Wolf or War?

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

Will it be a case of the Ridge Who Stole Christmas? The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security who recently upped the terrorism alert code from Yellow to Orange, indicated an increased possibility of terrorist activity. This will, no doubt, have an immediate effect on law enforcement agencies, galvanizing them into heightened awareness, making them more alert to suspicious activities. This is a good thing, but for most Americans, intangible. The raised awareness of our protectors is not something that is easily seen nor appreciated, although it should be.

The orange alert, coming four days before Christmas, will certainly affect the airports, highways, and larger commercial centers, as security measures slow holidays travel to a standstill. This is a bad thing, since this is what Americans will notice, be affected by, and grumble about. The three hour wait they will have at the Airport Security office, while the presents to Granny are unwrapped and x-rayed, will not be linked in their minds to possible terrorist attacks, but to Tom Ridge and his Code Orange, and the end result could be disastrous.

It isn't simply a matter of "crying wolf." The communications "chatter" that is being monitored by Homeland Security and other overt and covert agencies tracking terrorists certainly indicate a reason to cry "Code Orange." According to one government source, the amount of chatter is equal to or more than the chatter shortly before Sept. 11. But after four other such alerts in less than two years, after four other days spent in nervous paranoia, the edge wears off and the listener becomes complacent. Suddenly, it becomes more important to get Grammy that present on time than it does to preserve the safety and security of our country, because deep down, we've gone back to thinking there really is no threat to that safety and security.

And yet, it may well be a matter of "crying wolf" - and this is the crucial cry, when the wolf truly has arrived to attack the flock. Because of the earlier false alarms, we may have become too complacent to respond to the warnings now.

We cannot afford to let down our guard, and yet, we cannot afford to let constant vigilance deprive us of the freedoms and privileges granted to us by our nation. As the Orange alert casts its ominous shadow over the holidays, keep it in mind, but don't let it interfere with your celebrations. Pay attention, but to not pay with your freedom, or the terrorists will have won.