On the 10th anniversary of the creation of America's Department of Homeland Security some are deeply worried about the connotation of the word "homeland" itself in the evolution of today's American security state. Could it echo the dark days of Germany's Vaterland or Stalin's Rodina?
Once upon a time, “homeland” was a word of little significance in the American context. What American before 9/11 would have called the United States his or her “homeland” rather than “country”? Who sang “My homeland, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty”? Between my birth in 1944, as World War II was drawing to a close, and September 11, 2001, I doubt I ever heard the word in reference to the U.S.
There was a reason: “homeland” had a certain ring to it and anyone would have known at once just what that ring, that resonance, was. Not to put too fine a point on it, we’re talking about the ring of evil. It sounded like the sort of word the Nazis or maybe Stalin would have used as the terrible totalitarians of the previous century mobilized their people for horrific wars and heinous crimes.
It’s true that, in the run-up to September 11th, somewhere in the corridors of Washington, there were right-wingers already pushing to homeland-ize this country. The word, along with the idea of creating a future Office of Homeland Security, was then gestating like the monster baby in the movie Alien, awaiting its moment to burst forth.
Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do. Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit.
Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic, and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm.
For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T. Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which celebrates its 10th birthday this March, has grown into a miniature Pentagon. It’s supposed to be the actual “defense” department -- since the Pentagon is essentially a Department of Offense -- and it’s rife with all the same issues and defects that critics of the military-industrial complex have decried for decades. In other words, “homeland security” has become another obese boondoggle.
Perhaps the strangest part of homeland security operations may be this: there is no agreed-upon definition for just what homeland security is. The funds Washington has poured into the concept will soon enough approach a trillion dollars and yet it’s a concept with no clear boundaries that no one can agree on. Worse yet, few are asking the hard questions about what security we actually need or how best to achieve it. Instead, Washington has built a sprawling bureaucracy riddled with problems and set it on autopilot.