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Criticism, and the art of accepting it

The art of dealing with constructive criticism seems to be a lost one. The same goes for coming out and stating the obvious in order to fix a problem. Be it the 9/11 Commission hearings or the conflict in Iraq, the current administration deals with any sort of criticism in the same way: it is simply ignored or dismissed as partisan leftist talk by “do-gooders.”

This could be a huge mistake, especially where the 9/11 Commission is concerned. There seems to be no question that future attacks are likely, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani repeatedly stated in his testimony Wednesday. The whole point of having the Commission is to avoid mistakes made in the past when dealing with such upcoming attacks.

Most of the blame for the attack rests on those who planned and executed the attacks. If they hadn’t flown planes into buildings, nobody would have died. Insofar Giuliani is correct to say, “Our enemy is not each other, but (the) terrorists who attacked us.” There is also no question that the responding emergency forces did a tremendous job at the scene, especially considering “no one ever had encountered an attack like this,” as Giuliani said. The emotional investment many people have in the hearings surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks is also quite understandable. If I have an emotional response to images and accounts about the attacks over two and a half years later, I can only imagine how those who actually lost colleagues, friends or family in the attacks feel.

Holding the Commission hearing at New School in New York City, only a mile and a half away from “ground zero,” the members of the panels therefore worded their questions very carefully.

Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste preemptively said, “There is no question that, on that day, thousands of lives were saved by the heroic actions of the first responders.” He wanted to establish that the following questions were not to be confused with nitpicking those who gave their lives to save others.

After the overwhelming and positive salute Giuliani received for his leadership, former Illinois Governor James Thompson also commended the responding forces for their “split second decisions” that probably saved thousands of lives. Only after this prologue did he risk saying, “in my view it would dishonor the memory of those who died … if we don’t learn those lessons and teach them to the country and hope for their support. I would rather honor the memory of those who died moving forward saving those of other Americans.”

As the hearing ended, the emotional nature of the whole affair became apparent, as a man stood up and shouted three times, “Remember this, your government trained al-Qaida.” Before being escorted out of the room, he also said we should not “protect the government” while “arresting the whistleblowers” and demanded from the Commission to “ask real questions.”

I cannot help but be saddened that it took a heckler to speak such truth to power. While he was clearly not abiding by the protocol of the hearing, he was saying the things many in the room agreed with and he drew applause.

Then, as he was leaving, a woman in the room stood up and yelled across the room at him, “My brother was a firefighter and he died that day, so why don’t you sit down and shut up?”

This incident demonstrated quite clearly what was going wrong. There were historical facts — such as the CIA involvement in Afghanistan that lead to Osama bin Laden’s funding and training — that were widely known; yet nobody dared to speak about it because they were afraid to step on certain toes.

The situation in Iraq is similar, but even more complicated. Not only are well-meant suggestions from the other side of the aisle blatantly ignored in the White House’s “we will stay the course” bonanza, but even comments by the same party such as Republican Senator John McCain’s suggestions are brushed aside.

This is probably the most aggravating thing about our current administration; even the most obvious mistakes are brushed aside as inconsequential. If George W. Bush’s falling approval ratings “stay the course” as unrelentingly as Bush himself, it will most likely cost him the election. Sadly, it will also cost lives.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and an Oracle Opinion editor.