“Never let your schooling interfere with your eduction”
“”I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” – Mark Twain
“I first learned of Manifest Destiny in American History in Junior High School. To me it has always meant that one could set goals, work hard, and achieve their dreams. Having the opportunity to design for the Gap was the realization of one of my dreams. This phrase and they way I used it was in no way meant to be offensive or hurtful, and I apologize to those who might have interpreted it in that manner.” – Mark McNairy designer of the MANIFEST DESTINY T-shirt for the Gap
If you’re looking for evidence of how stupid and racist American imperialism can make you, look no further than the MANIFEST DESTINY T-shirt that was released by the Gap. The designer Mark McNairy thought he was taking a political ideology of imperial empowerment and reclaiming it as a personal improvement slogan. Don’t know what Manifest Destiny is? … Then consider this to be a teachable moment for you… The question is, is it possible for white people to go all through their lives and not know that touting the benefits of Manifest Destiny is not a good thing? It would seem so… But when you analyze it further it sadly doesn’t seem that far-fetched. When i think about on my own schooling i remember how American imperialism was buffed to a shine so that it became easy to gloss over, slavery, women’s suffrage, the labor struggles of the late 19th and early 20th century, and the civil rights era, just to name a few things that come to mind. So the fact that Mark McNairy came out of Junior High School thinking that Manifest Destiny was a positive ideology is not that far off.
However it’s not just Mark McNairy who isn’t aware that Manifest Destiny is an ideology of imperialism with its roots firmly planted in racism, but everyone at the Gap and at GQ Magazine which seems to have had a hand in the collaboration between Mr McNairy and the Gap. It seems that this design got past everyone at the Gap and GQ and made it all the way to being a product that they were selling online. That is of course until an online petition started by AIM Southern California (AIM = American Indian Movement) got together a few thousand signatures and shamed the Gap into removing it from their stores. What’s shocking is that no one, at the Gap or GQ or even Mark McNairy thought even for a moment to do even the slightest research on Manifest Destiny before charging forward with this offensive idea. Or maybe they did and didn’t give a damn anyway? Either way that kind of thinking comes with the territory when it comes to white privilege. In the eyes of whiteness the world is designed (pun intended) and shaped by white people for their benefit. Manifest Destiny as an imperialist ideology rooted in racism that justified the slaughter of millions of indigenous people in the Americas and the Caribbean, is just a sidebar to the new brand of ironic hipster racism.
The implications of this are so wide and so deep that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong… i’d like to throw the idea out there that things went wrong (and continue to go wrong) with the education system in this country. It’s a system that force feeds a warped white washed view of American history in order to indoctrinate the populace into pliability for the ongoing Manifest Destiny in Iraq and Afghanistan and the continued Manifest Destiny of American colonies like Puerto Rico. The problem with this kind of education is that it runs headlong into an opposing view outside of the classroom. In the real world Manifest Destiny is just as bad an ideology as Nazism. That however didn’t stop Mark McNairy from defending his MANIFEST DESTINY T-shirt design with this tweet as his initial response when the uproar began… MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. The fittest, get it? The fittest…? As in T-shirt, as in fashion…? There seems to be no end to this ironic brand of hipster racism that comes from white people believing that the election of President Obama is the beginning of post-racism.
This won’t stop here, because American imperialism needs a compliant populace to support its imperialist adventures around the world and the seeds of that compliance are sown in the American education system. The recent naming of the mission to get Osama Bin Laden as Operation Geronimo is another example of the failure (or success, depending on your politics) of an American imperialist education. (Check out my thoughts on that in A Rejection of American Mythology Part I and Part II) The ongoing elevation and hero-worship of Columbus, who was the harbinger of the holocaust of indigenous people in the Caribbean and in the Americas. It’s an ongoing and never-ending assault. The saddest part to all of this, is not that this happened, but that it will happen again and again and again because what can be sown from imperialist seeds planted within the American educational system but the yielding of an imperialist crop…?
A few years ago i started a T-shirt company called RICANSTRUCTED dedicated to the independence of Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. i’ve done a few of my own designs that were created to created discussion and dialogue about some of these issues… If you’re looking for something for an alternative to the Gap’s Manifest Destiny and the rewritten version of America’s imperialist version of history, then look no further…
“It would have been good to see her go free, instead of going from owner to owner.” – Eugenio Maria de Hostos
On July 25th of 1898, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico along the Caribbean Sea in the town of Guanica only a few miles from Ponce a group of US sailors snuck up on the shore took down the Spanish flag from a beach flag pole and replaced it with an American flag. They then set up a machine gun nest to defend what they claimed now belonged to the US.
This was not the first time that invaders came to the island nation of Puerto Rico claiming what was not theirs. In 1493 Columbus claimed Puerto Rico for Spain and for the next 400 years Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain. In 1868 there was a rebellion against Spanish colonial rule in the mountain town of Lares led by Ramon Emeterio Betances who is considered the father of the Puerto Rican nation. The rebellion was betrayed and failed but it brought about the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico and it sparked the imagination of the Puerto Rican people for freedom.
In 1897 Puerto Ricans began gaining significant ground towards their independence from Spain. They managed to negotiate a large degree of autonomy that would eventually lead towards full independence. However all that hard work was brought to a stand still when the US started the Spanish-American War. It was the first foreign imperial adventure for the US. An imperial adventure that began with the wholesale slaughter of indigenous peoples in America in the 1600’s and continued into the 1840’s with the expansionist Mexican-American War. These imperial adventures were solidified into an ideology in the 1860’s called Manifest Destiny which declared that the US should expand from its original humble beginnings along the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific and they should let nothing and no one get in their way.
Not satiated with the expansion west to the Pacific, Manifest Destiny grew to include “America’s backyard” in the south and so the US started a war with Spain in 1898 in an effort to test their imperialist ideology overseas in the Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. The hubris of imperialism whether it be Spanish or American was that there was no thought given to the Puerto Ricans who lived, loved, worked and died on that island nation, not in 1493, not in 1898 and not today.
The Spanish lost the war with the US and Puerto Rico went from being a colony of Spain to being a colony of the US where it has remained a colony despite the pretty name redressing of “Free Associated State” or “Commonwealth”. The only state that is freely allowed to associates itself with Puerto Rico is the US and the only commonwealth that is being shared is the wealth of approximately $35 billion generated on the island nation which is siphoned off to be commonly held in US banks.
This exploitation continues despite the talk of “non-binding” plebiscites over the question of status. Despite the continued harassment of independence supporters by law enforcement agencies both on the island and in the diaspora. Despite the calls for decolonization at the UN by the international community during the UN’s decolonization hearings. Despite the Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war held in US prisons. Despite the assassinations of independence leaders by US colonial powers. Despite all that, US imperialism in Puerto Rico continues and as the US chalks up another year of colonial exploitation they can expect another year of resistance from the Puerto Rican people, because it’s not a question of IF Puerto Rico will be free but WHEN Puerto Rico will be free.
“I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” – Mark Twain quoted in A Pen Warmed Up in Hell
When i was thinking about creating new designs for RICANSTRUCTED i thought about the saying “sick of the same old record”. That saying struck a chord in me in terms of US imperialism and how the colonization of Puerto Rico over 100 years ago is not so different from the US imperialism of today. So i came up with a design of a record label that would encompass early American imperialism abroad. Outside of the battles with with indigenous nations and the war with Mexico, the Spanish – American War was the first imperial adventure for the US outside of North America . It was a war that proved to be very successful for American imperialism and put the US on the road to becoming a world power.
i set out to use a variety of design elements to tell the story of Puerto Rico’s colonization by the US in 1898. The illustration of the eagle was taken from a political newspaper cartoon, with a caption underneath that read, “Ten thousand miles from tip to tip -“. Nothing could illustrate US imperialism better so i decided to use it as a kind of logo for the Manifest Destiny Record Company. The title of the song on the record ‘PORTO RICO YOU BELONG TO ME’ was something that i used to showcase the shamelessness of US imperialism and the level of comfort a former colony had in it’s desire to build an empire. ‘UNCLE SAM & THE IMPERIALISTS’ are the fictitious group that i created for the record as a short hand way of charging the guilty with their crimes. The song is composed by the four commanding generals of the Spanish – American War Miles, Dewey, Shafter and Sampson.
‘Side A’ was something that i used to connote that there are always two sides to any story just like their are two sides to a record. ‘Side A’ is considered the first side so it only makes sense that it’s the side of US imperialism since this where the problem begins. The pistol is a gun that was used during the Spanish – American War and is symbolic of the violence that’s used in building the US empire. The term ‘LONG PLAYING’ alludes to the fact that Puerto Rico is still a colony of and that US imperialism is still an ongoing problem in the world.
The numbers underneath ‘LONG PLAYING’ separated by the bullet point are ‘725’ – July 25th the beginning of the invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898 by US forces and ‘1210’ – December 10th which was the day that the Treaty of Paris was signed with Spain affectively ending the war and transferring the nation of Puerto Rico from Spanish colonial rule (under which Puerto Rico had been negotiating and gaining it’s autonomy for over a year) to US colonial rule. The bottom of the label has a MADE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA title with the address of US House of Representatives beneath it placing the responsibility for this imperial adventure where it should be, squarely on the shoulders of the US government.
Check out some of the other RICANSTRUCTED designs. And for those of you who aren’t Puerto Rican, realize that you don’t have to be Puerto Rican, to support Puerto Rican independence…
In a previous post (Are you RICANSTRUCTED?) i talked about some of the reasons why i started my design company RICANSTRUCTED. The designs here are just a few of the new offerings for 2011. This first design is of course a take-off on the Coca-Cola logo. There is a theme to many of the new 2011 designs that’s taking iconic imagery like the Coca-Cola logo and turning it on its head in a way that is reminiscent of much of Andy Warhol’s work.
The design element “Since 1493” refers the year that Columbus landed in Puerto Rico. It was not long after 1493, that Puerto Rico was completely colonized by Spain. There was plenty of resistance from the indigenous Taino population to the Spanish but the indigenous population was almost wiped out due to diseases that the Spanish brought with them as well as a deliberate genocide carried out by the Spanish. The colonization by Spain would last some for 400 years until the US invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish American War.
This leads into the next design which is essentially the same design except the year has changed. The reason for this is that once the US won the Spanish American War in 1898 it demanded $20 million dollars as war reparations. Spain didn’t have it and so the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico went from being colonies of Spain to being colonies of the US. The Philippines eventually won their independence from the US on July 4th of 1946. Guam and Puerto Rico are still colonies of the US.
The next two designs are the same designs but in Spanish.
To order a T-shirt go to RICANSTRUCTED and Declare Your Independence. i’ll be posting more designs and the stories behind them in this space in the near future so… stay tuned or better yet, subscribe…
“Puerto Rico has a history that is very heroic and prolific. Naturally, as a colony, there exists a history of double interpretation; the colony, and the history of the anti-colonial struggle. In reality, the colonial history does not apply to us. It is more fitting for the colonizer. Ours, the only one, is the anti-colonial history because it is the history of our native people who survived and are in constant battle to defeat the powerful colonial forces. It is the history of puertorriqueñidad.”
– Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
Imperialism is an ideology and an ideology needs a mythology to shape its culture. It’s the creation of an American mythology that cloaks US imperialism both abroad and domestically in a desire to “spread democracy” or “freedom” to those who are supposedly “struggling” to be free . It’s an American mythology that trumpets the hard won freedom from the British empire and mumbles the fact that it was only for white land owning men. It’s the American mythology that leads people to believe that Abraham Lincoln fought the Civil War to free the slaves. It’s American mythology that justifies war in Afghanistan to free women from the Taliban.
When the dust settles on the fallen American empire and archeologists sift through the rubble they’ll find that nothing has shaped American culture more than imperialism and that the mythology that was been built up to support that ideology was it’s greatest export. The difference between US imperialism and other empires is that it’s mythology is constructed around the deception that it’s “bringing democracy and freedom” to the world. It’s a mythology shaped around the idea that “US democracy” is democracy perfected and because the US built this perfected democracy from the ground up it is burdened to build US democracy for other nations and peoples around the world.
In affect US imperialism is a continuation of the European ideology of the White Mans Burden that justified the colonization of Africa, Asia and the Americas as well as the attempted genocide of those peoples. The White Mans Burden to educate and elevate non-whites to “civilization” is the template for US imperialism’s desire to “nation build” in non-white countries like El Salvador or Nicaragua or Guatemala or Vietnam or Korea or Somalia or Libya. US imperialism will bring democracy and freedom to our little lost brown brothers. It’s this thinking that has justified the wholesale destruction of nations in an attempt to bring freedom and democracy. The whole of US imperialism can be summed up in one statement during the Vietnam War, “It became necessary to destroy the town, in order to save it”. Whereas other empires had no clothes, were naked in their aggression, US imperialism clothes its ambitions in “nation building”. Meet the new imperialism, the same as the old imperialism.
In the wake of the US attacks on 9/11 the US government went into it’s shallow bag of tricks and dusted off the old divide and conquer techniques it had been using since the 1840’s. One of the greatest ramifications to come out of the US attacks on 9/11 was the redefining of terrorism to encompass all forms of violence against empire. It also did wonders for the evolution of the American mythology in creating a firm foundation for US imperialism’s credentials in the eyes of the world as judge jury and executioner of democracy. This American mythology that began some 160 years ago with Manifest Destiny was a foundation and the US attacks on 9/11 allowed the US to build on that mythology by becoming the defenders of democracy as it was defined by US imperialism. In defending US imperialist defined democracy it had the privilege of also defining its enemies. It gave US imperialists the latitude of labeling all those who fought against democracy, as it was defined by US imperialists, as terrorists. In essence if your struggle didn’t synch up with US imperialism then you were labeled a terrorist.
Former president Bush defined this new American mythology in one short mantra “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” this was the theme of the new Manifest Destiny in the age of terrorism, condensed into a soundbite. This put struggles like that of Northern Ireland with Britain, the Basque with Spain and the Palestinians with Israel between rock and a hard place. The machine of American mythology had now incorporated and equated anyone who was not “with us” as “with the terrorists”. The struggles for freedom and democracy in Northern Ireland and in the Basque country and in the Palestinian territories didn’t fit the criteria of US imperialism and so they were relegated to being “terrorists”. The fact that that there is a a world of difference between the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in the US and the struggles for self-determination in Ireland, the Basque country and Palestine was of little concern to anyone outside of those struggles. The good will and sympathy that the world had for the US after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 allowed the US to strip away dialectical critical thinking on these struggles. There was now only the polarities of “us” and “them”.
As the US feasted upon it’s new found ability to turn the whole world upside down. The bones of it were thrown to countries like Britain, Spain and Israel. The ability to take the US imperial definition of democracy and terrorism as their own and apply it to their own imperial quandaries was a godsend to them. In Ireland the IRA felt the world looking at their actions for self-determination through the prism of the post US 9/11 terrorist attacks, as defined by the US. The ETA of Basque (a clandestine Basque separatist group) also felt the affect of this new “terrorist” paradigm. While Hamas in Palestine got the rudest awakening to the new parameters of democracy.
The IRA announced that it would put it’s arms aside because of the US terrorist attacks on 9/11, fearing that the world equate the tactics of their struggle with the US terrorist attacks on 9/11. Spain used the newly defined “with us” or “with the terrorists” paradigm as an excuse to go on massive raids rounding up and arresting hundreds of Basque independence sympathizers which decimated the ETA both financially and in terms of recruitment. Hamas set aside armed struggle to politically campaigning for power in the Palestinian territory, winning that political power in an overwhelming mandate, only to find that their democracy was one that didn’t fit the definition of either Israeli or US imperialists. Putting Hamas and the Palestinians backs against a different wall and leaving them with few choices in defending themselves.
These are the unrecognized and unspoken affects of the American mythology in the post US 9/11 terrorist attacks, as that mythology adapts itself to a new zeitgeist where people are rising up and taking the freedom that was always theirs as they’re doing in Iran, Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. It’s this adaption of American mythology that further buries the naked imperialism of the US in regard to the small Caribbean nation of Puerto Rico. While the US can pretend to negotiate peace between its British ally and their Northern Irish problem and condemn the ETA for their “terrorist” tactics against their Spanish ally and feign a neutrality in negotiating a solution between their Israeli ally and the Palestinians, the US has quietly done its best, to keep the dirty little secret of a colonial relationship it has forcibly maintained with Puerto Rico for well over a century, out of the limelight in all of these situations.
The story of Puerto Rico’s colonization goes back to 1493 with the Spanish. In 1898 it went from negotiating its autonomy from Spain to being a colony of the US the after the Spanish – American War. So while the new American mythology postures itself as the generous harbinger of freedom and democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan it harbors its own colonial dilemma. What the US doesn’t want you to know is that there has always been a strong and often times violent resistance to US colonialism in Puerto Rico. A resistance it labels “terrorism”.
If there is any doubt as to how the US equates those fighting for freedom and justice with terrorism, as it has in Northern Ireland and in the Basque country and in the Paletinian territories look at the how the recent capture or kill operation on Osama Bin Laden is eerily similar to another operation that took place in 2005 with Puerto Rican independence leader Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Filiberto is considered the founder of the armed underground clandestine movement to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. He was the leader of the EPB (Popular Boricua Army) also known as Los Macheteros.
On September 23rd of 1990 while awaiting trial for the $7 million Wells Fargo robbery of 1985 and he cut off the the electronic shackle on his ankle to live a life of clandestinity. While in clandestinity Filiberto mocked the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement agencies by giving television, radio and newspaper interviews. While these law enforcement agenices searched the 100 by 35 mile island of Puerto Rico for him, Filiberto was creating a mythology of resistance by living clandestinely in the open. He publishied articles in newspapers and issued statements on the ongoing Puerto Rican colonial condition from clandestinity. He lived among his people as he evaded the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world. In doing so Filiberto was creating an alternate mythology to the dominant American mythology. It was a Puerto Rican mythology of resistance that could be used to shape a culture of resistance to the culture of imperialism.
In 2005 the FBI found Filiberto and they set up an operation to capture or kill him. Hundreds of FBI agents surrounded his house. Filiberto defended himself in a shoot out that ensued and Filiberto was wounded but the FBI refused to give him medical attention and let him bleed to death for over 24 hours. The fact that this took place on September 23rd, a day that Puerto Ricans celebrate an armed uprising against Spanish colonial rule that led to the abolition of slavery and 15 years to the day that he had escaped did not go unnoticed by Puerto Ricans. Former Puerto Rican political prisoner and prisoner of war Dylcia Pagan said it best when she said “…this is not just an attack on a leader of our movement but an attack on our very Puerto Rican-ness”.
When Osama Bin Laden was killed by the US government the similarities to the assassination of Comandante Filiberto were numerous. In the case of Pakistan the government was unaware of the operation on Bin Laden using the excuse that to do so might tip Bin Laden off to the operation. In Puerto Rico the FBI gave no warning to the colonial government of the island on their attack plans on Filiberto out of the same fear that doing so would compromise the operation. Both situations ended in what can only be described as murder. The latest story now, is that Bin Laden was unarmed and shot in the head. Filiberto was armed but wounded and unable to continue being a threat but the FBI saw fit to wait for him to bleed to death. The US equated the actions of these men because that is the paradigm of the new American mythology.
However just like there is a chasm of difference that exists between equating Bin Laden with Geronimo as the US military did in their operation to capture and kill Bin Laden, there is an equally large distance to between Comandante Filiberto and Bin Laden. That chasm of distance between Geronimo and Filiberto as freedom fighters and Bin Laden as terrorist is something that the new post 9/11 American mythology can choose to bridge. What we need to recognize is that, it is a bridge to far. What we need to do is reject the polarity and reclaim the dialectic. What we need to do is reject the development of this new American mythology with a counter mythology. One that doesn’t equate freedom fighters with terrorists.
For a quick background on the life of Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios check out the video i edited below. To hear Filiberto’s views on the colonial situation in Puerto Rico check out the series of YouTube videos FILIBERTO: THE CLANDESTINE INTERVIEW
“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…