- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

Noble: Bob Hope, for decades of unstinting service to the members of the armed services.

Most people cringe at the thought of spending a single holiday away from home. Imagine spending every Christmas Day on the road — at work — surrounded by strangers — for more than 30 years. Bob Hope did so. For 35 consecutive years — from 1948, when he brought “a touch of home” to the troops involved in the Berlin Airlift, until 1983, when he brought his Christmas cheer to the Marines in Beirut —Mr. Hope gave his holidays to troops at veterans hospitals and military bases all across the globe.

He first entertained the airmen at California’s March Field in May 1941, and continued to do so for the next 60 years. He took USO tours from Goose Bay, Labrador, to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from Keflavik, Iceland, to Bangkok, Thailand. Nine of his Christmas tours included visits to Vietnam. While the troops laughed at his streams of one-liners and liked looking at the bevy of buxom beauties he often had in tow, they loved the fact that he would talk to any soldier — regardless of the number of stripes on his uniform.

Mr. Hope reportedly avoided officers intentionally. An airman related, “Bob Hope had no problem shaking hands with enlisted men, but he was pretty good at eluding the officers.” Said another, “He had a genuine concern for the enlisted men. He really had a feeling for them.” His last USO tour was in 1990, when he spent his Christmas in Saudi Arabia with soldiers involved in Operation Desert Storm.

The military awarded Mr. Hope’s service with honors. He’s had both an Air Force plane named after him (a C-17 Globemaster III) and an entire class of Navy ships, starting with the USNS Bob Hope. He received an honorary knighthood from his native England and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Perhaps Mr. Hope’s greatest honor was his 1997 designation as Honorary Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces. No one else has received such a designation by Congress, and it may be another century before it is so well-deserved.

Laughter is a rare gift. So is holiday cheer, when one is in danger and a long way from home. Mr. Hope has given both to millions of servicemen, decade after decade after decade. He is a veteran in the truest sense of the word.

Mr. Hope turns 100 years old on Thursday. Thank you, Mr. Hope for the sacrifices, for the service and, yes, for the memories.

Knaves: The people poking fun of the Homeland Security Department’s color-coded alert system.

In response to his concerns about increased terrorist activity, Tom Ridge recently raised the national alert level from elevated to high.

Many complain that the alerts raise fears without providing solutions, and that’s true — at least to a degree. However, before the system was set up, Americans had only notional means, such as the networks and the newspapers, to assess the national threat. Acting paranoid is problematic even when someone is out to get you.

Now, thanks to Mr. Ridge and his Homeland Security team, citizens at least have a baseline, one that they’re free to disregard. For instance, during last year’s sniper shootings, many throughout the Beltway were still pumping gas, going for groceries and jogging through parks — as though they were untouchable or at least unlikely to be targeted. Some probably believed they wouldn’t be shot at if they practiced Murphy’s pragmatic rule of combat, “Don’t look conspicuous — it draws fire,” while others of a more fatalistic nature followed the principle “Anything you do can get you shot — including doing nothing.”

Both dicta are undoubtedly true when it comes to terrorism, and most individuals living in areas likely to be targeted have gotten used to the daily fear factor. But others, whether likely tourists or possible interns, should be told if they are traveling into an area of elevated danger. The same goes for the emergency personnel who might be called on during or in the immediate aftermath of such an event — in the same way as when there is a greater risk of natural catastrophes such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

Perhaps the government could have used a different system. However, a numeric alert system would have caused exponential levels of confusion, given the negative mathematical aptitude of most members of the media. An alphabetic system would have offended everyone from Andrew to Zelda. And no one who remembers the 2000 presidential election wants a terrorist alert system based on butterfly ballots.

In truth, the color-coded system is one of the better tools for dealing with an intractable problem. Indeed, the familiar traffic light — green, yellow, red — is the practical model for our color-coded warning system. Critics of the system might realize that this is the case, but it probably won’t be for a blue moon, or at least a green-alert day.

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