On Point

Homeland Security: Role of the Individual American Citizen

by Austin Bay
July 18, 2002

Part One of Five

Don't call it antiquated pop art, that recruiting poster with a lean, stern and earnest Uncle Sam. Above the printed caption, "I want you for the U.S. Army," he points a decisive finger in our uneasy direction.

Originally published in July 1916 as the cover for an issue of Leslie's Weekly, over 4 million poster copies were printed after America went to war. That poster still makes a crucial statement about defense in a democracy. In a democracy, we do share the burden of mutual security. Give Sam credit. He's put his finger on the guys who are ultimately responsible.

Perhaps a gifted graphic artist will produce an equivalent poster for The War on Terror. One version of that new poster must address domestic security -- what we now call homeland defense.

Homeland defense doesn't begin at the Pentagon, or in the White House, or at the local police station. Local defense begins with the locals.

And it doesn't get more local than thee and me.

Oddly enough, it is at this level of "most local involvement" that the Bush administration has been least effective in waging the anti-terror war. The administration has not sufficiently emphasized the crucial role of citizen commitment in the counter-terror struggle. We must find ways to tap the American citizenry's great reservoir of willingness in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

What you and I do, or do not do -- what conveniences we demand or inconveniences we accept -- does reinforce or erode the domestic security effort. Sometimes that fact gets lost or obscured in the mass transit, mass media and mass complications of American life.

But evidence of mutual sacrifice and willingness to cooperate abounds. New York cops and firemen, as they saved thousands of lives at the World Trade Center, demonstrated that mutual security is a recognition of and commitment to community.

Keeping thy brother and sister certainly doesn't require a uniform. Take United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11. Thomas Burnett phoned his wife, told her the plane had been hijacked and said, "There's three of us who are going to do something about it." Todd Beamer's last words are true grit: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll!" Flight 93's passengers weren't going to let Al Qaeda terrorists smash it into Camp David or the Capitol.

The domestic (homeland) front is a front line in this war and has been since Al Qaeda's first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

The American public understands this. Unfortunately, their most frequent direct contact with the front is the grinding suspicion of pre-flight searches at the airport, where citizens often feel as if the government thinks they're the enemy. The 55-year-old bald and paunchy white guy has his Rockports checked for TNT. The 80-year-old black grandmother gets scowls from the snitty guard with a metal detector. Yes, her knitting needle could be a weapon.

At the moment, the policy wonks creating the Department of Homeland Defense are grappling with this question, "Will the public accept, in the long term, other restrictions that may be necessary to deter further terrorist attacks?" They need to ask the "positive" version of this question, "How can the public contribute to our mutual security in this long-term, long-haul war?"

The answer, of course, will be a mix of programs, perhaps a World War II War Bond-type drive, with police and firefighter bond drives that dedicate funds to specific local defense needs. There will be media campaigns to raise civic awareness. States already run large-scale disaster and terror response training exercises. The general public deserves the opportunity to participate in those exercises, as well.

This column begins a five-part series on homeland defense and domestic security issues as they relate to the War on Terror. Subsequent columns cover a range of issues -- protecting infrastructure, sharing intelligence, "offense as defense." These large-scale issues are vitally important, of course, but we cannot underestimate the fundamental significance of the individual citizen's commitment and participation in the defense effort. It goes well beyond paying taxes.

World War II's "Loose Lips Sink Ships" reminded the American public that what we said could put a Victory ship in the path of a U-boat's torpedo. Lips got zipped. Today, "Sharp Eyes Save Lives."

Uncle Sam needs us for our mutual security. Homeland defense means the home boys and girls must get involved.

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