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 alean, stern and earnest Uncle Sam. Above the printed caption, "I want youfor the U.S. Army," he points a decisive finger in our uneasy direction.

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

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

Homeland defense doesn't begin at the Pentagon, or in the WhiteHouse, 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 theanti-terror war. The administration has not sufficiently emphasized thecrucial role of citizen commitment in the counter-terror struggle. We mustfind ways to tap the American citizenry's great reservoir of willingness inthe aftermath of Sept. 11.

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

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

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

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

The American public understands this. Unfortunately, their mostfrequent direct contact with the front is the grinding suspicion ofpre-flight searches at the airport, where citizens often feel as if thegovernment thinks they're the enemy. The 55-year-old bald and paunchy whiteguy has his Rockports checked for TNT. The 80-year-old black grandmothergets scowls from the snitty guard with a metal detector. Yes, her knittingneedle could be a weapon.

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

The answer, of course, will be a mix of programs, perhaps aWorld War II War Bond-type drive, with police and firefighter bond drivesthat dedicate funds to specific local defense needs. There will be mediacampaigns to raise civic awareness. States already run large-scale disasterand terror response training exercises. The general public deserves theopportunity to participate in those exercises, as well.

This column begins a five-part series on homeland defense anddomestic security issues as they relate to the War on Terror. Subsequentcolumns cover a range of issues -- protecting infrastructure, sharingintelligence, "offense as defense." These large-scale issues are vitallyimportant, of course, but we cannot underestimate the fundamentalsignificance of the individual citizen's commitment and participation in thedefense effort. It goes well beyond paying taxes.

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

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

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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