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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Our Honolulu
It's better to be polite than right these days

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

A dinner conversation over wine and pasta two nights ago set four people in Our Honolulu to pondering, among other things, how far you and I should go in criticizing the government during this time of crisis.

The guest of honor made it clear that she isn't a fan of President Bush. The man across the table asked her how she expects to put down terrorism if she doesn't stand behind our leaders.

To me, our lively conversation was a convincing demonstration that America hasn't yet been converted by the terrorists. Freedom of speech is still intact.

But we all left the table with a lot to think about. Does our responsibility to the nation require blind acquiescence or critical assessment?

One of the striking reactions of Americans to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 was our bonding as a nation. It happened across the country, from street corners to the halls of Congress.

Another woman at our table said she is tremendously heartened by the common sense that Americans are displaying. I agree. What's evolved isn't a clarion call to arms but a patient determination to figure out how we catch the terrorists.

To me, the most significant development since that horrible tragedy is the coalition of nations we've cobbled together to fight terrorism.

This is one of the beneficial products of the horror. Maybe that sounds ironic. But even the old Hawaiians knew that destruction by a lava flow is also the birth of new land.

It took nuclear weapons, at a time when many pessimists predicted holocaust, to end world wars, because nations have become vulnerable to each other with their presence.

The second most significant development is that Americans are learning much more about places in the world they had never paid attention to before. Now the vulnerability is on a personal level, and it's easier to understand that we need the help of other nations to catch the terrorists.

My comment at the table was that the survival value of diplomacy is going up while the survival value of force is going down.

So how do we behave if we disagree with a policy in a time of crisis, when words are the new weapons?

Until now, Congress has provided a good example by steering away from controversial issues.

Yet an amendment has popped up that calls for oil drilling in the Alaskan wilderness on the basis of national emergency. Oil drilling in Alaska is one of our most controversial issues.

Is that amendment an act of patriotism or a self-serving maneuver? How should you and I respond?

Maybe we can take some lessons from living on an island. Say what you believe. But think before you speak. Sometimes it's better to be polite than right.

Above all, learn to grit your teeth and smile.

That's the aloha spirit.