Telford Taylor

Telford Taylor (February 24, 1908 – May 23, 1998) was an American lawyer best known for his role as Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, his opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and his outspoken criticism of U.S. actions during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.

Telford Taylor
Telford Taylor at Nuremberg.jpg
General Taylor addressing the court during a session of the Nuremberg Trials
Born(1908-02-24)February 24, 1908
Schenectady, New York
DiedMay 23, 1998(1998-05-23) (aged 90)
Manhattan, New York
Place of burial
Morningside Cemetery
Gaylordsville, Connecticut
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army seal United States Army
Years of service1942–1949
RankUS-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Service number0-918566
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsDistinguished Service Medal
Other workLawyer, college professor


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 careerEdit

Burton K. Wheeler, chair of the subcommittee that Taylor served in 1935

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 NurembergEdit

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. He was promoted to full colonel in 1944, and was assigned to the team of Robert H. Jackson, which helped work out the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT), the legal basis for the Nuremberg Trials.[citation needed]

At the Nuremberg Trials, he initially served as an assistant to Chief Counsel Robert H. Jackson and, in that function, was the US 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 VietnamEdit

Taylor in retirement

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.[citation needed]

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]

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.[4] 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: Robert Richter, then a CBS News producer, who interviewed Taylor off camera in 1966). 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 Law School.[citation needed]

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, US conduct in Vietnam and Cambodia 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.[5]

Later lifeEdit

In 1976, Taylor, who had already been a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale, 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 deathEdit

Taylor married twice; his second wife was Toby Golick, with whom he had six children.[citation needed]

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


Here is the list of his decorations:[6][7]

  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
  • 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 19 August 2017.
  2. ^ "Telford Taylor Leaves FCC To Accept Majority in Army". Broadcasting and Broadcast Advertising. Washington, D.C.: Broadcasting Publications, Inc. 24 (14): 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. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
  5. ^ Robert Richter, War Hero or War Criminal?, Counterpunch 14 October 2008 Archived 17 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Military Times, Hall of Valor". Archived from the original on 28 November 2014. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  7. ^ "Recommendation for Award of OBE". Retrieved 13 November 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)

External linksEdit