Threats that undermine society

Alaska editorial

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2002

This editorial was published in Sunday's (Kenai) Peninsula Clarion:

As the United States ponders security issues in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, one wonders: How secure is secure enough? And, how much are we willing to pay for that security?

At first glance, security is one of those mom and apple pie issues. How can anyone be against it? Certainly no one wants a repeat of Sept. 11. On the other hand, how many "what ifs" can the nation really protect itself against?

The reality is there is no way to make the United States 100 percent secure. One need only look at Israel, whose security measures have long been touted, to know there are no guarantees even when security measures are tight. Violence and surprise attacks against innocent citizens continue to plague that nation.

There also is the practical matter of money. For example, Gov. Tony Knowles' Homeland Security Initiative is estimated to cost about $100 million in state and federal funds. The five-part plan would improve the security of Alaska's communications, transportation and public utilities infrastructure; expand the state's ability to detect and respond to biological and chemical terrorism; and better train those who would be the first responders to a contaminated environment.

The goals of the initiative are worthy: protecting Alaskans and their way of life. Imagine the outcry if there was something the state could have done but didn't because it was proclaimed too expensive and that vulnerable spot was hit.

Nevertheless, the cost must be weighed against the potential threat.

Whatever happens, however, the war against terrorism and related security concerns must not take on partisan tones as is beginning to happen at the state and national levels.

Although he made a good point about the need to address the threat of terrorism in a cost-effective way, Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, went too far when he suggested Knowles may be using terrorism as an excuse for bigger government. In a like manner, White House political adviser Karl Rove was wrong to suggest the war on terrorism should be used to the Republican Party's advantage.

"We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and hereby protecting America," Rove told party leaders Friday.

Americans of all political persuasions and no political persuasion at all have united on the war against terrorism. Politicians serve no one well by trying to divide them along party lines.

As national and state policy-makers consider security issues to protect against terrorism, they should remember other risks the nation faces, including failure to adequately fund the education, health and safety of children.

Although the United States is in recession and Alaska faces a huge budget shortfall, it is certain that lots of money will be spent on security concerns money that no one would have dreamed of spending prior to Sept. 11.

Why, then, can't money be so easily and justifiably "found" for education, health and safety issues? While terrorism may pose a very real threat, aren't young people at an even greater risk if they aren't prepared to meet the challenges of the future with the best education possible? Where will we get the best return for our investment: in protecting against terrorists or in improving the lives of children?

Life is full of risks, and security is far more than protection from "what ifs." Some threats cause immediate destruction; others eat away at our very foundation. Just because the damage caused by inadequate funding of education, health and safety issues is a slow erosion and not a dramatic fireball doesn't mean it isn't as real a threat as a terrorist's bomb. In the long run, the damage could be even more devastating.



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