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The Tormented Conscience: Applying and Appraising Unauthorized Coercion, 32 Emory Law Journal 499 (1983)


Imagine, for a moment, that it is three days after the unconditional surrender of Germany. Allied occupation forces have taken complete control of all governmental activities in what had been the Third Reich. The United States Judge Advocate General Corps has assumed responsibility for the criminal justice system in the American sector and must now decide what to do with a number of cases that were pending at the time of surrender. Perhaps the thorniest case concerns one Otto Bessermann, who was arrested several days before surrender and charged with murder and treason. Bessermann had planted a bomb in a Munich cafe that killed six German officers, three enlisted men, and ten civilians. Bessermann hardly fits the popular image of the homicidal maniac. He is a high school teacher and church deacon with no history of mental or emotional illness and no indication of it now. He appears genuinely anguished but unrepentant. He claims his act was part of an underground resistance movement of which he was a member, and that what he did was an act of war which, in addition to killing German soldiers, demoralized the war effort and hastened the surrender.

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