May 4, 2011

bin Laden's code name is Geronimo?

CIL sent this response from Indian Country to the fact that when they killed bin Laden, they sent back the code that "Geronimo" was "KIA."

This is, unfortunately, not new. During the VN war, enemy-held territory was referred to as "Indian Country," and many of the bases in those areas were named (or nicknamed) after western military forts.

This is a complex issue, and one rooted in our past. But like so many things, most Americans see it without any backstory, and for them, I think, Geronimo is not even thought of as being Indian. He is symbol, and icon, and has been, essentially stripped of historical context and personhood. At least, of course, by non-Indians.

This, of course, is the other side of the use of Indians as mascots, and unlike those, impossible to suggest that this is meant as a positive comparison. But in both situations, images of real people have been stripped of personhood and historical context. They become cartoon characters more akin to those from Star Wars than to historical agents who built, defended, and reformed communities.

The good part about that is when the Seals used the word Geronimo as a label for bin Laden, they didn't mean it as the historical figure who defended his people. They meant it as symbol and icon and cartoon. But the problem, as this article points out, is how Indian children see that comparison, and, I suspect, how non Americans will make that connection.


Bob said...

I winced at the code name Geronimo too. It was unfortunate. I am sure the President had bigger things on his mind than to change the code name to something more acceptable.

Smitty said...

Not at all by way of excuse and in fact the opposite: what makes shooting and killing easier for the troops is to de-humanize the enemy (i.e. "Skinnies" in place of "Somalians...Somalians are sovereign people; Skinnies are automatons whom I am to destroy). Geronimo, then, could be one of those very things as well; an attempt at de-humanizing an enemy. And it has all of the horrid racial epithets attached to it that Skinnies had for another deployment. That's on top of the fact that he was a real dude with a rich history. But now...a cartoon character and something that Bugs Bunny shouts before he jumps off cliffs.