Bin Laden Op “Geronimo” Codename Offensive?

Congress is getting complaints that calling the Osama raid "Geronimo" is offensive to Indians.

Some Members of Congress are apparently concerned about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden been “offensive.” Not because he was apparently unarmed. No, because the SEALs who shot him used the code name “Geronimo.”

ABC (Congress to Examine “Inappropriate” and “Devastating” Use of “Geronimo” Codename in bin Laden Mission):

The Senate Indian Affairs committee will hold a hearing Thursday on racist Native American stereotypes, a hearing that will now also address the Osama bin Laden mission and the code-name Geronimo.

While the hearing was scheduled before the mission, a committee aide today said the linking of the name Geronimo with the world’s most wanted man is “inappropriate” and can have a “devastating” impact on kids.

“The hearing was scheduled well before the Osama bin Laden operation became news, but the concerns over the linking of the name of Geronimo, one of the greatest Native American heroes, with the most hated enemies of the United States is an example of the kinds of issues we intended to address at Thursday’s hearing,” Loretta Tuell, the committee’s chief counsel, said in a statement.

“These inappropriate uses of Native American icons and cultures are prevalent throughout our society, and the impacts to Native and non-Native children are devastating,” Tuell said. “We intend to open the forum to talk about them.”

The Senate committee is chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. Thursday’s 2:15p hearing will examine how Wild West shows, Hollywood films, and Indigenous-themed sports mascots have shaped the perception of Native Americans, according to a press release. Witnesses include Tex Hall of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Suzan Shown Harjo of the Morning Star Institute, Charlene Teters of the Institute of American Indian Arts, Stephanie Fryberg of the University of Arizona, Chaske Spencer of Urban Dream Productions, Jim Warne of Warrior Society Development.

The Obama administration has indicated that the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden did not use “Geronimo” as the codename for him, but rather it was the code for the act of capturing or killing him.

While wildly overblown, I can understand why some would be offended at having their heritage expropriated as a mascot for sports teams. This is especially true when it’s done cartoonishly, as in Chief Wahoo, or blasphemously, as in the use of tribal chants as a means of exhorting the team on to victory. But, seriously, someone is upset that an operation to go after the most straightforward villain since, oh, Adolf Hitler is associated with an Apache leader? Hell, most of the Army’s helicopters are named after American Indians or American Indian tribes–including the Black Hawk helos that were used in the raid.

But, apparently, the reaction was immediate. Ben Carnes, a prominent Chocktaw activist, explains:

As a Native man, I was genuinely stunned to learn the US had selected the name of a hero who fought to defend his people and way of life.  We’ve been reduced to caricatures as mascots and entertainment in sports and media. Our Identity as Native people has been confiscated and labeled as “Native Americans’ or “American Indians”. Then to associate one of our icons of resistance is an insult. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror felt by Geronimo’s descendants or his people, the Chiricahua Apache. They were branded as Americans in 1924 before they were pardoned as prisoners of war, ironically.

[…]

This society tends to marginalize the First Peoples of this land, so maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise that the hero’s of Native people are still regarded as terrorists by the military and they saw no problem in making the association to Geronimo. Some people may say that OBL’s skill at evading capture was a tribute in memory of Geronimo! Let’s do a reality check here, who would want to elevate OBL to a glorified level?

Carnes, who observes “I felt a more appropriate name would have been Custer or Columbus, both murderers,” was under the misapprehension that Geronimo was used as a code name for bin Laden himself, not the mission to kill or capture him. Surely, that makes a difference?

But his larger post shows the difficulty here: He finds even “Native Americans” and “American Indians” offensive, preferring instead the tribal names. While not unreasonable, it goes against speech patterns that have existed since time immemorial. Indeed, both “Native Americans” and “American Indians” were invented in fairly recent times to be non-offensive. But, for some at least, the very notion that all indigenous tribes should be lumped together is offensive.

Interestingly, military operational codenames shouldn’t have this issue at all, since the standard practice for decades has been to choose two words from a randomized list. This is mostly designed for operational security, lest a clever nickname give clues to the operation’s thrust.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Race and Politics, Terrorism, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Geronimo (exclamation) – “This exclamation is believed to date from August 1940, and is attributed to Private Aubrey Eberhardt, member of the US Army’s parachute test platoon at Fort Benning, Georgia. The parachute had only recently been adopted and this platoon was the first to test it.”

    It’s kind of an old-timey thing to say as you jump into airborne action.

  2. john personna says:

    More: ” In 1941, the Army’s first parachute battalion, the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB) (now called the 501st Infantry Regiment), incorporated the name “Geronimo” into its insignia.”

  3. jwest says:

    “Private Aubrey Eberhardt”

    Even the name sounds racist.

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    This society tends to marginalize the First Peoples of this land, so maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise that the hero’s of Native people are still regarded as terrorists by the military and they saw no problem in making the association to Geronimo. Some people may say that OBL’s skill at evading capture was a tribute in memory of Geronimo! Let’s do a reality check here, who would want to elevate OBL to a glorified level?

    Thats a streatch. my first thought was, classic tuff whopass cool legendary code name.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    It’s kind of an old-timey thing to say as you jump into airborne action.

    I was brought up to know it as a positive outdoor physical game cry.And like above when you jumped off something or when you were doing something else brave and dangerous to summon your courage.

  6. rodney dill says:

    Shoulda called it “LEEROY JENKINS” instead

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    Operation: Crab Food?

  8. Franklin says:

    I’ll be honest: I tend to identify myself as moderately liberal on issues such as these, but these wildly over-the-top reactions make me question which side I’m on.

    It was a CODE name, for chrissake, we weren’t even really supposed to know about it.

  9. ND says:

    It’s unlikely that “Geronimo” was chosen specifically to refer to Bin Laden or was used for the first time during this specific operation. Units such as the one that executed this operation keep a standing codeword/brevity code list to refer to individual events in the course of an operation. This codeword list often known as an execution checklist, allows for the simplified tracking of events during an operation and the status of conditions needed for progression to different planned events necessary for mission success. These words are typically chosen on a theme (football, cities, etc). 

    When I worked with the units involved in Afghanistan, this codeword list stayed the same for every mission to maximize simplicity and limit the new information needed to be learned before an already complex operation is executed. It’s quite likely that “Geronimo” has no meaning beyond being a codeword to refer to confirmation that the target of the operation (Jackpot) was located and that he was killed. Other codewords would have indicated his capture or this absence from the targeted site. None of these words have any intrinsic meaning and any controversy from their use is based on an incorrect understanding of U.S. military procedures.  

  10. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    But, but, but, his name wasn’t Geronimo really now, was it. Isn’t Geronimo eSpanish for Jerome?
    I don’t think the noble First Peoples gave their children eSpanish names now did they? Unless it was something that they did when they went off slaughtering their noble First Peoples neighbors or illegal white immigrants from Europe.

  11. Drew says:

    Jesus H. Christ

    As a public service from now on I offer up “Drew” as the codename for any terrorist we want to hunt down. I won’t be offended. In fact, I won’t give a rats ass. And I doubt my English and Scottish relatives will either…..

  12. Herb says:

    But, but, but, his name wasn’t Geronimo really now, was it. Isn’t Geronimo eSpanish for Jerome?

    Yes, it’s true. Geronimo wasn’t even Geronimo’s real name.

    Wikipedia says:
    “his real name was Goyaałé from the Chiricahua language meaning “one who yawns”; often spelled Goyathlay or Goyahkla in English.”

    Also, there are reports that the operation was also called Operation Neptune Spear. The code name for Bin Laden? “Jackpot.” I suppose that’s a crack against Hellenic pagans and Indian casinos……

  13. “Also, there are reports that the operation was also called Operation Neptune Spear.”

    This is likely. Most classified operations or projects have their code names selected literally randomly to preserve secrecy. A randomly chosen name gives away nothing about the actual operation if it falls into enemy hands. The original name for Operation Desert Shield/Storm (before Saddam invaded Kuwait, back when it was just one of many contingency plans sitting on a shelf somewhere just in case) was “Operation Blue Spoon.” It was changed before it was made public because “Operation Blue Spoon” isn’t very inspiring at all, is it?

    The simple fact is that if it really was called Operation Geronimo, that name too was likely either chosen at random or it was an informal name that the soldiers started calling it that ended up sticking. Grunts in the field have a rather recognizable sense of humor that is rarely politically correct.

  14. Er, I notice that ND beat me to it.

  15. Rock says:

    Shoulda called it “LEEROY JENKINS” instead

    Hahaha! A WoW player I see. I agree it would be the perfect thing to scream as you exit an aircraft on a suicide mission. “LeeeeeeeeRoyyyyyyyyyyyy!” Poor Leeroy, he was so misunderstood . . . and didn’t stand a chance.

  16. Neil Hudelson says:

    Shoulda called it “LEEROY JENKINS” instead

    That would’ve made an almost perfect mission just a smidge better.

  17. Ernieyeball says:

    What did the inhabitants of this continent call it before the honkies arrived?
    America? I do not think so.
    How then can they be “Native Americans”?
    The Speech Police have been castigating me for years when I say this.
    It would seem Ben Carnes, a prominent Chocktaw activist, agrees with me.

  18. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    …the linking of the name Geronimo with the world’s most wanted man is “inappropriate” and can have a “devastating” impact on kids.

    Any fool that believes this BS should take it up personally with the SEAL team. I am sure they could explain the rationale effectively..

  19. JKB says:

    Wasn’t what was said, “Geronimo, EKIA”? If so, context would indicate that Geronimo indicated objective achieve, in this case bin Laden was there and in SEAL hands. The second would then convey status, enemy killed in action, i.e., he was dead as a result of the operation. As opposed to say, EDOA.

    In any case, it is funny that they object to using an imperialist assigned name given a tribal leader that was popularized by Hollywood in WWII movies.

  20. JKB says:

    From Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0:

    22 Moby Thesaurus words for “Geronimo”:
    bugle call, call to arms, call-up, catchword, clarion,
    clarion call, conscription, exhortation, go for broke, gung ho,
    levy, mobilization, muster, rally, rallying cry, rebel yell,
    recruitment, slogan, trumpet call, war cry, war whoop, watchword

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    From Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0:

    22 Moby Thesaurus words for “Geronimo”:
    bugle call, call to arms, call-up, catchword, clarion,
    clarion call, conscription, exhortation, go for broke, gung ho,
    levy, mobilization, muster, rally, rallying cry, rebel yell,
    recruitment, slogan, trumpet call, war cry, war whoop, watchword

    Yup.Most of them is how I was taught to feel and think while using the name as a term, and I was taught it by American society.

  22. Steve Verdon says:

    Shoulda called it “LEEROY JENKINS” instead

    Rodney you racist pig!!

    And it is LEEEROY JEEEEENNNNNNNKINS to be correct.

    Hahaha! A WoW player I see.

    Not necessarily that term has become so well known in the MMO community that it is used in other games as well to mean, “We went in even though we knew we’d probably die….” For example, in Eve Online it is not uncommon to see a battle report saying, “So La Sannal opened the Titan bridge and we Leroyed into H-W….”

  23. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Shouldn’t that be “Neptune’s Trident” or has he had to cut back because of the recession???

  24. rodney dill says:

    Rodney you racist pig!!

    I perceive sarcasm, but I don’t get it. The ‘real’ Leroy Jenkins from the Blizzcon video looked white to me. (No way I could confirm that one way or the other)
    No, I don’t play WoW, which is probably just as well I wouldn’t be able to stop playing. D&D back in college was about the extent of my role playing games.

  25. Southern Hoosier says:

    I think we need to drop the word Zulu when referring to the letter Z as some Africans might be offended

  26. Dawn says:

    I wouldn’t expect any of you to understand unless you were Native American.
    The insensitivity is stunning. I wouldn’t presume to say what you should find
    offensive or not….please don’t speak for me or other Native Americans.