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What is the speaker's purpose in the speech "The Arrogance and Cruelty of Power"?

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Quick Answer

"The Arrogance and Cruelty of Power" speech, delivered by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, introduced the court to the American prosecution's case against the defendants who faced indictment for war crimes related to their role in the German government and the Nazi party. The speech was the opening statement before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on Nov. 21, 1945.

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Justice Jackson's intent was to frame the case as the prosecution of a conspiracy against the civilized nations that the defendants knew would lead to war. In his opening remarks, Jackson urged that the court prosecute the defendants, not for their own crimes, which he called "petty," but as a warning to future aggressors that war itself is a crime punishable by international law. In this speech, and throughout the subsequent trial, Jackson made an effort to frame the prosecution as a civilized response to crimes so heinous that the world could not survive their repetition.

Jackson's speech at Nuremberg was brief, but it expressed the dual concepts of Nazism as a vast criminal conspiracy to plunder and exploit a defeated Europe and the individual guilt of the men in the dock. Nationalist aggression as a crime in itself was a new concept at the time, and Jackson's speech was intended to not only introduce the concept, but to convince the court of its legitimacy.

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