Have I ever told you how much I despise the term "homeland"?
Before 9/11, if I encountered the word at all, it was generally in the context of the apartheid South African regime, which used it to designate the barren resource-poor zones within which the white ruling class dreamed of corralling all the blacks.
In 1951, the Bantu Authorities Act established a basis for ethnic government in African reserves, known as "homelands.'' These homelands were independent states to which each African was assigned by the government according to the record of origin (which was frequently inaccurate). All political rights, including voting, held by an African were restricted to the designated homeland. The idea was that they would be citizens of the homeland, losing their citizenship in South Africa and any right of involvement with the South African Parliament which held complete hegemony over the homelands. From 1976 to 1981, four of these homelands were created, denationalizing nine million South Africans. The homeland administrations refused the nominal independence, maintaining pressure for political rights within the country as a whole. Nevertheless, Africans living in the homelands needed passports to enter South Africa: aliens in their own country.
Like Linda Lewis, I also associate the term with Nazi propaganda:
[T]he word "homeland" conjures a kind of
antediluvianprimitive nationalism (tribalism) based on blood and soil, not a people united by their devotion to political ideals like liberty and free speech.
Indeed, there is something very reminiscent of Hitler's Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer! slogan about the word. It feels like a remnant of 1930's propaganda. "Home" conjures up warm associations of belonging and of nurturing; "land" suggests something primal, something owned. Put together, the resulting compound suggests a place that is ours in the deepest possible sense. The word "homeland" is much more vivid than "United States," a name comprised of an abstract adjective and a politicolegal construct. Thus an attack on "the homeland" is much more like a rape or the murder of a family member than an attack on the "United States" would be.
And so I get agitated when I see things like this PowerPoint slide:
This slide is part of a DHS workshop presented to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in September. The (capitalized!) word "homeland" in the first two bullet points could be replaced with "United Sates" or "U.S." without causing any grammatical difficulties. But then the slide would lack emotional oomph--and more importantly, would potentially subject the government or the people to criticism.
Let me explain. The "United Sates" can make mistakes. It can fail to protect its people and it can adopt foreign policies that make terrorism more likely. But the "Homeland" can't make a mistake. It can't fail, and it can't be misguided. Nothing is ever its fault. Hence the term becomes a sheild behind which politicians hide.
It's probably politically impossible to abolish the Department of Homeland Security now. At the very least, though, it could be--and should be--renamed. Replace "Homeland" with "Interior," "Domestic," or "National" and the agency would lose some of its Orwellian creepiness.