May 03, 2011

Why US chose "Geronimo" codename

No one in the Obama administration is talking about how or why they chose the "Geronimo" codename for Osama bin Laden, but here's some speculation:

Osama bin Laden dead:  code name Geronimo

As President Barack Obama and his team sat on tenterhooks in the Situation Room, the CIA director Leon Panetta broke the silence with the memorable words: "We have a visual on Geronimo."

By Nick Allen
The code name Geronimo had apparently been chosen for bin Laden because, like the Native American chief, he had managed to evade capture for years and was apparently able to vanish into thin air.

In Geronimo's case his ability to stay on the run gave rise to legends that he was able to walk without leaving any tracks, and that he could survive being shot.

More than a century before bin Laden escaped from the caves of Tora Bora, Geronimo was said to have pulled off a similar evasion in New Mexico.

He and his followers entered a cave which was said to have only one visible entrance, and then disappeared as US troops waited at the front.

More than 5,000 soldiers were used to hunt Geronimo and a small band of followers. Unlike bin Laden he eventually surrendered in 1886.
American Indians object to ‘Geronimo’ as code for bin Laden raid

By Neely TuckerIt isn’t clear yet which branch of the military came up with the nickname—the Army, Navy, CIA or any of the anti-terror special forces groups involved in planning the raid—but it apparently wasn’t bin Laden’s nickname for very long.

A database search of news stories shows that, while military leaders sometimes compared bin Laden’s elusiveness to Geronimo’s, there is no news account of calling the al-Qaeda leader “Geronimo” until this past weekend.

But the Apache leader’s name has often been used in the name for projects in Afghanistan, such as the Marine Forward Operating Base Geronimo in the Helmand province, reports show.
Osama Bin Laden:  Why Geronimo?

By Kathryn WestcottIt was back in 2001 that the narrative for America's hunt for the al-Qaeda leader became strewn with Wild West imagery.

George W. Bush's call for Bin Laden to be caught "dead or alive" mimicked the posters of the old Hollywood westerns, while borderland Pakistan became the Old West reincarnated in the minds of many commentators.

Bin Laden was referred to by one as a "21st-Century Geronimo, trying to elude the US military somewhere in a dry mountain range that could easily pass for the American West."

Afghanistan's cave-laced mountains, were easy to imagine using the template of the Sierra Madre mountain range thousands of miles away, where the original Geronimo managed to elude US troops for so long in the late 19th Century.

Referring to US military possibilities in the tribal areas of Afghanistan's mountainous regions, Allan R Millet, a retired Marine Corps colonel and Ohio State University professor, said in 2001: "It's like shooting missiles at Geronimo ... you might get a couple of Apaches, but what difference does that make?"
Comment:  These postings imply bin Laden got the codename "Geronimo" only because he was elusive. I'm not buying it. There must be dozens of characters in history, mythology, and fiction known for their elusiveness. Bugs Bunny. The Loch Ness Monster. A leprechaun. Waldo of Where's Waldo? fame. A unicorn. And so forth and so on.

Geronimo was known as an elusive quarry. He also was known as a savage, an enemy of the United States, and a murderer of innocent people. If Americans had had the terms "serial killer" and "terrorist" at the time, they might well have applied them to Geronimo.

It's inconceivable that the US considered Geronimo's elusiveness without also considering his status as a villainous foe of the US. These traits are all part of the Geronimo mystique. You can't pick one trait in isolation and ignore the others. It would be like saying, "I chose Santa Claus as the symbol of my nutrition program because he's so jolly. I never thought of the fact that he's overweight."

If the planners really did use this kind of naive, compartmentalized thinking, they were fools. They were stupid for ignoring the political implications of their choice. There's really no way to justify naming bin Laden after someone who's a hero to a significant minority of Americans. Any way you look at it, you're thumbing your nose at those Americans.

Geronimo represents savagery to Americans

Another posting goes a little deeper into what the planners were thinking:

Geronimo?  Really?

By Scott AndrewsIn one sense, "Cowboys and Indians" was an extension of the games the soldiers had played in their youth back home. Those games were played in imitation of the Western movies those boys had watched in theaters and on television. Those Westerns were a continuation of one of the fundamental stories in American culture: the encounter between the Europeans and the American Indians. In its most simplistic terms, this encounter was (mis)understood as a battle between Civilization (the Europeans) and Savagism (the Indians).

I thought we had moved beyond that this simplistic myth. But I was wrong.
Yep, that's it. We're the noble forces of civilization. Bin Laden was the elusive icon of savagery. We named him "Geronimo" because Geronimo was the most famous civilization-hating savage, not because he was the most famous eluder of justice.

For more on the subject, see Critics Slam Codename "Geronimo" and Obama Gets Osama!

Below:  Two people known for their ability to dodge, run, and hide? Where are the stars of the movie Dodgeball?

1 comment:

Scott Andrews said...

Thanks for the shout out!