Academics countering the first cracks in support for the war against terrorism have signed on to a lengthy statement justifying the war on moral grounds and calling it necessary for the defense of universal freedom and dignity for all humans.

More than 48 prominent scholars from major universities and think tanks across the country signed the statement, released Tuesday by the Institute for American Values.

Among the most notable scholars: former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of Syracuse University, Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School, James Q. Wilson of UCLA, Robert P. George of Princeton University, Thomas Kohler of the Boston College of Law, Clair Gaudiani of the Yale Law School, and Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University.

Click here to read the letter

The open letter calls the war "just," and uses principles commonly accepted by statesmen, diplomats, and political scientists. They write that the current war is just because the U.S. is protecting itself from a hostile enemy that kills in the name of God and is a "clear and present danger to all people of good will everywhere in the world, not just in the United States."

"Those who slaughtered more than 3,000 persons on Sept. 11 and who, by their own admission, want nothing more than to do it again … threaten all of us," reads the letter. "We support our government's, and our society's, decision to use force of arms against them."

Signatory Amitai Etzioni said the scholars felt it was time to remind the American people why the country is engaged in the war because he sees a waning of confidence in its goals.

"We're beginning to see the first crack in the president's war against terrorism. It's time to articulate why we think this is a just war," Etzioni said in an interview. "Every day that passes since 9/11 it becomes a more remote memory. That's one more reason to show this case."

But critics have already complained that the letter appears to be justification for any future military foray into other areas of the world. And some pacifist scholars disagree altogether with the principles of a "just war," first laid out by St. Augustine in the 4th century and accepted by most nations.

Signatory William Galston, a former senior Clinton official and professor at University of Maryland, disagrees. He said the letter is no "rah-rah" defense of the U.S. military, but an acknowledgement that there are theological and philosophical roots in the "just war."

"We've spent a long time reflecting, consulting, revising, before releasing this fairly lengthy, systematic statement," said Galston. "This is not meant to be a statement for, or opposing, an expansion of the war or a change in its nature. It's a statement to say that what we have done up until now has been justified."

The just-war scholars argue that the attackers not only despise the U.S. government, but who Americans are. The statement points to the "unattractive" elements of U.S. society, like rampant consumerism, weakening of marriage and family life and an often-debased pop culture. Perhaps working to improve those characteristics should be a post-Sept. 11 goal, the letter suggests.

"At the same time, other American values – what we view as our founding ideals, and those that most define our way of life – are quite different from these, and they are much more attractive, not only to Americans but to people everywhere in the world," the scholars wrote.

Those ideas include "human dignity as a birthright," regardless of race or color, freedom of religion and openness to all points of view. The scholars point to the words of the framers of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate their point.

Meanwhile, the paper insists that murder of non-combatants, like the thousands of people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, is not acceptable in any religion – Christian, Jewish or Muslim.