A Rejection Of American Mythology (Part One)
“Whether it was intended only to name the military operation to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden or to give Osama Bin Laden himself the code name Geronimo, either was an outrageous insult and mistake. And it is clear from the military records released that the name Geronimo was used at times by military personnel involved for both the military operation and for Osama Bin Laden himself.
Obviously to equate Geronimo with Osama Bin Laden is an unpardonable slander of Native America and its most famous leader in history.
And to call the operation to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden by the name Geronimo is such a subversion of history that it also defames a great human spirit and Native American leader. For Geronimo himself was the focus of precisely such an operation by the U.S. military, an operation that assured Geronimo a lasting place in American and human history.”
– Harlyn Geronimo
Geronimo’s great-grandson, Senate Commission on Indian Affairs
for a hearing on racist stereotypes of Native Americans, May 5, 2011
The US militaries use of the famous Apache warrior “Geronimo” as the code name in the military operation “to capture and or kill” Osama Bin Laden is a continuation of the Manifest Destiny theory that was first put forth in the US in the 1840’s. The theory of Manifest Destiny dictated that it was the destiny of the US to expand across the North American continent. It was this thinking of Manifest Destiny that brought about the US – Mexican War in 1846 that led to the annexation of northern Mexico to the US. With the success of Manifest Destiny in the North America it was expanded. It was Manifest Destiny that declared to the European powers in the 1840’s that European imperialism would not be tolerated in the “American backyard” of Central and South America. It was Manifest Destiny that led the US into war with Spain in 1898 and brought Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines under US colonial rule. It was Manifest Destiny that justified the overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893 that eventually led to Hawaii becoming a state. If you think that Manifest Destiny somehow ended in the beginning of the 20th century then look at the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya. In the minds of people who were the victims of this US Manifest Destiny there is a chasm of difference between Osama Bin Laden and “Geronimo” but in the minds of the US military it’s just the same old imperialist story.
It’s difficult to disassociate what this country did to the Native Americans with this hunting and assassination of Osama Bin Laden since in the minds of the those who are eager to continue their Manifest Destiny adventure they are the same thing. This latest military operation by the US is an effort to further solidify it’s mythology of American frontier justice. The hunt for Osama Bin Laden fits a classic motif in American mythology. Osama Bin Laden is a uncivilized brown savage, hell bent on not allowing Americans to spread their hegemony. There is only one way to deal with this brown savage and that is to hunt him down and meet out some American frontier justice. Think back to former President Bush’s language with wanting to ‘smoke them out of hiding’. The US militaries use of “Geronimo” as the code name in the military operation “to capture and or kill” Osama Bin Laden is a continuation of the Manifest Destiny theory.
The parallels could be not drawn more clearly by the US military in it’s use of this classic American mythology. Osama Bin Laden was the “Chief” architect of the US attack on 9/11 and he was in “wild lawless enemy Injun territory” (Pakistan) surrounded by non-white vicious fanatical “Injun warriors” who would “fight to the death” rather than be captured. So the US military made it plans to go into “Injun enemy territory” and either “smoke him out” or “take him out”.
In the over 160 years of this Manifest Destiny a mythology has developed to help sell imperialism as freedom, a mythology that goes back to the equating Native peoples as “savages”, Mexicans as “savages”, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Philippinos as “savages” that all need saving, that all need to be freed from themselves because they are incapable of doing it themselves. This mythological narrative seems to have changed very little for the US military. The Afghans needed saving from the Taliban, the Iraqi’s needed saving from the Saddam Hussein, the Libyans need saving from Quaddafi. You can see the continuation of the narrative. The fact that the sitting US president is a Black man who’s father was of African descent (which add it’s own surreal texture when one thinks of European imperialism and it’s brand of violence in Africa) is of no consequence to the continuous shaping of this expansionist mythology. For us as victims of this American mythology, it makes a world of difference. In our minds President Obama should have spoken up and out against the equating of someone like Osama Bin Laden with “Geronimo”.
Geronimo was an Apache war chief whose original Chiricahua name was Goyathlay. Mexican and US troops led expansionist raids on the Apache tribes in an effort to colonize their lands. Geronimo fought back against this expansion into his peoples lands. He gained a reputation amongst the Mexican and US troops as fierce, intelligent, fearless warrior who attacked despite overwhelming odds against him and escaped both certain death and certain capture on more than one occasion. Geronimo and his tribe refused to recognize either the US or Mexico as having any jurisdiction in Apache lands and they were among the last Native peoples to acquiesce to US expansion in the American West.
Geronimo was labeled “the worst Indian who ever lived” because of his defiance. The credit to his capture and surrender in 1886 goes to General Nelson A. Miles who sent Captain Henry Lawton to bring back Geronimo. The same General Nelson A. Miles who years later would personally lead the attack on Spain in Guanica, Puerto Rico during the Spanish – American War. However it was Lt. Charles B. Gatewood who pursued Geronimo with a tenacity and a harassment that wore Geronimo and his tribe down. It was Lt. Gatewood who negotiated Geronimo’s surrender and brought him back to General Nelson A. Miles for official surrender.
Geronimo’s being “the worst Indian who ever lived” is what makes him a hero for Native peoples, it makes him a hero for those of us who oppose this Manifest Destiny that has taken on a new form in this war against terrorism. To equate Geronimo to someone like Osama Bin Laden only makes sense to those who are locked into the Manifest Destiny theory of the US. It also falls into another mythologic motif that former President Bush so aptly put when he said “You’re either with us or you are with the terrorists” which leaves little room for those of us for are neither with the US or the terrorists. This lack of space for dialectic thinking, this either-or posturing is a classic means of polarizing in an effort to divide and conquer. It removes the threat of critical thinking since to be critical would mean to be with “the terrorists”. It simplifies the affects of whatever means justifying whatever ends whether that be the attacks on the US on 9/11 or the recent death of Osama Bin Laden.
On one hand Osama Bin Laden was a hinderance to US plans for US neocolonialism in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries throughout the resource rich Middle East and North Africa. On the other hand the threat of Osama Bin Laden was just what the US needed to justify it’s involvement in that part of the world. As much of a thorn in the side that Osama Bin Laden may have been to US neocolonial interests in the Middle East he was not a hero for people who are looking to stop this ongoing Manifest Destiny. This continuation of that American mythology that polarizes dissent to American hegemony with Osama Bin Laden as “Geronimo” was used as a means to dilute the resistance of Geronimo and others like him. It was a two fold attack on “terrorism on US interests” and “resistance to US interests”. The two are not the same unless of course you believe “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” and for those of us who are with neither are now put in a position of having to explain our way out of such polarities.
The diluting of our mythology of resistance, that includes hero’s like Geronimo, was attacked with Osama Bin Laden. “Operation Geronimo” was not just a military operation it was also a psychological operation on the alternate mythology of resistance that is necessary to have as a counter story to their story as oppressors, as an ongoing resistance to their ongoing violence, as a counter history to the history as temporary victors . The US military may have renamed or claimed to have always called the military operation to capture Osama Bin Laden “Operation Neptune’s Spear” but the wound to our resistance remains. The result of that wound is that in the minds of many, the mythology of resistance to US hegemony from anyone who “is not with us” is now “with the terrorists”. Those of us who are of a third mind need to recognize and reject this new continuation of American mythology.
In a few days i’ll be posting Part Two of A Rejection Of American Mythology as it concerns the assassination of Puerto Rican freedom fighter Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios, and the affects of this continuing American Mythology on anti-imperial struggles across the globe…