“Homeland Security”? Puh-leeze

It’s pretty rare that I agree with ex-Reagan speechwriter and conservative ideologue Peggy Noonan. It’s even rarer that I agree with the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal (shudder). But Noonan has been on to something recently. She’s been urging the Bush administration to retire the term “Homeland Security” from its lexicon. Her argument? That it is too old-world, too Teutonic. “Homeland Security” is the sort of thing Nazis and Stalinists worried about, not Americans. “It summons images of men in spiked helmets lobbing pitchers of beer at outsiders during Oktoberfest. When you say you love America, you’re not saying our mud is better than the other guy’s mud,” she argues, and I’m inclined to agree. America is much more about a shared set of values and ideals than about any particular patch of land. And those values and ideals are what we’re trying to defend in this battle against terror.

Her readers (and those of Mickey Kaus, a liberal columnist who picked up on this issue after she did) have suggested a whole list of potential alternate names for the idea Bush is trying to get across. Some of them are just as creepy as “Homeland Security”, in my opinion (“Department of American Protection”? ugh!), but among them, one really appeals to me: Civil Defense. This is a term we know, we’ve lived with it since the Cold War, and we know that it means sensible protections against risk that don’t unduly interfere with the regular workings of society. There’s no mental images of guys in jackboots knocking on doors in the night. And that’s a good thing, because words matter, and words that suggest that kind of image hurt our cause far more than they help it.