Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 6, 2008

HOMELAND.... Concerns about the name of the Department of Homeland Security were raised briefly in 2002, but it was relegated to a semantic afterthought in the midst of a broader debate. I was pleased, then, to see Peggy Noonan bring it up yesterday in her Wall Street Journal column.

By the way, [Barack Obama] should both reorder the Department of Homeland Security, that hopeless bureaucracy, and change its name. Homeland is a Nazi-ish word, not an American concept at all. And at this point "Homeland Security" is associated more with pointless harassment than safety. No one knows who came up with it.

As I recall, it was Joe Lieberman.

In any case, Noonan's point is well taken. There's nothing in the American tradition about references to the "homeland," and the name has always struck a dissonant note for me. What are the alternatives? Tim Fernholz is on the case:

"Homeland" reeks of a European-style ethnic nationalism, a kind of jus sanguinis that we've never embraced in the United States and never should. Call it the Domestic Security Agency, call it the Department of National Security, anything but what it is. It's a small thing, but it's a season of bipartisanship and I'll find my consensus where I may.

Works for me.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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I seem to recall that the term "homeland security" came out of a commission report chaired by Gary Hart that examined America's terrorist threat.

Posted by: dave on December 6, 2008 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Having read the referenced article, one can only wonder in Noonan received a new brain ala Monty Python's Flying Circus! Steve's snippet is only part of her Wall Street Journal column that is not apologetic gibberish.

Posted by: captain dan on December 6, 2008 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

could we call it The Agency That Couldn't Shoot Straight?

Posted by: Donna on December 6, 2008 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

ah yes, Heimatssicherheit -- a very American concept.

the whole 'our Commander in Chief' obsession and little jackets and hats with the presidential seal and heimat business has always made my skin crawl.

Posted by: Artemesia on December 6, 2008 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK


The Department of Domestic Security would be OK with me.

Posted by: Dan Kervick on December 6, 2008 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

And get rid of the "Patriot Act." Or else change the name of this nation to the "People's Republic of America."

Posted by: CMcC on December 6, 2008 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

And while we're changing nomenclature, let's also drop the term "war on terror" -- which is another semantic atrocity.

Posted by: HaroldinBuffalo on December 6, 2008 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

and let's change DOD back to Department of War while we're at it. It's the damned truth.

Posted by: mxyzptlk on December 6, 2008 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

If the other agencies worked, then you wouldn't need it, so get rid of it.

The Department of Domestic Security

The standard uniform should be a pinafore?

Posted by: blowback on December 6, 2008 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

I always found the name just too close to "Department of Fatherland Security".

Posted by: Jim Ramsey on December 6, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

How about "The Department of Annoying Harassment"?

Instead of Patriot Act, How about "The Official Trashing of the Constitution"?

Posted by: CN on December 6, 2008 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Um... "Defense Department" maybe?

Posted by: Ben on December 6, 2008 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Great idea Peg! And while we're renaming things we'll stop calling you a writer. You are now Peg Noonan - Pathetic shill who savors the taste of Bush balls.

Posted by: tAwO 4 That 1 on December 6, 2008 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

That name was Lieberman's idea? He should be ashamed of himself.

Posted by: mim on December 6, 2008 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

We could just get rid of the Department altogether.

Big NO to Dept of National Security. Since at least Nixon's time, "national security" has been the excuse to undermine the constitution and justify criminal behavior on the part of the government. No point giving that attitude it's own department.

Posted by: martin on December 6, 2008 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

"Homeland" reeks of a European-style ethnic nationalism, a kind of jus sanguinis that we've never embraced in the United States and never should."

Oh my. This is serious.

From Webster's New World College Dictionary: "homeland . . . n. 1 the country in which one was born or makes one's home . . . "

Reminds me of when we cut the legs out from the Cincinnati Redlegs, and renamed them the Cincinnati Reds. Yes, I couldn't resist the pun, so I put it backwards.

Seriously, I don't understand what drives some people.

Posted by: hark on December 6, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

I've always hated the whole "homeland" nomenclature. It seemed like an attempt to increase the worst tendencies of nationalism. Domestic or National Security would be just fine.

Posted by: StacySix on December 6, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

I like the idea. Close Gitmo, restore Habeus Corpus, Reinvigorate the Army Field Manuel and Geneva Conventions, re-create FEMA in it's former functioning image, DO SOMETHING with DHS,

And those of us who suffered so long with Bush Derangement Syndrome will be able to go back to almost normal lives.

Posted by: bcinaz on December 6, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

I think Dept. of Fatherland Security would be a more accurate moniker.

Posted by: Chris Brown on December 6, 2008 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the 'Department of Redundancy Department?'

Posted by: doubtful on December 6, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK
Seriously, I don't understand what drives some people.
Because words mean things and language matters. This isn't the highest priority and it won't save the world. But the more we choose to name things in contradiction of what they are, the more we debase the entire concept of a common reality and the more we live in an unmoored fantasy. Reality eventually bites back and hard.

Letting the other side highjack the debate (since terms "don't matter" as much as the "real" problems) is why liberals have been shellacked for the past thirty years. How else do you explain strong majorities that embrace the positions of the Democrats and yet reject the Democrats expounding them?

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on December 6, 2008 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Back in the day, when we had to crawl under our school desks in nuclear war drills, it was simply called "Civil Defense." They even had their own yellow and black symbol for bomb shelters, etc. You whippersnappers wouldn't remember.

Posted by: Paul in NC on December 6, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Back at the DHS founding, a friend pointed out to me that "homeland" is really a term of empire rather than of nationalism per se. It's empires that have homelands.

Posted by: Jonathan Lundell on December 6, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Dave is correct. The idea of a Department of Homeland Secuirty came from the Hart-Rudman commission. They probably got it from somewhere too. Bush deserves some credit for the name as well since he created an Office of Homeland Security before the department was created.

Posted by: Craig on December 6, 2008 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

How about Dept of Endo-Security?

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on December 6, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't we used to have something called the National Security Agency?

Posted by: Mahnkenstein on December 6, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me that it should be called the Department of Defense.

Then the war guys could be called the Department of Offense. Or the War Department, which would be honest (and historical).

Posted by: craigie on December 6, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

I never liked the name either. And the department does seem awfully redundant when we have the FBI, CIA, and NSA. It should really just be called the Department of Defense Coordination.
Ultimately, a big deal was made of the creation of Homeland Security just to try and make us feel safer. The appearance that Bush was on top of things.

Posted by: palinoscopy on December 6, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

How about breaking the agency back into pieces and not worry about the name.

Posted by: Clint on December 6, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

For a laugh they could go with Department Of Freedom for the United States (DOFUS).

I personally feel clint is right. This is a classic "business not fixing a problem" situation. Instead of doing a good job, we'll just rebrand with a new name. Break DHS up again, and spend the money on fixing the issues.

Posted by: royalblue_tom on December 6, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I seem to recall that the term "homeland security" came out of a commission report chaired by Gary Hart that examined America's terrorist threat. dave

Pretty sure this is true. Heard Hart a few years ago on NPR questioned about it and just saying nobody thought much about it. A bunch of tin ears, I guess.

Posted by: David in NY on December 6, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Domestic Security Agency... Department of National Security... Maybe National Security Agency? Oh wait...

Seriously, though, what is the difference supposed to be between Homeland Security and National Security? Is there any reason for the DHS and NSA to be different agencies? Maybe we should just leave it as it is, the Domestic Security Department can be created after the next big crisis, and then we'll work on a name for the security agency/department we'll create in response to the crisis after that one.

Posted by: Eric L on December 6, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Dept (or Bureau) of National Security? KGB for short? I'm not sure that harking back to Soviet Union is any more palatable than harking back to Hitler's Germany...

Posted by: exlibra on December 6, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

I liked the term "Civil Defense" from earlier days.

Posted by: Edward M on December 6, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Pass the smelling salts. I agree with Nooners on something. I've hated the Homeland term from the beginning precisely because it sounds Nazish. Heck, I think I even mentioned it on a Kos thread way back and was roundly shouted down.

Posted by: warren terrah on December 6, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

"a rose by any other name..." How about we change DHS' name AFTER it stops acting like nazi-ish organization.

As usual, the republican/conservative focuses on the superfluous and misses/avoids (either intentionally or not) what is actually meaningful: the evisceration and abuse of American's Civil Liberties, and manipulation of information and propaganda formulations by the government for political purposes.

Posted by: pluege on December 6, 2008 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

What Gilroy said, hark.

I think this word was thrown around in military circles long before Hart picked it up. He got it from them because he was on Armed Services, wasn't he? They've probably been using it to distinguish offshore operations and whatever domestic facilities support them, from domestic quasi-military security, as distinct from mere policing or riot control.

That concept aside, the basic problem is that it's a direct translation of "heimat," which in any even minimally politicized context is all about "blut und boden" nationalism. We have spread-eagle patriotism in our past, but that's a different thing. It was never about purifying the volk, as heimat and homeland imply.

"Domestic" will do just fine.

Posted by: Altoid on December 6, 2008 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

I remember a debate we had about this on the Poets & Writers board after 9/11, and most of us not only disliked the name, for the reasons Steve indicated, but we literary types more or less felt this dept was little more than a redundancy of autocratic apologia for itself. What do we really need this dept for? If the NSA and the CIA and defense intelligence and the FBI need a clearing house, don't we already have that in the former intelligence czar Negroponte? I wish I had a smiley for rolling eyes....

Posted by: Jozanny on December 6, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

United Network Command (for) Law Enforcement?

Posted by: dSmith on December 6, 2008 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

Have to agree with you and (arghh!) Peggy. Have always hated it because of the "Blut und Boden" associations.

"Domestic Security" sounds find to me. Echoes of "domestic tranquility," a term that comes from the U.S. constitution.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on December 7, 2008 at 4:41 AM | PERMALINK

I know more about TSA than most people. The workers are awesome - seriously - they are mostly veterans (probably from Iraq or Afghanistan) and get up at 3 or 4 am to work crazy shifts for only $30k. They hate the rules they are required to enforce. HATE THEM. You could make every airport in America safer tomorrow if you had some experienced TSA screeners rewrite the screening policies than some jackass subcontractor/lobbyist.

It is generally acknowledged among TSA staff that they are only there to make people feel safer and are not going to prevent the next attack, even if they do their jobs perfectly.

But they will be blamed for the next attack, and the contractors will come back and steal their jobs. I guarantee it.

Posted by: anon on December 7, 2008 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

At last a point of agreement between Democrats and Republicans! Now we can safely say President Obama has succeeded fully and completely in his goal to re-unite America in this post-partisan era.

Okay, so this moment will pass. Sigh.

How about the Department of Homeland Imprisonment?
Department of Homies? Department of Home Schooling? Department of Homebound Invalids?

Whaaaat? Whaaat? Got a progrom, take it up with the Israeli Defense Forces?

At least it's better than the Department of the Gulag.

Posted by: MarkH on December 7, 2008 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK



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