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[Easy Chair]

Forget About It


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.”

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