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Telford Taylor

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Telford Taylor
Taylor in the 1940s
Born(1908-02-24)February 24, 1908
Schenectady, New York, U.S.
DiedMay 23, 1998(1998-05-23) (aged 90)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Place of burial
Morningside Cemetery
Gaylordsville, Connecticut
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army seal United States Army
Years of service1942–1949
Rank Brigadier General
Service number0-918566
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished Service Medal
Other workLawyer, college professor

Telford Taylor (February 24, 1908 – May 23, 1998) was an American lawyer and professor. Taylor was known for his role as lead counsel in the prosecution of war criminals after World War II, his opposition to McCarthyism in the 1950s, and his outspoken criticism of American actions during the Vietnam War.

With the US Army, Taylor served with the Military Intelligence Corps during WWII. He reached the rank of brigadier general in 1946, following the war. During the prosecution of Axis war criminals, he served as lead counsel for the prosecution in the 12 subsequent Nuremberg trials before US military courts, after serving as assistant to Robert H. Jackson in the initial trial before the International Military Tribunal.

Following the Nuremberg trials, Taylor opened a private law practice, but remained politically active.



Taylor was born on February 24, 1908, in Schenectady, New York. His parents were John Bellamy Taylor (a relative of Edward Bellamy) and Marcia Estabrook Jones. He attended Williams College and Harvard Law School, where he received his law degree in 1932.[citation needed]



Early career


During the 1930s, Taylor worked for several government agencies. By 1935, he provided legal counsel (assisted by Max Lowenthal among others) to a subcommittee of the Senate Interstate Commerce Committee chaired by Burton K. Wheeler and whose members included the newly elected Harry S. Truman.[1] In 1940, he became general counsel for the Federal Communications Commission.[citation needed]

World War II and Nuremberg

Telford Taylor's opening address at the Judges' trial

Following the outbreak of World War II, Taylor joined Army Intelligence as a major on October 5, 1942,[2] leading the American group at Bletchley Park that was responsible for analyzing information obtained from intercepted German communications using Ultra encryption. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1943 and visited England, where he helped negotiate the 1943 BRUSA Agreement. In 1944, he was promoted to full colonel and was assigned to the team of Robert H. Jackson, which helped work out the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal, the legal basis for the Nuremberg Trials.[citation needed]

At the Nuremberg Trials, Taylor initially served as an assistant to chief counsel Robert H. Jackson and, in that function, was the U.S. prosecutor in the High Command case. The indictment in that case called for the General Staff of the Army and the High Command of the German Armed Forces to be considered criminal organizations; the witnesses were several of the surviving German field marshals. Both organizations were acquitted.[citation needed]

When Jackson resigned his position as prosecutor after the first (and only) trial before the IMT and returned to the US, Taylor was promoted to brigadier general and succeeded him on October 17, 1946, as Chief Counsel for the remaining twelve trials before the US Nuremberg Military Tribunals. In these trials at Nuremberg, 163 of the 200 defendants who were tried were found guilty in some or all of the charges of the indictments.[citation needed]

While Taylor was not wholly satisfied with the outcomes of the Nuremberg Trials, he considered them a success because they set a precedent and defined a legal base for crimes against peace and humanity. In 1950, the United Nations codified the most important statements from these trials in the seven Nuremberg Principles.[3]

McCarthyism and Vietnam


After the Nuremberg Trials, Taylor returned to civilian life in the United States, opening a private law practice in New York City. He became increasingly concerned with Senator Joseph McCarthy's activities, which he criticized strongly. In a speech at West Point in 1953, he called McCarthy "a dangerous adventurer," branded his tactics "a vicious weapon of the extreme right against their political opponents," and criticized President Dwight Eisenhower for not stopping McCarthy's "shameful abuse of Congressional investigatory power." He defended several victims of McCarthyism, alleged communists or perjurers, including labor leader Harry Bridges and Junius Scales. Although he lost these two cases (Bridges' sentence of five years in prison was later voided by the Supreme Court, and Scales' six-year sentence was commuted after one year), he remained unfazed by McCarthy's attacks on him, and responded by writing the book, Grand Inquest: The Story of Congressional Investigations, which was published in 1955.[4]

In 1959, he served as a technical advisor and narrator on the television production Judgment at Nuremberg.

In 1961 Taylor attended the Eichmann trial in Israel as a semiofficial observer and expressed concerns about the trial being held on a defective statute,[citation needed] citing international justice and ethical issues.[5]

Taylor became a full professor at Columbia University in 1962, where he would be named Nash Professor of Law in 1974. In 1966, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[6] He was one of very few professors there who refused to sign a statement issued by the Columbia Law School that termed the militant student protests at Columbia in 1968 as being beyond the "allowable limits" of civil disobedience. Taylor was very critical of the conduct of US troops in the Vietnam War, and in 1971 urged President Richard Nixon to set up a national commission to investigate the conflict. He strongly criticized the court-martial of Lieutenant William Calley, the commanding officer of the US troops involved in the My Lai massacre because it did not include higher-ranking officers.

Taylor regarded the 1972 bombing campaign targeting the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, as "senseless and immoral." He offered to describe and explain his views to CBS, but the network declined to air them because they considered them "too hot to handle."[citation needed]. In December 1972, he visited Hanoi along with musician and activist Joan Baez and others, among them was Michael Allen, the associate dean of the Yale Divinity School.[7]

Taylor published his views in a book, Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, in 1970. He argued that by the standards employed at the Nuremberg Trials, U.S. conduct in Vietnam and Cambodia, while different in some ways, was equally criminal as that of the Nazis during World War II. For that reason, he favored prosecuting US aviators who had participated in bombing missions over North Vietnam.[8] Shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, Taylor said over the past few decades since World War II, some of his historical views had changed. His views on Germany hadn't changed, but they had on the United States.[9]

"Most of these things are not done by monsters. They're done by very ordinary people, people very much like you and me. These things are results of pressures and circumstances to which human frailty succumbs. And a large part of it isn't really due to any intrinsic sadism or a desire to inflict pain - it's the degeneration of standards under pressures, boredom, fear, other influences of this kind. Well, I guess that I did think before that Americans, in their history, had been somewhat more immune to these pressures and that the historical record was a better one. The moral standards we tried to attain in peace and war were higher. I guess I still think we try to attain the higher values; but, yes, and succeed sometimes - succeed less often, I guess, than I thought before." "Since I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and I guess it was born in upon me that these things had happened before. The feeling that I'd had for a long time that these things didn't go on in the American armed forces, alas, it isn't so. They sometimes do."

Later life

Taylor in retirement

In 1976, Taylor, who had already been a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale Law School, accepted a new post at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, becoming a founding member of the faculty while continuing to teach at Columbia. His 1979 book, Munich: The Price of Peace, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for the "best work of general nonfiction". In the 1980s, he extended his legal activities into sports and became a "special master" for dispute resolution in the NBA. His 700-page 1992 memoir of the Nuremberg trials (see bibliography) revealed how Nazi leader Hermann Göring had "cheated the hangman" by taking smuggled poison.[citation needed]

Taylor retired in 1994.[citation needed]

Personal life and death


Taylor married twice; first to Mary Ellen Walker in 1937. He was survived by their three children, Joan, Ellen, and John.

While serving at Bletchley Park, he had an affair with Christine Brooke-Rose, who later became a writer and critic but was then a British officer at Bletchley. The affair led to the end of Brooke-Rose's marriage, although Taylor's to Walker endured for some years thereafter.[10]

In 1974 he married Toby Golick, having two children who both survived him, Benjamin and Samuel.

Taylor also had one child, Ursula Rechnagel, with Julie Rechnagel, both of whom also survived him.

Taylor died age 90 on May 23, 1998, at the St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan after having suffered a stroke.[11]



Here is the list of his decorations:[12][13]

Army Distinguished Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire


  • Sword and Swastika: Generals and Nazis in the Third Reich, Simon & Schuster 1952; reprinted 1980. ISBN 0-8446-0934-X
  • Grand Inquest: The Story of Congressional Investigations, Simon & Schuster 1955; reprinted 1974. ISBN 0-306-70620-2
  • The March of Conquest: The German Victories in Western Europe, 1940 (Great War Stories), Simon & Schuster 1958; reprinted 1991. ISBN 0-933852-94-0
  • The Breaking Wave: The Second World War in the Summer of 1940, Simon & Schuster 1967; ISBN 0-671-10366-0
  • Guilt, Responsibility and the Third Reich, Heffer 1970; 20 pages; ISBN 0-85270-044-X
  • Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, Times Books 1970; ISBN 0-8129-0210-6
  • (with Constance Baker Motley & James Feibleman) Perspectives on Justice, Northwestern University Press 1974; ISBN 0-8101-0453-9
  • Courts of Terror: Soviet Criminal Justice and Jewish Emigration, Knopf 1976; ISBN 0-394-40509-9
  • Munich: The Price of Peace, Hodder & Staughton 1979; reprinted 1989. ISBN 0-88184-447-0
  • The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir, Knopf 1992; ISBN 0-394-58355-8



Main sources:

Other sources:

  1. ^ Lowenthal, Max; Hess, Jerry N. (1967). "Oral History Interview with Max Lowenthal". Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  2. ^ "Telford Taylor Leaves FCC To Accept Majority in Army". Broadcasting and Broadcast Advertising. 24 (14). Washington, D.C.: Broadcasting Publications, Inc.: 16 October 5, 1942.
  3. ^ International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) References Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nüremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, 1950: Introduction
  4. ^ Taylor, Telford (1955). Grand Inquest: The Story of Congressional Investigations. Simon and Schuster.
  5. ^ "Large Questions in the Eichmann Case; One who prosecuted Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg considers the coming trial in Israel and asks if it will contribute to the growth of international law and justice. Questions in the Eichmann Case". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 19, 2024.
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 22, 2011.
  7. ^ Carmody, Deirdre (January 2, 1973). "4 Who Visited Hanoi Tell of Destruction". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Dorn, Harold (2010). "Death from the Heavens: A History of Strategic Bombing (review)". Technology and Culture. 51 (4): 1035–1036. doi:10.1353/tech.2010.0063. ISSN 1097-3729. S2CID 107043561.
  9. ^ The Memory of Justice (1976) - IMDb, retrieved December 18, 2023
  10. ^ Recollections of Brooke-Rose quoted in Smith, Michael. The Secrets of Station X. Biteback Publishing. 2011.
  11. ^ Severo, Richard (May 24, 1998). "Telford Taylor, Who Prosecuted Top Nazis At the Nuremberg War Trials, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  12. ^ "Military Times, Hall of Valor". Archived from the original on November 28, 2014. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  13. ^ "Recommendation for Award of OBE". Retrieved November 13, 2014.

Further reading:

  • Essays on the laws of war and war crimes tribunals in honor of Telford Taylor: Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, vol. 37(3)