Jewish World Review June 20, 2003 / 20 Sivan, 5763

Michael Graham

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Consumer Reports

Security begins at home | According to intelligence sources, al-Qaeda is almost certain to attempt another massive, high-profile terror attack against America in the next two years. This time, I'm told, they're likely to target unprotected sites: America's soft underbelly.

Well, I've seen America's soft underbelly, and it isn't pretty. In fact, I'm looking at it right now, splayed across my sofa above the elastic waistband of my 10-year-old son's slightly-damp swim trunks as he plays Pokemon Ruby Version on his Game Boy Advance.

When it comes to soft underbellies, we've got more than our share at the Graham Compound: Four kids, two video game sets, one TV and a very long summer stretching before us. So we've decided that while other kids spend the summer months glued to a video screen, our kids are going to be fighting the War On Terror. Right here in our cul-de-sac.

You think we're overreacting? As The Warden, my wife, put it half-way through the kid's first day of summer vacation: "If I have to spend 24 hours a day trapped in this house with four screaming, whining brats, somebody is gonna get hurt!"

It might as well be al-Qaeda.

Our two oldest are 10 and 8 years old. If they sound a little young to be taking on international terrorists, well, The Warden and I felt the same way until we heard about the Enrique Alvarez case last week. Remember this story from California? He was the illegal immigrant who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl. But instead of panicking, she kept her head, first convincing the scumbag she had asthma and needed specific medical treatment, then talking him into dropping her off at a pay phone. When the police came, she recalled the address of the house he kept her in, the name of the pizza joint he called while she was there and most of the attacker's cell phone number.

All this from a NINE-year-old! I'm lucky if my kids can remember our phone number and address, and the worst trauma they've experienced is having the electricity go out during the "Sponge Bob Weekend Marathon" on Nickelodeon.

And that's no accident. The Warden and I have made a conscious decision to keep our children relatively na´ve and innocent — at least as innocent as they can be living in a nation where "Fat Bastard" figures in PG movies and our neighbor's kids are beating up virtual prostitutes for fun on GTA: Vice City. Maybe we're the only ones, but we firmly believe that childhood is an inherently good thing.

Of course, this means our children are less prepared to deal with the worst of the world because they've had so little exposure to it. So we figure fighting terrorism is a good way to introduce them to the darker side of life without just plopping them in front of South Park and letting Chef take care of it for us.

So we're doing the basics: physical training, conditioning, a limited amount of small-arms training (defining "small arms" as the plastic light saber my 3-year-old is whacking his older sister in the head with.) Then there are some basic life skills, such as calling 911 and knowing which neighbors are generally home during the day.

OK, so they'll never replace the Department of Homeland Security, but my kids haven't been booted from their posts because of previous (and undisclosed) felony convictions like about 1,200 members of a certain transportation agency I could mention. And if you told my 10-year-old that an illegal alien from the Middle East had moved in next door, his first question would be, "But if he's illegal, why is he allowed here?" not, "Shouldn't we direct him to the nearest social services provider and/or commercial aviation school?"

In other words, my kids get itů to a degree. And the innocence of childhood in America right now is all a matter of degrees. We want our kids both ignorant of the ugliness in the world, and protected from it. The world — both the terrorists and the TV networks — would present my children with the very worst of this life.

My friends, particularly the young, single ones, think I'm a na´ve dope to try and shelter my children from contemporary culture. They watch me controlling my kids' web surfing or hastily clicking past "Sex and the City" on the TV and roll their eyes. "They're gonna hear it, Graham. They're going to find it all out, if they haven't already."

And of course my friends are right. But I want my kids to find out slowly just how hard and harsh and sometimes horrible this world can be. Maybe the residue of childhood, with all its hope and joy and high horizons, will cling to them that way. Maybe.

So they're spending their days outside, preparing for the unlikely possibility of a terrorist attack in our suburban neighborhood. It may not stop al-Qaeda, but it protects my children from the almost certain bloodshed that will occur if they slam the front door during naptime again.

Like I told my son: "Forget Osama. Watch out for your mama."

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JWR contributor Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed "Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War." To comment, please click here.


06/16/03: DEAR HIL—
06/11/03: Madame Hillary's Lessons for Young Ladies
06/03/03: War games
05/28/03: A few small reparations
05/22/03: Springtime for Hitler?

© 2003, Michael Graham