I haven’t read an article in some time with which I so quickly and reflexively agreed as this one by Mickey Kaus yesterday in Slate. As Mickey says in the piece, many people must have thought in their heart of hearts, but not been comfortable saying: I’m all for homeland security. But do we have to call it ‘homeland security’?
The phrase really does have a deep blood and soil tinge to it which is distinctly Germanic, more than a touch un-American, and a little creepy. I mean, we — that is to say, Americans — don’t really use this word — not just liberals or cosmopolitan Northeasterners, but really any of us. And even the concept is a little fishy from the perspective of American national culture. I would at least have understood if President Bush wanted to call it ‘heartland security‘ because I know he’s into that sort of thing. But ‘homeland security’? I mean, I guess fatherland security would have been worse. But it’s sort of a close call.
One reason to avoid this sort of terminology is that what we’re now calling homeland security has an inherently and likely unavoidable big-botherish tilt to it — I mean in the sense of increased policing and surveillance on the homefront and possibly even a slight militarization of domestic security. But if it has to have some of this tilt why add to it with the vaguely fascistic or at least teutonic verbiage?
Anyway, I’m going to try to make a point not to use the phrase any more on this site (I have less control over terminology in pieces I publish elsewhere). But after reading Mickey’s piece I was curious just how the phrase ‘homeland security’ got so popular.
The story goes something like this.
When the Bush administration came into office they were very big on what they called ‘Homeland Defense.’ By this they meant, essentially, National Missile Defense.
After 9/11 it became quite clear that we did indeed face serious threats on the homefront. But there were much more effective and easier ways for our enemies to attack us than to lob ICBMs from Baghdad or Pyongyang. Thus, the shift in policy and terminology to ‘homeland security.’
But ‘homeland defense’ didn’t start with the Bushies. The phrase really got into the public vocabulary with the release of “Transforming Defense: National Security in the 21st Century,” a report on the future of the US military by something called the National Defense Panel.
The panel was appointed on February 6th 1997 by then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen but the panel itself was mandated FY 1997 Defense Authorization Act. In essence, this was the Republican Congress wanting another look taken at American defense priorities.
When the NDP reported back in December 1997 the gist of their report was that the US should be putting more priority on defense of the American mainland, though the report was equivocal on the question of missile defense as part of the equation. In any case, from that point onward, ‘homeland defense’ was a stock phrase in the vocabulary of national defense talk.
But where did the NDP pick up the ‘homeland defense’ phraseology? That’s not entirely clear. If you do database searches for the phrase pre-1997 the great majority of the hits you get are about South Africa, Germany, Russia and a series of other countries where you might expect this locution has a more natural appeal.
Looking closely, however, the NDP almost certainly got the phrase from National Missile Defense enthusiasts who had been using the term, albeit obscurely, since the mid-1980s. One of the earliest examples I could find, for instance, is a October 16, 1985 Heritage Foundation backgrounder by W. Bruce Weinrod in which the author helpfully notes that “In the mid-1960s, Soviet Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) development made a U.S. homeland defense problematical.”
Another pro-SDI report released in December 1985 helpfully noted that “The side that solves homeland defense problems first, however, would be in the catbird seat.” Later, just after the Bush administration left office, the former head of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, Henry Cooper, wrote with frustration that the “Fragile support for a U.S. homeland defense is threatened by disharmony, and misrepresentations propagated to advocate parochial interests.”
All this fun stuff aside though, the phrase doesn’t seemed to have picked up much steam in the mainstream press — that is to say, outside of technical or policy journals, and particularly the defense policy press — until the early Clinton administration. Actually, the first example I saw of the phrase in a daily is an April 1st, 1994 Washington Times OpEd by none other than Strom Thurmond in which the old codger wrote the following lament …
The Clinton administration has said that worldwide proliferation of mass-destructive weapons is a top priority. But the administration has placed too little emphasis on the counter-proliferation value of missile defense and has demonstrated no sense of urgency in getting improved defenses into the field. A limited homeland defense is dead for all practical purposes, even though we could soon face a renewed threat from resurgent Russian nationalism and militarism. Worse yet, the administration appears willing to accept ABM Treaty limitations on theater missile defenses, the kind intended to protect our troops abroad and our allies from threats like that of North Korea.
Actually to my great chagrin, I later realized that a year earlier — also in the Washington Times — then-Senator Malcoln Wallop cautioned that efforts to build theater missile defense systems not “prevent us from building homeland defenses.” But between you and me, I’d rather just pretend Strom said it first because having the thing rolled out into the public debate by Strom Thurmond on April Fool’s Day is just a bit too good to pass up.
Anyway, let’s ditch ‘homeland security’ and come up with a more American phrase.