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A Defense of the Defense: Homeland Security

I have in my office an article from Life Magazine which appeared in 1940 concerning America’s Pacific ring of defense. The article detailed how America’s Pacific defense was more or less impregnable, from San Diego to Pearl Harbor to the Philippines. Of course, most of the emphasis is rightly placed upon the U.S. Navy, which was the foundation of our Pacific defense system. The article implied that all was secure and that the United States would never experience any major calamity.

  • Jim West
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I have in my office an article from Life Magazine which appeared in 1940 concerning America’s Pacific ring of defense. The article detailed how America’s Pacific defense was more or less impregnable, from San Diego to Pearl Harbor to the Philippines. Of course, most of the emphasis is rightly placed upon the U.S. Navy, which was the foundation of our Pacific defense system. The article implied that all was secure and that the United States would never experience any major calamity.

Except that it did, nearly one year later at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, “the day of infamy.”

In 2002, some 60 years later, our nation launched the Homeland Security Department, designed to protect our nation from terrorist attacks. The mission of this agency is to “prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the nation. We will ensure safe and secure borders, welcome…lawful immigrants and visitors, and promote the free flow of commerce.”

Lest we caricature this as national hubris or bravado, the Department also plans to “Lead national, state, local, and private sector efforts to restore services and rebuild communities after acts of terrorism, natural disasters, and other emergencies” (my emphasis). This means that while stopping short of calling terrorist attacks a slam-dunk, our government does anticipate future terror attacks. Thankfully, our government is not like Ahab, who thought that by his disguise and “impregnable” armor he could foil the prophet’s prediction. Our government believes that the number of potential targets within our borders precludes an infallible defense system.

This anticipation of future terror is illustrated by the Department’s Color-Coded Threat System, which begins with Red (a severe threat of attack), and ends with Green (low probability of attack). Three of the five colors imply the probability of attack: Severe, High, and Elevated. The best the other two can do is present a low probability. The meaning is unmistakable: terrorist attacks within the United States are virtually assured (the President says, “Not if, but when”).

The Department of Homeland Security does not think of itself as a magic bullet that can save us from terror. On the contrary, the DHS recognizes its limitations, anticipates future acts of terror, strives to educate, and urges vigilance.

The Necessity of Homeland Security

Is a Department of Homeland Security necessary? Some may think it is unnecessary, or worse, it presumptuously seeks security apart from trust in God. This argument is both cavalier and anemic. Protection does come from God, but God commands the means as well as the ends. Psalm 127 declares, “Except the Lord build the house, the workmen labor in vain, unless the Lord keep the city, the watchmen watch in vain.” A nation can have a Maginot line of defense that appears impregnable, but find that trust in human resources alone does not suffice.

In fact, a proper understanding of Psalm 127 is informed by its latter verses. The children of a believer are pictured not only as the Lord’s “heritage,” but as a father’s “quiver.” A quiver is a military metaphor and shows that the man who trusts in the Lord to build his house also trusts in the Lord who “quivered” him. Moreover, because the Biblical father trusts in the Lord he “quivers” his own children. He will not despise means. Psalm 127 is the Old Testament version of praising the Lord and passing the ammunition. Or, in the words of Oliver Cromwell, “Trust in the Lord, but keep your powder dry.” Even the disciples who were commanded by Christ to evangelize the world were also commanded to buy a sword (Lk. 22:36 ).

Psalm 127 also teaches that while the principle behind a Department of Homeland Security is sound, a more basic consideration is home security. One of the functions of the Department of Homeland Security is to teach us how to secure our own bivouacs. How do we protect ourselves from atomic or biological terrorism, not to mention armed terrorism? Both our national and residential houses must be armed with the sword. But again, this does not mean that the ultimate guarantor of home security is our household armaments. Our ultimate trust should not be in Smith and Wesson.

Another argument against a Department of Homeland Security is that we already have a Department of Defense. This is true, except that the Department of Defense is a politically correct euphemism for the old Department of War. It was after WWII that the Department of War was changed to “Defense,” but its functions remained essentially the same. It was thought that the Federal Bureau of Investigation could by itself foil the schemes of internal enemies. This means that the DHS in theory supplements the FBI, not the Department of Defense.

The DHS was created in part as a result of our national government’s ineptitude, indeed criminal irresponsibility, for not communicating more fully and openly before the September 11 attacks against the World Trade Center. Because of these clogged communication arteries, the DHS under the leadership of Tom Ridge was established. The DHS has the fingerprints of George Bush all over it; it is, if you would, the DBS, the Department of Bush Security. This means that the DHS is a product of the Bush Administration’s wisdom. “For by wise counsel you shall make war: and in multitude of counselors there is safety” (Pr. 24:6).

Still another argument against the DHS is that the real war against terrorism is abroad, in spite of the events of September 11. But the fight against terror is both defensive and offensive. Our President has constantly said that the most effective way to fight terror is with a potent offense. He believes that at this point Iraq is not a costly diversion, but a prime source of terrorism. But by saying this he did not disparage efforts at home to annihilate terror. Although the DHS is a new bureaucracy, with all the inherent dangers of bureaucracy, it is still an extension of our national defense system. To be blunt: the DHS is a new police organization with 180,000 employees.

Of paramount significance is the fact that the DHS is a civilian-oriented defense system. It originated as a defense against terrorist jihads against non-military targets, that is, civilians. Jihad is a new onslaught against Western culture and calls for the creation of an organization that will address itself exclusively to combat it.

Romans 13 Commends Terror

The purpose of the DHS is to wage terror against terror. This is a core purpose of civil government, according to Romans 13, where we are told that “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” Paul then asks, “Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same.” There is a sense in which the civil magistrate is himself a terrorist; only his terror is aimed against the lawless workers of terror. This means that the answer to terror is terror, good terror if you will. Evildoers understand and respect terror.

It is always beneficial to recall that a cardinal purpose of civil government is to protect the church. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul commands us to pray for our rulers so that the church might have security, “that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I have often said that I favor whatever benefits the church, both at home and abroad.

The big prize for any despotic power or terrorist group has always been, and will continue to be, the Christian church. The ultimate design of Satan is to annihilate the body of Christ. Since the principal enemy of the church today (besides its own worldliness and doctrinal apathy) is the Moslem fanatic, the DHS gets my endorsement. The epicenter of the resistance to Moslem jihad today is the church. For this reason it might even be said that the church is the truest Department of Homeland Security!

The war against terror is not just military; it is principally theological. The terrorists are “praising Allah and passing the ammunition.” This is a religious war. This is why President Bush initially named the American assault on the Taliban as “Operation Infinite Justice.” And as General Douglas MacArthur said of our WWII enemies (deploring the worship of the Japanese emperor): “Our problems are theological.” While the DHS is not a pulpit, it is nevertheless backed by the ideology (theology) of our President and his administration.

At the battle of New Orleans General Andrew Jackson issued the paradoxical order to his gunners: “Lower those guns a little bit higher.” In the war against terror we too need to lower our guns “a little bit higher.” But our meaning is that while our guns are lowered, our hearts must be lifted up to heaven. If we do this we will not be afraid “of the terror by night.” It is righteousness, not militarism apart from righteousness, that exalts a nation.

  • Jim West

Jim West has pastored Covenant Reformed Church in Sacramento for the last 18 years. He is currently Associate Professor of Pastoral and Systematic Theology at City Seminary in Sacramento. He has authored The Missing Clincher Argument in the Tongues Debate, The Art of Choosing Your Love, The Covenant Baptism of Infants, and Christian Courtship Versus Dating. His latest book is Drinking with Calvin and Luther!

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