William J. Donovan’s Letter and Memo to Justice Jackson

Primary documents are valuable sources of information since they allow for considering what direct participants of historical events thought and said about them. In other words, these documents can shed light on some aspects of the historical period when they were written. Thus, the paper will focus on William J. Donovan’s letter and memo to Justice Jackson and comment on their historical context, values, assumptions, and rhetoric that were acute after World War II.

To begin with, one should comment on the document’s immediate context. It refers to the fact that Donovan, the author, was a special assistant to the chief US prosecutor. The primary source consists of the letter and memo that were written to Justice Jackson, who was the chief prosecutor at the Nurnberg trials after World War II. This information demonstrates that it is a part of business correspondence between two officials. Furthermore, one should admit that the document has a previous history since Justice Jackson sought Donovan’s advice regarding the legality of establishing tribunals. Consequently, the letter describes the situation between the two interlocutors, while the memo articulates what should be done to develop tribunals that are called “additional chambers or divisions.”1 The motivation behind this statement is that Donovan had an interest in establishing “as quickly as possible German courts to try their own war criminals.”2 Thus, this paragraph has presented the summary and immediate context of the source, while the following information will analyze it.

Even though the document represents the business correspondence between two people, it can reveal the social and political context of that historical period. On the one hand, the primary document demonstrates that war criminals, including “various SS and similar people,”3 constituted a fundamental problem in the post-war period. It was necessary to find a practical approach to making these individuals appear before a tribunal for committing atrocious crimes against the world, mainly Jewish people. On the other hand, the letter and memo demonstrate that officials made sufficient political efforts to defeat fascism. After World War II, there was a clear understanding that this step was necessary to minimize the risk of starting another world war. The primary document admits that the Germans should play an active role in this process because this nation was considered the most responsible for those tragic events.

Furthermore, it is possible to rely on the primary document to identify the author’s assumptions about race. It refers to the statement that Donovan mentions the Germans, which makes it possible to imply that the author blames this nation. Even though no one can deny that Germany played an active role in starting World War II, it is impossible to believe that all Germans are guilty. That is why one can suppose that Donovan discusses the issue of additional tribunals having sufficient resources to determine individual involvement in the event. Simultaneously, the author demonstrates that a social position could tell much information about a person at that time. The rationale behind this claim is that SS soldiers were a specific social layer, and these individuals drew Donovan’s attention. Finally, the author did not offer any gender assumptions, implying that gender equality or discrimination was not acute after the end of the war.

In addition to that, it can be reasonable to comment on the language of the document. Its genre significantly influences the choice of vocabulary and syntactic structures. Since a letter is under analysis, its author directly refers to the respondent, which explains the use of the first- and second-person pronouns, including “responding to your request I have prepared”4 and others. The essential point of writing makes Donovan be concise and specific in presenting his point of view. That is why the author avoids relying on figurative language and imagery. Instead of it, the language that is strict to the point is presented, and this condition can be acceptable for business correspondence. Furthermore, one should admit that the words in the document typically reveal their direct connotations. The phrase “the vicinage of the crime”5 is supposedly the only case of figurative language, and it denotes that it is reasonable to bring war criminals to Germany. There are no apparent metaphors that would add peculiar stylistic coloring to the text.

In conclusion, the paper has overviewed the primary document by William J. Donovan. The letter and memo were written after World War II, and this source can be used to shed light on the historical period under analysis. It was found that the epoch drew sufficient attention to managing the consequences of the war and preventing similar tragedies in the future. That is why the author discussed the issue of establishing tribunals to try war criminals. The document concerned political and social contexts of the time and admitted that the German race was associated with greater responsibility. Simultaneously, Donovan’s letter did not offer any comments about gender, meaning that the issue was not acute at the period. Finally, since the document is an example of business correspondence, official and formal language was used.


  1. William J. Donovan, “My Dear Bob; Memorandum to Mr. Justice Jackson,” Cornell University Library. 2021. Web.
  2. Donovan, “My Dear Bob.”
  3. Donovan, “My Dear Bob.”
  4. Donovan, “My Dear Bob.”
  5. Donovan, “My Dear Bob.”

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"William J. Donovan’s Letter and Memo to Justice Jackson." StudyStroll, 18 July 2022, studystroll.com/william-j-donovans-letter-and-memo-to-justice-jackson/.

1. StudyStroll. "William J. Donovan’s Letter and Memo to Justice Jackson." July 18, 2022. https://studystroll.com/william-j-donovans-letter-and-memo-to-justice-jackson/.


StudyStroll. "William J. Donovan’s Letter and Memo to Justice Jackson." July 18, 2022. https://studystroll.com/william-j-donovans-letter-and-memo-to-justice-jackson/.


StudyStroll. 2022. "William J. Donovan’s Letter and Memo to Justice Jackson." July 18, 2022. https://studystroll.com/william-j-donovans-letter-and-memo-to-justice-jackson/.


StudyStroll. (2022) 'William J. Donovan’s Letter and Memo to Justice Jackson'. 18 July.

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