Easy Chair — From the April 2018 issue

Forget About It

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In the uneasy months following 9/11, the Bush Administration provoked a minor controversy when it announced the name of a new office dedicated to protecting the United States from terrorism and other threats. “Homeland security” had unsavory associations: the Nazis often spoke of Heimat, which was also used in the 1920s and 1930s by an Austrian right-wing paramilitary group, the Heimwehr or Heimatschutz. Even Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s secretary of defense, who had been in discussions about the term months before its introduction, had been discomfited. “The word ‘homeland’ is a strange word,” he wrote in a memo on February 27, 2001. “ ‘Homeland’ Defense sounds more German than American.” Barbara J. Fields, a historian at Columbia University, predicted in 2002 that the term would “remain a resident alien rather than a naturalized citizen in American usage.”

Seventeen years and a television series later, “homeland” no longer unsettles. The Department of Homeland Security has a $40 billion budget, 240,000 employees, and a Cabinet seat. Last summer, as journalists, academics, and intellectuals debated whether a fascist had invaded the White House, a bill reauthorizing DHS sailed through the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 386 to 41. The phrase has found a home in the United States. It is a naturalized citizen.

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