7 - Evil 5
by Pamela Troy
In the televised version of Bush's State of the Union address,
the term "homeland" or "homeland security" is used seven times.
"Evil" runs a close second, cropping up five different times.
This may seem like a picayune observation, but I found the
repetition of the words striking as I watched the address,
perhaps because I am what some conservatives politely call
"out of step" with the current American sensibility. "Homeland"
was not a commonly used term in this country until recently
and I'm still not accustomed to hearing it.
The following day, I checked out Yahoo News to examine the
text of the State of the Union Address. Several choices were
offered. One of them was t he actual transcript of the address
as we all saw it, and it was there that I came up with the
Homeland 7 - Evil 5 count. Another link, however, was a different,
possibly earlier version of the same speech, in which "evil"
was pronounced only four times and "homeland" only three.
Since my only knowledge of how the State of the Union is
written comes from watching The West Wing, this conjured up
the image of a right-wing version of Sam Seaborn (played by
Mike Gerson) striding through the darkened halls of the White
House late one night with - at last! - the final version of
the State of the Union. He delivers it to Jed Bartlett (played
by George W. Bush) and waits expectantly in the dim office,
his eager young face up-lit from the single desk lamp that
illuminates the oval office, while the great man peruses the
After a moment, the president looks up at his speechwriter,
peering over his reading glasses in that inimitably owlish
manner which indicates the onset of either a whimsical disquisition
on an obscure academic subject, or a devastating observation
that punctures the pretensions of his able but inexperienced
"I don't say 'homeland security' enough," he says.
"Oh," Gerson wilts slightly.
"And you're not clear about my stand on evil. Work on it."
He hands it back to his exhausted writer and goes back to
The result is the speech we heard Tuesday night, in which
Bush repeated the terms "homeland" and "homeland security"
with the touching enthusiasm of an inarticulate man who's
learned a new catchphrase. "We will protect our homeland,"
he assured us, in a "strategy of homeland security." "Homeland
security" will make America a better country. It will "better
secure our homeland." It will, he says once again, "protect
the homeland." A purpose of his proposed Freedom Corps will
be "homeland security." Plainly, this administration is intent
on hammering the term "homeland security" so firmly into American
parlance that it is mindlessly accepted as a tenet of Americanism
along with the flag and Mom's apple pie.
Old fogie that I am, I find the words "Homeland Security"
unAmerican. "Homeland" has an exotic ring to it. There's a
hint of tribalism, of the mystic, that goes against the traditional
U.S. concept of common sense, practical patriotism. It's a
word usually associated either with lands grudgingly granted
to displaced ethnic groups, or with the baroque, iron-and-blood
jingoism of foreign regimes that Americans once invoked as
examples of what our ancestors fled.
But then, perhaps that's the point. Ever since September
11, there has been a steady attempt to alter our concept of
government and what we, as Americans should expect from it.
Concerns about the independence of our press, about attorney-client
privilege, habeas corpus are often dismissed or trivialized
with the observation that we are in a "new world" that renders
these traditions and ideals meaningless or worse. What better
way of subtly altering the American consciousness of what
their country means than by altering the word Americans use
to refer to their country?
Which brings us to the use of the word "evil," a word that
quickly puts me on my guard when I hear it used too many times.
It's not that I don't believe in the concept of evil. I simply
consider the overuse of the term a sign of a dangerously simplistic
outlook. In the world of comic books, evil is so clearly defined
and so gleefully embraced by its perpetrators that there is
are organizations that call themselves things like "The Brotherhood
of Evil Mutants." In the real world, the issue of "evil" is
immensely more complicated. Even societies and leaders who
are almost universally regarded now as "evil" - Germany under
Hitler, the Soviet Union under Stalin, Cambodia under Pol
Pot - did not regard themselves as such. On the contrary,
a characteristic these regimes and men had in common was their
conviction they had hit on a sure-fire formula for weeding
out evil-doers, and only evil-doers or cowardly weaklings
could possibly oppose it.
We are facing an "axis of evil," Bush tells us. Because we
are fighting "evil," America must "act" even if "some governments
will be timid in the face of terror." Because we are fighting
"evil", Bush "will not wait on events," "will not stand by,
as peril draws closer and closer." If you disagree with this
administration's actions taken in the name of "Homeland Security,"
if you question or object, or demand that we pause and consider
before acting, then you are either timid or something worse.
Bush's State of the Union was, at the least, a serious warning
to thinking Americans about a simplistic mindset of our president
that reduces complex international and possibly even domestic
problems to a comic-book battle between "Homeland Security"
and "The Axis of Evil." Anybody can say the word "evil." Anybody
can spell "evil," write the word "evil" on a wall or into
a speech, declare themselves in opposition to evil, and their
own actions by definition unevil, so long as it's done
in the name of something like "Homeland Security."
Truly being on the side of the angels takes effort in that
it requires intelligence, subtlety and the often painful and
unsatisfying rejection of double standards. The Bush administration
has shown no sign that it's willing to make such an effort.
Bush claims to reject the slogan of "if it feels good, do
it," but he is, in fact embracing it and demanding that the
rest of us embrace it too.
Pamela Troy is a writer who lives in San Francisco.