Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The heroes are not being blamed

FDNY, NYPD, EMS, PAPD, and other uniformed services responded admirably to the attack on New York on 11 September 2001, but the evidence raised by the independent federal commission investigating the attacks on New York and Washington does indicate their efforts were (in the words of The New York Times) "undermined by poor planning, inadequate equipment, faulty communication and generations-old interagency rivalries." The typically inflammatory front-page headline in The New York Post inaccurately portrays the commissioners as "insulting" rank and file firefighters and police officers. That is simply not true. What the commissioners have been criticizing has been the leadership at the top of these agencies. They have uncovered a great deal of evidence of poor planning for disasters, poor coordination among departments and other failures of leadership.

The dignified response from the likes of Thomas Von Essen, Bernard Kerik, and Rudy Giuliani would be to admit their errors, apologize for what they did wrong, commend the rank and file personnel who perservered in spite of these problems, and dedicate their efforts to helping avoid a recurrence of these problems in the event of another attack. No one on the commission is questioning the honor or integrity of the people who led New York at the time of the attack on the World Trade Center. They are, however, questioning some of the decisions these people made. Defending such decisions in the face of the evidence doesn't really accomplish much. What might accomplish something would be:

  • admitting mistakes
  • apologizing for them
  • working to prevent their recurrence

Taking responsibility is a part of being leader. Messrs. Von Essen, Giuliani, and Kerik all have glowing reputations because of their leadership during this crisis. Why would they want to sully their reputations by refusing to take responsibility for the things they did do wrong before the attack, especially when there is general agreement that they all responded admirably during the attack?

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