June 11, 2002

Homeland Security

President Bush has finally decided to ask for a Department of Homeland Security. In his speech to Congress back in September, I thought he was proposing a cabinet-level office, but he merely established the tight-lipped but feeble White House office headed by Tom Ridge.

I have an open mind as to whether creating a new federal department is a good idea. It is, in principle, I think, but the devil is in the details. What I am certain about—as I was in September—is that “Homeland Security” is a horrible name, perhaps even an un-American one. Americans may talk about their “home,” but not about their “homeland.” The word “homeland” sounds very foreign, and suspect. The Nazis could appeal to citizens to protect the German homeland when an appeal to defend the Nazi government would have been ineffectual. However fond we are of “America the Beautiful,” it is our way of life that Americans want to defend; our homeland could be on the Arabian Peninsula and our feelings for the nation would be essentially the same. (We might vacation differently.) In fact, before September 11, 2001, asking a citizen where his homeland is, would likely have elicited a response such as “Italy,” or “Ireland,” or “Africa.” America is an idea, rather than a place.

So, what alternative names are available for a cabinet department? The most obvious choices are Department of Internal Security and Department of Domestic Security. Department of National Security would be a good choice were NSA being folded into the department, but it isn’t. “Homeland Security” is no doubt supposed to sound friendlier (and less fascist) than, say “Domestic Security,” but the word “security” itself has certain heavy-handed connotations in a political context. Perhaps Department of Domestic Defense or Department of Domestic Safety would be more acceptable to civil libertarians. Anything but Department of Homeland Security.

P.S. Does anyone on the planet believe President Bush’s assertion that his government reorganization will cost no more money because each agency will simply be doing what it is doing now? And, if every agency is simply going to be performing the same job, why should we take comfort in the fact?

P.P.S. (Admission) When I did a site search on “homeland,” I was reminded that I had used the word in my poem “11 September 2001.” As indicated in the annotation, I was under the influence of President Bush’s September 20 speech when I wrote the poem.

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