This is the second in a multipart series on bogus origin stories. A brief explanation of which can be read here.
If ever there were a turn of phrase that molested, without right or remorse, Orwell’s axiom that one ought to let the “meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.” it would be “Homeland Security” and our generation’s uniform acquiescence to its vague charge. What defined a “homeland”, no one could really say. What defined “security” no one could say. The word, after the trauma of 9/11 (to say nothing of its subsequent media-induced meta-traumas), had given us a meaning, and that meaning was enough to justify its own existence.
We had a “homeland” after all, and that homeland needed “security”. Why there had not existed such a department for the previous 225 years of the republic, during which time such threats as “Indian raids”, counter-imperial invasions, a brutal civil war, mass social unrest, Pearl Harbor, German U-boat attacks, and communist-induced nuclear winter had routinely surfaced, seemed unimportant. What was important was that 9/11 Changed Everything™ and something something information sharing and something something bureaucratic inefficiency. What was important, above all, was being safe.
Incidentally, as luck would have it, in preparation of this piece, a few recent news items took place that help illustrate the sheer goofiness of a "homeland" as a sensible conceit:
- Several pundits, even typically centrist hawk Chris Matthews, noted the vague and problamatic nature of the term in our run up to war with ISIS
- Last Friday, the White House released a mysterious buzzfeed-like report that bizarrely claimed anyone born after 2005 was a member of the "Homeland Generation"
How did we get here? How did we get to a point where even a supposed liberal White House is willing to, quite literally, condemn an entire generation using a deeply loaded term coined by PR consultants William Strauss and Neil Howe to describe a life of "tracked mobile digital technology, screening psychological software, and surveillance by entertainment controls"? This isn't just leftist acquiescence to a Bush-era construct - it's a wholesale endorsement of it.
The Official Narrative: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Permanent War
The Department of Homeland Security was ostensibly created in the aftermath of 9/11 to radically alter the structure of domestic security to address the “new threat” of “terrorist attacks, man-made accidents, and natural disasters.” The official wiki-truth as of two weeks ago read as such -- transcribed entirely from the Department of Homeland Security's own (now dead-linked) website.
The official DHS.gov history also makes it clear: the DHS was a deliberative and necessary reponse to 9/11:
The official creation timeline plays out as such:
September 11th 2001: US attacked by al Qaeda
September 20th 2001: Bush, before a joint session of congress, unilaterally appoints Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge to head a “Homeland Security Office” which he creates without Congressional consent or approval. The current Wikitruth narrative does little to rectify this legal tautology:
June 14th, 2002: First formal White House proposal to create a department of Homeland Security
November 25th, 2002: Congress passed Public Law 107-296, officially creating the Department of Homeland Security
November 2002 to March 2003: The newly minted DHS absorbs 22 different Federal departments. The DHS’s website, as it stands now, offers up this “chronology of events” sans dates:
The creation of the Department of Homeland Security and all of its essential features were laid out in detail months before 9/11 by three distinct entities:
- The U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century in its final Phase III report in January 2001 that advocated for the creation of a cabinet-level "Homeland Security Agency"
- Two separate bills, one on March 21, 2001 and one a week later both proposing what would later become the Homeland Security Department and the "Homeland Security Office" respectively
- Highly-influential National Security think tank RAND corporation in its July 2001 report "Preparing the U.S. Army for Homeland Security" on the urgency of creating such a department
There exists no evidence, either in congressional minutes, academic archives, or a press records, before January 2001, detailing either the idea or proposing the creation of a "Homeland Security" agency as such. Formally, it's a concept that is entirely unique to the brief pre-9/11 Bush era.
It’s important to understand the logic behind the creation of a centralized “Homeland Security” department as opposed to the circa 2000 status quo of disparate departments: rapid response and information sharing. The DHS website makes clear:
It bears mentioning, of course, the reason why FEMA, the FBI's counter-terrorism efforts, the Coast Guard, the National Guard, Immigration Services, the Department of Energy were divided was because none of these departments were or could have been created for the purposes of broad domestic policing. They were specific departments with specific statutory logic based on specific and proven threats - trans-state crime, threats to our shores, emergency response, information technology, etc - to combine these departments would be, in effect, a radical admission that a permanent, quasi-militarized mechanism of domestic policing was both necessary and constitutionally justified. Indeed, what gets overlooked in all the post-9/11 "connnecting the dots" revisionism, is that the barriers that prevented the "connecting of dots" in the first place existed for a very crucial and Constitutionally-pertinent reason: a reason that has unfortunately become obvious in recent weeks:
Importing military practices to domestic security would, in effect, help cement a “global battlefield” that would include American soil and thus go a long way to eroding the distinction between domestic security and militarism. Indeed, a "homeland", definitionally, entails a land away from "home", and thus has the added bonus of conflating any threat inevitably caused by imperial occupation aboard with domestic preparedness and policing resulting from its blowback - virtually guaranteeing permanent war as a matter of course.
This logic, while sinister-sounding when laid bare, would serve as both the overarching theme of The Commission on National Security/21st Century's "vision" for America in the 21st century and the core principle behind Bush’s post-9/11 power consolidation: terrorism and "threats to the homeland" lurked everywhere and a centralized, executive-run department that operated supranationally and streamlined the “barriers” between local authorities and America’s military apparatus was both over-due and essential to preventing another attack. Never mind that our perpetual intervention overseas was what caused this threat in the first place, or the fact that all of Bush and Ashcroft’s post 9/11 “home-grown” “sleeper cell” claims would turn out to be hooey, the establishment of an undefined and global network of terrorists necessarily entailed an equally undefined and global domestic response apparatus to match. But this threat, as Adam Curtis explained in his 2004 BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, would be as much fact as it was fiction.
It wasn’t that al Qaeda did not "exist" as such - there certainly were 19 Islamist hijackers who conspired to attack the United States in Sept. 2001 - it’s that “al Qaeda” as it was explained to us after the fact - as a distinct and organized Jihadi group that was well-financed and could strike at any time - turned out to be largely overblown and disproportionate relative to the largest reorganization of the Federal government since World War II. But this didn't matter. As the historical record indicates: the overall infrastructure of the DHS was already deemed necessary to defending "the homeland" and 9/11 would serve as both context and pretext.
After a bit of back-and forth with the wikigods, I've attempted to establish a new truth reflecting this genealogy. Here are some examples of the DHS's Wikipedia entry before and after my edits:
Why it's important
That the Department of Homeland Security and all of its core components pre-date 9/11 is important for two reasons:
Truth matters. Truth is good. Truth is your friend
It illustrates that history, despite the appeal of definable "moments" that Change Everything™ and our corollary fetish for naming generations, is not comprised of either great men or great moments. It's a Battleship. A slow-moving force that rarely, if ever, turns on a dime. The core componets of the DHS had been in the works for years - worked out by dozens of think tanks, politicians, ideologues, and an assortment of "national security" experts who believed - cynically or not - that a uniform domestic policing and surveillance mechanism was an important antidote to America's anti-domestic policing and corporate imperialism streak
In the wake of the Civil War the plural "these United States" fell out of favor as pundits and politicians alike began to embrace the singular "the United States". The United States, as a country, was no longer a literal expression but rather an entirely distinct entity, rendering the Confederacy's claim to a separate sovereignty null-and-void. The removal of these two letters did more to delegitimize any remaining Southern discontent than a thousand words could have.
Just the same, the idea of a "Homeland" carries with it similar purchase. As mentioned above, a "homeland" necessarily entails land away from the "home". Indeed, one cannot have a homeland, by definition, without also having foreign lands or else it would simply be called "the land" or, in the words of Woody Guthrie, "our land". Critics are right that the rise of this phrase as a separate and meaningful conceit is one of the more pernicious intellectual coups of Bush's radical rightwing reign - conditioning Americans to accept permanent empire and its inevitable blowback as the "new normal". But they're wrong to dismiss both its verbiage and its core premise as a response to 9/11. It wasn't. It was an exploitation of 9/11. An exploitation that becomes more and more apparent the more one understands the true history and animating logic behind its rise.
From this morning: