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Above: The US Government's Homeland Security Logo, replete with All Seeing Eye

The sub-section below is from: What's in a Name: Homeland Security

What's in a Name: Homeland Security

Above: Adolf Hitler exhorted German troops on the Eastern front with the words, "With bated breath, the blessing of the entire German homeland accompanies you during the hard days ahead."

The name of the Department of Homeland Security is meant to evoke images of safety - even family, hearth, comfort. It gives some people a knot in the stomach.

An uncommon word to begin with, "homeland" became an everyday word after the Sept. 11 attacks and was institutionalized when President Bush created the Office of Homeland Security.

German heritage

Jeff Neberman, who teaches European history at Boise State University, says it's "right out of Nazi Germany." The German word "heimat" means "homeland" and was used by the Nazis.

Others dispute a direct Nazi link and note various cultures have used the word, too.

"Homeland" has "obviously grated on quite a number of people," said Todd Gitlin, who teaches culture and sociology at Columbia University. "It feels like an import even if you're not aware that its origins are German."

Leslie Savan, who wrote a book about advertising and popular culture, said "homeland" makes her think not only of Germany, but also of Russia and South Africa's former apartheid government.

"It's been one of those words that's supposed to sound cozy and warm," she said. "But because it sounds cozy and warm it has been used by totalitarian governments."

Comfort the shaken

But not everyone gets the willies from the name.

"Who doesn't want homeland security?" asked Mark DiMassimo, president of DiMassimo Brand Advertising, a New York City agency. "No one is arguing for homeland insecurity."

The compound of "home" and "land" has roots in German, says linguist Donna Jo Napoli, who believes the Bush administration chose it to be as comforting as possible to a shaken public.

As an alternative, since "domus" is Latin for "home," the "domestic" could have been substituted for "homeland," making for a Department of Domestic Security, she said.

But, she added, "We don't say, 'Domus is where the heart is.' "

"Security" was used heavily by the Nazis, and in combination with "homeland" the phrase has a European or German flavor, said Richard Breitman, who teaches European history at American University.

Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York, said "homeland" was an odd choice because Americans generally don't describe the United States in that way - the way many foreigners talk about their native countries.

"But what first might appear odd, with repeated use can feel more comfortable," Renshon said. The word "speaks to the desire to have the sense that we're all in this together."


In the UK, a Shadow Office for Hoemland Security has already been created and is being run by Shadow Minister Patrick Mercer OBE MP. The Conservative Party is urging the government to do likewise:

"The Conservative leadership has called on the Labour Government to appoint a high powered ministerial supremo to take charge of protecting the UK from threatened terrorist attack.

Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin, said the special post of head of homeland security should be created to coordinate counter terror measures at the highest level." - Conservatives demand new anti-terror supremo

John Mullan writing in "The Guardian" (October 24, 2001), in an article entitled, "Protection racket":

"Perhaps the English language creaks under the attempt to express a national sense of belonging. It has nothing like the German "Heimat" to cling to, a word meaning home, locality or country and encapsulating a German's feeling for a place of origin. "Homeland" awkwardly feels like an invented term for that which should need no inventing. But, given our own embarrassment about words for where we belong, we should not condescend to Americans. "This country" is what British politicians and journalists usually have to say. And Tony Blair will never be able to begin a speech with "my fellow Britons..."

Speaking about the American Office for Homeland Security, author and journalist Peggy Noonan writes:

"Homeland" is un-American in another way: it explicitly ties our sentiments to the land, not to our ideas. Logically, this step makes no sense (presumably we want to stop terrorism even if it targets Americans and American institutions abroad). It also misses the exceptional American contribution that's worth defending. People throughout history have felt sentimental attachment to their land. We're sentimentally attached to something less geographic: i.e., freedom. Didn't Ronald Reagan make this point with some regularity?

She gives two more reasons why she has reservations about Homeland Security:

1) It's too new: Why ask us to suddenly start spouting an unfamiliar phrase in the name of patriotism? That in itself has a Big Brotherish aspect, or at least a disturbingly phony PR aspect. We know 9/11 was a big change. And maybe there's an advantage to giving people a constant linguistic reminder that something big has changed. But I'd argue we need more to be reminded of the familiar, old virtues we're defending (admittedly on a new, more horrifying planet). We're disoriented enough already. President Bush won me over, in the days after 9/11, precisely because he wasn't so disoriented that he lost sight of the old American (and human, and masculine) virtues. We need a word that conveys and embodies those trusty things, not one that sounds like we've bought into some fancy new security-consultant's lingo.

2) It's creepy: Police and intelligence agents are partly, inherently, scary. When they honestly and openly call themselves "police' and "intelligence agents," they build trust and remind you why they're there and (more important) why you should cooperate with them. When the police start talkiing about kirche and kinder and get all mushy and sentimental, they get truly frightening, and start to remind you of Robert Duvall's character, the fascistic commander, in that awful movie, The Handmaid's Tale.

She continues further:

"This isn't just an aesthetic issue. Morale is important in any war. If "homeland" becomes officially enshrined, I predict it will cause a non-trivial loss of morale -- mainly among Democrat-leaning, non-Bush-voters like me, true. But there are a lot of us. Our morale counts too, because the anti-terror effort will need our support, too. You could even argue that our morale is more crucial, since it's our morale that's most likely to slip. Red state voters will be with Bush no matter what he calls his new department. It's the blue state voters he needs to keep in line, marching in the same direction.

If "homeland" is the wrong word, what's the right word? The problem, of course, is that the right word is taken. The right word is "defense." In a linguistically honest government, what's now the Department of Defense would become the Department of War, which is the best description of what that institution is, and the projected "Department of Homeland Security" would be called the Department of Defense, which is the best description of what it is. But there's even less chance of that happening than there is of Bush appointing Giuliani to head it.

So what's wrong with "domestic security"? It gets the point across, without pretentious and disturbing PR overtones. It's the phrase ex-Senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart use when they're not babbling about "homeland."

Peggy Noonan's quotes from: []

Who is Peggy Noonan?

Peggy Noonan is the best selling author of five books on American politics, history and culture. She is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and a weekly columnist for the Journal’s editorial page website. Her articles and essays have appeared in Forbes, Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, “O” Magazine, the New York Times and other publications. She is a frequent guest on political talk shows. She has been nominated for an Emmy Award for the writing of a post-9/11 television special, and has been an advisor on the television drama The West Wing. Noonan is a member of the board of the Manhattan Institute.


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What's in a Name: Homeland Security (Heimatsicherheitsdienst) 1742 Milo 28-Dec-03 19:55
The Fourth Reich 195 Duncan_Idaho 30-Dec-03 18:13
Re: The Fourth Reich 192 Briffits 30-Dec-03 21:31
Re: The Fourth Reich 201 Duncan_Idaho 30-Dec-03 21:42
Re: The Fourth Reich 193 Duncan_Idaho 30-Dec-03 22:02
Re: The Fourth Reich 242 Zosimos 30-Dec-03 22:51
Re: The Fourth Reich 210 Duncan_Idaho 30-Dec-03 22:59

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