Last Thursday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz came to speak at Georgetown University. And yes, I’m “that protester” who yelled at him. I listened to his speech, stood up and told him I hated his policies, that I wouldn’t stop opposing them. So was this brave or stupid? Constructive, or one more step toward the hysteria of the self-defeating left? An intellectual engagement in public debate, or the opposite?

I want to assure everyone that when I stepped up to the microphone last Thursday I had thought about these questions, that my “rant” arose out of a thoughtful consideration of options and philosophies. I wanted to say something truthful, something that, for lack of a better phrase, meant something. And I wanted to say it with respect, so that people would truly listen – so that Secretary Wolfowitz would truly listen.

To that end, I would like to apologize for not addressing him by his proper title. Although I referred to him during the course of my speech as “Secretary” Wolfowitz, I began by addressing him as “Mr. Wolfowitz,” and I truly did not mean any disrespect. I did not want to attack him but rather his policies. My language was deliberately designed to encompass this distinction and this one mistake should be looked at in the context of my more carefully constructed comments.

So perhaps I was disrespectful – but was I stupid? What was the point, really, of arriving in Gaston Hall and asking no questions, of refusing to engage in an intellectual exchange that might have produced some sort of truth or knowledge? Were my comments constructive?

Yes, they were. There is something morally valid about telling someone you cannot agree with him, about telling him he is wrong – this is a different kind of constructive, something that seeks to bring truth out of the shadows and into the light of intellectual debate.

Too often emotions obscure issues, and details get lost in rhetoric. Yet sometimes in our passion for politics, truth gets lost in details, intellectual inquiry surrounds the trees and loses the forest. We must never forget that policy means people: words and ideas reflect vicious realities.

I do not wish to waste The Hoya’s space, or your time, with a discussion about why I felt Secretary Wolfowitz’s policies were so objectionable. Rather, I am more interested in defending my methods. I think that many Hoyas, at times, casually dismiss “the peaceniks” or “the hippies” as uninformed radicals, people who do not understand that change is affected within the system. They assume that we love protesting for the sake of protesting, that we demonize those who do not agree with us, that we do ourselves more harm than good.

These people misunderstand us. They also do not give us enough credit: we do think about our actions, perhaps even more seriously than most, because of the very fact that we are so committed to them. We do want to be successful in changing people’s minds, and we are willing to change ours as we continue to learn. Yet we never forget that there is a reality outside of our academic world. We react to this world both intellectually and emotionally; in the end, our views are shaped by our thoughts and our feelings.

On Thursday I did not want to be “constructive” in the traditional sense. There are times for persuading people, for cost-benefit analysis, for an assessment of short and long term effects. These endeavors require the cool use of rationalism and a slight disengagement with reality. We forget how we feel, or refuse to remember because we view issues as intellectual. Yet the world does not reflect this cleavage; the moral, emotional and intellectual entwine to create something richer and deserving of a deeper response. I do not think we should loose this reality. Secretary Wolfowitz, in his position of power and importance, should certainly not lose it either. It was with this in mind that I addressed him, and it is with this in mind that I will continue to refuse to apologize for the strength or expression of my convictions.

Ruth Coffman is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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