Maggie Gallagher
Sixty public intellectuals from the right and the left released a joint statement, "What We Are Fighting For: A Letter From America" ( coincidentally at the same time Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic went on trial before an international war crimes tribunal.

What is American fighting for in its war on terrorism? Its own peace and prosperity? Certainly. But how then can the rest of the world have a stake in the outcome? The joint statement is an attempt to critically evaluate America's war aims and methods by some standard other than "Might makes right," or even "Fear justifies retaliation."

"But as Americans in a time of war and global crisis, we are also suggesting that the best of what we too casually call 'American values' do not belong only to America, but are in fact the shared inheritance of humankind, and therefore a possible basis of hope for a world community based on peace and justice," say these scholars.

Articulating our faith in a common moral standard that applies to all mankind, and to which all mankind is accountable, is "to defend the possibility of civil society and a world community based on justice." Especially when a nation goes to war, the scholars tell us, we have an obligation to articulate and defend "the sanctity of human life and embrace the principle of equal human dignity. "

Brave, stirring, thoughtful words. Some would no doubt view the ongoing trial of Milosevic in The Hague (capital of the Netherlands) as a triumph of just this sort of world community based on justice. Perhaps. But it is also living testimony of how difficult it is to translate lofty ideals into practical institutions.

The hope, of course, is that by bringing deposed heads of state to justice, future atrocities will be deterred and the rule of a moral law that transcends particular cultures will be that much closer to reality.

I have my doubts. Milosevic has rejected the right of three judges at The Hague to sentence him for crimes committed by armies and guerrilla armies in the midst of confusing civil war. Rights that Americans, at least, consider fundamental to due process (such as the right to confront one's accusers) have been abrogated by permitting anonymous testimony.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.