Editorial board muddles definition of justice

As I read the July 9 editorial, “Toward Global Justice,” I was surprised at how many times the editorial used the words “just” or “justice” without defining those terms in the context of international law and relations. The editorial states, for example, that in the past, “the United States would simply dictate to the rest of the world what justice meant” and “(i)n order for there to be global justice, the United States must judge itself …” and “(t)he United States must be fearless in working toward a just world.”

What is “justice” in the context of complex international relations? To take one example referenced in the editorial, the Daily endorses the International Criminal Court to achieve international “justice.” Nevertheless, the Daily must be careful when advocating for this type of international “justice.” Of course, the extradition and prosecution of Milosevic might be an entirely legitimate punishment for his participation in the Yugoslav conflicts. But what happens if the consensus of the international community changes for the worst?

The editorial board argues “(t)he United States must play by the rules it has set up. This includes joining the International Criminal Court and allowing the United States to give up a small amount of autonomy.” All right, let’s give up a little bit of autonomy and agree to be bound by the decisions of an International Criminal Court. Would the Daily support, for example, the extradition and prosecution of a United States president because he conducted a foreign military action in defiance of the “international community” to defend our strategic interests abroad? Would the board support the prosecution of George Bush because he invaded Panama and bombed Iraq? What about Ronald Reagan after his invasion of Grenada or his bombing of Libya? Bill Clinton for his bombing of Iraq?

Alternatively, would the board support the extradition and prosecution of U.S. human rights advocates when a future international community believes governments should be able to maintain totalitarian order by all necessary means? The fact the editorial board would likely not abide by such an application of an International Criminal Court illustrates the ultimate point of this rebuttal – the editorial board’s quest to achieve international “justice” will never be accomplished because such a concept can never be unanimously agreed upon and therefore lacks any meaningful content for purposes of argument.

What is clear, however, is that the Daily believes the United States should start behaving better (being more “just,” doing more “justice”) because the board has an alternative, less visible agenda to promote in the editorial – a lock-step agreement with the current ideological philosophy of the “international community,” as manifested by the U. N. General Assembly. Throughout the last school year, the Daily’s editorial board has lectured the student body on the merit of the Kyoto Treaty, made it clear the United States missile defense initiative is destabilizing and now that the International Criminal Court will foster “international justice.”

I am not saying there is anything wrong with these viewpoints. What is irksome, however, is the surreptitious way the board goes about advancing these value-laden viewpoints by clothing ideological arguments behind powerful words such as “just” and “justice” without telling us what those words should mean and represent in the context of international affairs. Maybe I am just asking for too much from the Daily’s editorial board. Maybe I suffer from an excessively formal legal training where words like “just” and “justice,” which command so much persuasive force, are supposed to have some definite meaning in certain contexts.

I understand many editorials are written because they feel good to write and because they are intended to make readers feel they care about the issues of the day. For instance, how could anybody ever oppose being “just” or doing “justice”? If the board is advocating for the positions of the current “international community” on certain international issues, it should be up front and say it. If it disagrees with the president and Senate over Kyoto or with President Bush over missile defense, it should say it. What the board should not do is throw out the words “just” and “justice” seven times to make readers feel like the board’s view of contested international issues has the backing of an unassailable moral imperative.

The board should not imply that if you oppose its enlightened goal of “international community” and “international justice,” then you are unjust or opposed to doing “justice” in some abstract sense. Such an implication is not only fallacious, it is also insulting.


Matt Salzwedel is a graduate from the Law School. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]