General Colin Powell’s op-ed in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal “Let’s Renew America Together” implores Americans to public service to help our country climb out of the deep hole we find ourselves in. He calls for a spirit of bipartisanship, and during the MLK holiday, remembers the civil rights leader’s belief that “everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” One the eve of the first presidential transition since 9/11, in the context of homeland security, General Powell’s op-ed could just as easily be titled “Let’s Protect America Together.”
As we were reminded by the details surrounding the miraculous US Air plane crash landing in New York’s Hudson River Thursday, ordinary Americans rise to greatness when called to serve – whether in this case the pilot, “Sully” Sullenberger, who checked the plane twice for survivors before being the last to leave, the NYC ferry skippers and crew who did not hesitate when immediately responding, or those ashore who helped care for the passengers. Reminiscent of the citizen action on flight United 93, Americans display the best parts of their humanity and personal constitution in times of crisis.
From this perspective, then, we ought to place faith in our countrymen to rise to the challenge in the event of a future terrorist attack or other incident. The attitude of DHS planning should be one of enlisting Americans into the effort, building a culture of inclusiveness, information sharing, and trust with the public. As the founding fathers knew, such a philosophy would capitalize on Americans’ selflessness, sense of duty, and resiliency. This would be a stark departure from previous approaches that homeland security is best left up to professionals in the federal government and everyone else should just go shopping.
As we will no doubt hear on Tuesday, our new President will call on us all to bind together during these extraordinary times; lets also think about how we might rethink homeland security policies so that we might also better “protect America together.” American citizens, clothed in democracy’s crimson and full of freedom’s breath, are capable of amazing things when called to serve. For homeland security, it’s time our government asks.