Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post puts what I have been thinking very clearly:
Terror warnings: Be specific or be quiet
“The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. . . . Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.”
– State Department travel alert, Oct. 3
Speaking as an American who lives in Europe, I feel it is incumbent upon me to describe what people like me do when we hear warnings like this one issued on Sunday: We do nothing.
We do nothing, first and foremost, because there is nothing that we can do…
In truth, the only people who can profit from such a warning are the officials who issue it. If something does happen, they are covered: They warned us, they told us in advance, they won’t be criticized or forced to resign. And if nothing happens, then we’ll all forget about it anyway.
Except that we don’t forget about it. Over time, these kinds of enigmatic warnings do al-Qaeda’s work for it, scaring people without cause. Without so much as lifting a finger, Osama bin Laden disrupts our sense of security and well-being. At the same time, such warnings put the U.S. government in the position of the boy who cried wolf. The more often general warnings are issued, the less likely we are to heed them. We are perhaps unsettled or unnerved, but we don’t know what to do. So we do nothing — and wish that we’d been told nothing as well.
Meanwhile, try finding this at our government’s Foreign Affairs’ website:
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is closely monitoring the security situation in Europe.
Some European governments have recently reported a higher threat from terrorism in their own countries. On October 3, 2010, the United States issued a Travel Alert advising their citizens of the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe.
A number of European countries have taken additional security measures including an increased police and security presence at tourist sites and on public transportation systems. Travellers should continue to be vigilant and maintain a high level of personal security awareness. Canadians should be aware of their surroundings at all times, monitor local news reports, follow the advice of local authorities, and take appropriate steps to ensure their personal security…
Maybe they think the warning is useless too.