politically destabilizing.”
“The people we’re talking about prosecuting deserve their day in court to plead their cases,” the president replied, “and the rest of us deserve to see that no one, no matter how highly placed, is above the law. Tamper with that and you tamper with the foundation of civilized society.”
“Mr. President, again, these are fine ideals, but…”
“But nothing!” the president fumed, and he slammed his open hand down on his desk. “I’ve had enough of your bullshit! The trials will go forward, as scheduled, in Nuremberg. And I hope I never again see the day when any official of the United States would shy away from our sacred responsibility to justice. Get the hell out of my office!”
The defeated bureaucrat slunk out of the Oval Office in the direction Truman’s finger pointed.
“How do people get into government without understanding its most basic functions?” Truman mused. “I can only hope this pusillanimous attitude doesn’t spread.”