Invoke national security, and unpopular policies become law—or the law itself may even be suspended.
One act of legal levitation was George Bush’s suspension of habeas corpus for foreigners, a move that enabled the Defense Department to lock up so-called “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo Bay without trial, indefinitely. Uttering the magic phrase can make other things disappear. Shelf upon shelf of government documents vanishes from public sight after being shrouded in security classifications. Poof!
One might think that states have always been obsessed with national security. But Americans didn’t begin using the phrase with any frequency until the 1940s, when Edward Mead Earle, a historian based at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study from the 1930s to the ‘50s, helped popularize the concept among policy elites and ordinary Americans alike.