Our opinion: Meting out justice

So often we send Americans in harms way to “protect vital American interests.”

Usually, in translation that quoted phrase turns out to mean energy supplies or other economic or national security interests. But, there are humanitarian interests as well.

Around the world there are bad people, very bad people, who think nothing of genocide as a way to attain or retain power. The stories are often so horrible that we can’t really grasp them as reality: tens of thousands murdered, women raped and butchered, children pressed into combat service.

In many cases the perpetrators pursue their deadly courses for years before their killing ends.

Almost 75 years ago, a small knot of people who followed a leader’s fanatical goal of racial and ethnic cleansing, orchestrated the murder of millions of Europeans with such meticulous planning that geneticists were consulted on what percentage of offending heritage put someone in a gas chamber.

When the military force brought Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich to an end, there were those left living who had a hand in the horror. Prosecuting those people for their crimes became a vital world interest, and America would lead the prosecution with a man Warren County supplied.

Robert H. Jackson blazed the trail of international law that pursues those who are guilty of crimes against humanity. In the conclusion of his opening statement in the Nuremberg trial of Nazi murderers, he summed the mission eloquently:

“Civilization asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of International Law, its precepts, its prohibitions and, most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will in all countries may have ‘leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the law.'”

Warren County can’t claim to have molded the man’s judicial character -he grew up and learned the law elsewhere -but we should take pride in the knowledge that this great man began his life here and set the bar for prosecutors of the world’s most heinous criminals for decades to come.