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"Geronimo was the Code Name for bin Laden."

Steven Newcomb
5/11/11

Many people angrily responded to my previous column on this subject by claiming that the U.S. military had merely applied the Apache leader Geronimo’s name to the U.S. military operation to hunt down bin Laden, and had not applied the name to bin Laden. Well, President Obama laid that canard to rest in a May 8 interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes.

60 Minutes: “When was the first indication that you had found the right place, that bin Laden was in there?”

President Obama: “There was a point before folks had left, uh, before we had gotten everybody back on the helicopter and were flying, uh, back to base, where, uh, they said, uh, ‘Geronimo, uh, is, uh, has been killed, and Geronimo was the code name for bin Laden’.”

Now the issue becomes one of interpretation. The analogy takes the story of Geronimo and associates it with the story of Osama bin Laden. They were both hunted and pursued by the military forces of the United States. They both successfully eluded capture for a lengthy period of time.

There are problems with the analogy. Geronimo was never captured; he formally surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles, under specific terms of surrender, and was shipped off to St. Augustine, Florida. He was eventually permitted to go to Fort Sill (the U.S. military fort, not the present day town) in the Indian Territory (now called the State of Oklahoma). He finally died there in his nineties, while officially still a U.S. prisoner of war. (In 1918, Prescott Bush and some Yale classmates, who were fellow Skull and Bones members, claimed to have robbed Geronimo’s grave and stolen his skull for ritual purposes.)

According to the late esteemed political scientist Chalmers Johnson, Osama bin Laden was “a former protégé of the United States.” Johnson further explained: “When America was organizing Afghan rebels against the USSR in the 1980’s, [bin Laden] played an important role in driving the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and only turned against the United States in 1991 because he regarded the stationing of American troops in his native Saudi Arabia during and after the Persian Gulf War as a violation of his religious beliefs.” (Source: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, 2001, pp. 10-11).

Johnson concludes his comments about bin Laden in Blowback by writing: “Thus, the attacks on our embassies in Africa, if they were indeed his work, are an instance of blowback rather than unprovoked terrorism. Instead of bombing sites in Sudan and Afghanistan in response, the United States might have better have considered reducing or removing our large-scale and provocative military presence in Saudi Arabia.” (Ibid.)

Given that Geronimo was never a protégé of or supported by the United States against some invading power such as the Republic of Mexico, a comparison between the two men on this score is inaccurate. But there also may be an unintended irony in the analogy that emerges by comparing the imperial contexts of the two stories. That context is pinpointed by the concept and hubris of the American Empire, which Chalmers Johnson wrote so brilliantly about in his last three books: The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, 2004; Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, 2007; and Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, 2010.

American Indians immediately responded to the analogy between Geronimo and bin Laden with outrage and frustration because of the association of Geronimo with “terrorism.” Today he is looked upon as an icon in Indian Country (along with such men as Tecumseh, Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull) who tried to maintain our original indigenous liberty. That is something the self-avowed American Empire, under the mantle of Manifest Destiny, was determined to destroy by whatever means necessary in order to appropriate our lands, territories and resources for its own wealth power, and aggrandizement.

It would seem that the United States government would have wanted to avoid placing Osama bin Laden in the same category as a heroic Indian leader such as Geronimo, who so brilliantly resisted having his originally free and independent nation and people violently deprived of their free way of life by the expansion of the American empire. The t-shirt depicting Geronimo and several other Apache brandishing rifles, along with the caption, “Fighting Terrorism Since 1492,” says it all. It points to the more than five hundred years of resistance by indigenous nations and peoples and Indian country to the imperialism and colonialism so clumsily hidden for generations behind high sounding phrases of patriotism.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee/Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008), and a columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network.

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gwy50's picture
Did you see Obama on 60 minutes? He seemed to flinch (and stutter) when he had to say,"Geronimo" or was it just me? I got a big ugly knot in my gut when I heard it and now it's a new day and the knot is gone, but not the feeling of WTF! I AM GERONIMO! For some reason, I don't think it was his idea to call ObL by that name. Yet, He is the CIC, codename Renegade, whatever. I'm not going to vote anymore.
gwy50
hjwjc's picture
Out of respect for President Obama I will not even touch his comments on the reference to 60 Minutes... Anyway since you're using that to defend yourself against the angry response you received, I want to know where does "Jackpot" fit into this? And the fact that other people said the "Operation" was named Geronimo?
hjwjc
maunka's picture
Well stated Mr. Newcomb. The imagery of Geronimo fighting terrorism and then Osama Bin Laden being associated with Geronimo should beg the question: Who is the real terrorist?
maunka
helen's picture
Good for you, following up your original. It is revealing that Obama sanctioned that codename - no apology so far as I can see. Totally disgusting they would even think of it. I read not long ago that the US Government were comparing having fought Indians in past centuris with al Qaeda, likening it to the situation. And I thought that can't be true, they can't really be saying that. Obviously 'yes, we can' is the answer to that. So that is how they regard their persecution and disposession of America's native population. Particulary ironic for a Democrat Gov I thought.
helen
Anonymous's picture
As much as they might all hate Geronimo he was a real American He was born here that's more then Obama can say about his father.They didn't get here by boat or plane.like Trump forefathers.I guess Mr.Obama did not have hi grades in American history,And Christens always preach of the forgiveness of Jesus.Well Christens put your money where your mouth is PROVE It ,When are you going to forgive Geronimo and his Great grandchildren .He died a Christen and his body was not returned to his people, But then they like kissing Arabs butts for oil Some Christens,want Jesus to forgive their sins ,but they can't forgive an uneducated poor beaten old Indian that confessed his sin and turn himself in to our government.Do Christens have any Honor That Old Indian man had more honor then they will ever have
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
As much as they might all hate Geronimo he was a real American He was born here that's more then Obama can say about his father.They didn't get here by boat or plane.like Trump forefathers.I guess Mr.Obama did not have hi grades in American history,And Christens always preach of the forgiveness of Jesus.Well Christens put your money where your mouth is PROVE It ,When are you going to forgive Geronimo and his Great grandchildren .He died a Christen and his body was not returned to his people, But then they like kissing Arabs butts for oil Some Christens,want Jesus to forgive their sins ,but they can't forgive an uneducated poor beaten old Indian that confessed his sin and turn himself in to our government.Do Christens have any Honor That Old Indian man had more honor then they will ever have
Anonymous