Some Native Americans are upset that the codename given to Osama bin Laden was the name of the famous Apache warrior Geronimo.
“It’s how deeply embedded the ‘Indian as enemy’ is in the collective mind of America. To this day, when soldiers are going into enemy territory, it’s common for it to be called ‘Indian country,’ ” said Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Native American advocacy group.
Although Geronimo was a detested guerilla of the late 1880’s by the American and Mexican governments, he was also a hero to the Apaches. A lot of years have passed, and the Apaches are as part of America as the pilgrims so the negative connotation to Geronimo through Bin Laden has some truth.
There is another side to this controversy as well. No one can doubt that bin Laden was a powerful adversary who eluded the best America had to offer for years. In a similar vein, up to 5,000 U.S. soldiers were needed to hunt down Geronimo, a quest that also took ten years. It is believed that Geronimo was used as the codename because of bin Laden’s similar ability to evade American forces.
The reality is that Geronimo evaded the Army while living in the bush and caves, unlike bin Laden who was just rumored to live in caves. Instead, bin Laden lived a luxurious life in a mansion. Unlike bin Laden, Geronimo was not corned by the Army. He surrendered after becoming tired of constantly being tracked.
A code name is intended to maintain secrecy and for quick identification of the code name’s subject. A peruse of military and Secret Service code names does not find an abundance of Native American names used. Even for individuals, it is somewhat uncommon that the name of a person is used. An exception was for Frank Sinatra, who was code named “Napoleon” by the Secret Service. Most of the time, it is a somewhat appropriate sounding noun, like “Rawhide” for Ronald Reagan.
Although the critics pointed out that Hitler and Robert E. Lee killed more Americans than Geronimo, that was not the basis for the code name in bin Laden’s hunt. It was about his ability to elude. That Geronimo is associated with that ability is a compliment to the great Apache leader. That the use of Geronimo could be misconstrued as an insult to imply he was a mass murderer is understandable because Native Americans have not been portrayed positively in the past. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to make that assumption in this case.
However, now that the truth of bin Laden’s hideout has become known, it is clear that he was nowhere near as honorable or elusive as Geronimo.