I was stunned, as were many people, to learn that the U.S. military code name for Osama bin Laden was Geronimo.
But then in Vietnam, and maybe in other U.S. wars, the territory of the “enemy” was often called “Indian Country.”
The Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs, on Behalf of the Haudenosaunee, issued this press release after finding out about the Geronimo code name:
“This is a sad commentary on the attitude of leaders of the U.S. military forces that continue to personify the original peoples of North America as enemies and savages. The use of the name Geronimo as a code name for Osama Bin Laden is reprehensible. Think of the outcry if they had used any other ethnic group’s hero. Geronimo bravely and heroically defended his homeland and his people, eventually surrendering and living out the rest of his days peacefully, if in captivity, passing away at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1909. To compare him to Osama Bin Laden is illogical and insulting. The name Geronimo is arguably the most recognized Native American name in the world, and this comparison only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes about our peoples. The U.S. military leadership should have known better.
. . . This kind of thinking indicates little progress in a mature social development of United States leadership.
The military record of American Indians is exemplary. We have more men and women per capita volunteering in U.S. military services than any other ethnic group. It was American Indian code talkers that used their native languages to carry and transmit messages that Japanese and German intelligence could not decode, saving thousands of American lives in WWII. Ironically these brave men and women were using languages that American and Canadian boarding schools were doing their best to stamp out. When can we expect respect for our human dignity and human rights?”
In a similar vein, a friend emailed me about this article that was published in the American Anthropologist in 2008: The ‘Old West’ in the Middle East: U.S. military metaphors in real and imagined Indian Country by Stephen Silliman
Democracy Now also printed a report – American Indian Groups Seek U.S. Apology for Labeling Bin Laden “Geronimo”
American Indian groups are seeking an apology for the U.S. military’s use of the name of the legendary Apache warrior, Geronimo, as a codename for Osama bin Laden. It has been widely reported bin Laden was dubbed “Geronimo” in the operation that took his life. The real-life Geronimo defended tribal lands against U.S. and Mexican armies in the 19th century. He died as a U.S. prisoner of war in 1909 after more than 20 years in captivity. In a letter to President Obama, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe said, “To equate Geronimo or any other Native American figure with Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer and cowardly terrorist, is painful and offensive to our Tribe and to all native Americans.” The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee is expected to address the controversy in a hearing today.