The government has issued itself a report suggesting that maybe the whole color-coded warning system for terrorist alert isn’t working so well. I’m glad that they have noticed.

This is a silly system. It tells us, as far as I understand it, how scared we should be, on a scale of one to five. I went to the Homeland Security website to find out exactly what action is suggested at each level, so I know. At blue we should buy duct tape, at orange we should make sure we have enough duct tape, and at red we should call our workplaces and find out whether to take the day off. At some unspecified point we will use duct tape to attach plastic sheeting to all our windows, doors, and vents. This is, of course, the special plastic sheeting that allows in oxygen, but not whatever it is that we are supposed to be afraid of. This plastic sheeting maneuver is never connected with any level of fear, however. It is a separate illustration, right next to the advice to make sure everyone has coins with which to call one another. This is advice for communities which still have pay phones. These are probably the same communities that have the special plastic sheeting. Elsewhere the plan suggests that we find out what kinds of emergencies we are most likely to have. Perhaps we determine this by calling our most suspicious neighbors on the nonexistent pay phones and asking them just what kind of terrorist activity they’re working on right now.

What kind of system is that? The most active thing we ever get to do (aside from buying duct tape and then checking on it repeatedly) is to practice alternate routes to school. Reporting suspicious activities is not active enough to count. Note that I am not complaining about how useless all this is. I don’t know that home front activities were ever directly useful. But the current crop of recommended home front activities are silly. Shop? Check on your emergency supplies? Look around for suspicious behavior?

During WWII, people were given worthy tasks. They planted Victory Gardens, gathered up scrap metal, baked cakes without eggs.  Everyone got to work knitting socks for soldiers. (I don’t quite get the egg bit, but I’m sure there was something to it.)They probably felt better. They felt that they were doing something to help. They felt safer because they had cabbages in the back yard and plenty of socks. Do we feel safer when we collect duct tape and watch our neighbors in case they do something suspicious? Hardly!

And what kind of poster is that going to make? “Be Vigilant!” or “Check Your Duct Tape Supplies!” or possibly “Have You Found An Alternate Route?”  No one is going to admire those in 2050. We won’t even have any good reminiscences. We’ll sit down surrounded by our great-grandchildren and tell them how on orange days we worked hard to feel slightly more vigilant than we had on yellow days. I don’t think so.

Go on! Plant a Victory Garden! Knit some socks! Don’t bother trying to achieve the level of fear appropriate for the color of the day, just pick up your spade and your knitting needles and do something patriotic!

I have completed the neckband. I think I will have enough yarn left, after I finish the sleeves, to make some socks. I also have a garden. I may not have access to a pay phone, and I may not have the magic plastic sheeting, but I think my approach will work just as well in case of a terrorist attack, and at least I don’t have to try to color-code it.