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War tales and war trials

The new issue of the Michigan Law Review (vol 106, no 6, April 2008; available online) contains the 2008 survey of books related to the law. This year, the survey also deals with some interesting international law issues. There were in particular two contributions that caught my interest. Firstly, the foreword of Judge Patricia M Wald (inter alia former Judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) that gives a brief overview of the achievements of war crimes tribunals and how those achievements relate to recurring themes of epic tales of war (!). The approach adopted by Judge Wald is quite interesting since it attempts to enrich the purely legal discourse with the sociological and moral component enshrined in war novels. Her general conclusion, that both war crimes tribunals and war novels strive for the same goal, namely “to reveal the dark underside of wars spawned by nationalistic, tyrannical leaders and to bring at least some of those leaders to account”, is complemented by the sober – yet accurate – assessment that war crimes tribunals “have not yet been able to approach full satisfaction for war’s impotent victims or to inspire sufficiently widespread efforts to curb the terrifying revelations of the courtroom”. 

Secondly, Professor Robert J Delahunty and Professor John C Yoo in their article on “Peace through Law? The failure of a noble experiment” describe the history of the pursuit of world peace through international law against the background of the famous antiwar novel All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Although I would not necessarily support the authors believe that the idea of collective-security has failed and the authors disbelieve regarding the ability of international law to contribute to the solving of some of the world’s problems, the article nevertheless provides an interesting history lesson and a recollection of the historic and ideological bases of the idea of peace through international law.

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