Testimony on Capitol Hill this week about the threat Americans face from a likely new terrorist attack makes me nostalgic for the Cold War.

In the 1950s, schools ran civil defense drills that they told us would help protect children from a Soviet nuclear bomb. We got under desks or were shown the location of air raid shelters. And at times, we were advised to stockpile food, water and batteries -- as we're being told to do now.

Back in those days of Nikita Khrushchev and his anti-U.S. rhetoric, the doctrine of mutual assured destruction served as a deterrent and the drills kept us on our toes.

Today it's much different. FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that the Al Qaeda terror network -- which has cells in the United States -- has the intent, and the ability, to inflict significant casualties here with little warning.

CIA director George Tenet testified that such attacks might involve not only poisons and dirty bombs, but even missiles.

We have arrived at this moment in part because we let the terrorists in. The lax immigration enforcement of the 1990s held the door open for those who hate America and want to destroy us.

Now, we can do the kind of investigative work necessary to root out these people. But there's still resistance -- on both sides of the political aisle -- to taking such steps. Civil liberties are wonderful, but even Abraham Lincoln temporarily suspended some of them during the Civil War for a greater good.

How many more Sept. 11s will we have before we do whatever is necessary to find the killers in our midst? Some have become American citizens, but they have not become Americans. If they commit treason against the United States, they should be tried and executed.

The government is now telling us how to seal our windows in case of a chemical or biological attack -- and that families should even have evacuation plans ready. This sounds far worse than the Cold War, because now, our enemies are among us.

FBI Director Mueller said this week we face a long war whose end is difficult to foresee. And CIA Director Tenet said we may not be able to stop the global spread of nuclear weapons, even if we stop Saddam Hussein. That movie classic, Dr. Strangelove, is looking more like a preview of coming attractions.

In the meantime, we'd better be prepared to do whatever it takes to win the short-term war against terrorism and to preserve innocent lives in the process.

And that's Column One for this week.

What do you think? Send your responses to: afterhours@foxnews.com.

 

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.