The first indication for President Obama that Osama bin Laden had been killed came when a Navy SEAL sent back the coded message to Washington that said simply, “Geronimo-E KIA.”
It has been revealed that the code name for Osama Bin Laden, or the code name for the operation to kill him, was “Geronimo.” How are American Indians to feel about this? Shocked, appalled, outraged? It really comes as no surprise to me, as this is not the first time that parallels have been drawn between the War on Terror and the conflicts on the American frontier of the 17th, 18th, 19th and even early 20th centuries that are commonly known as the Indian Wars.
In a talk to given to the Foreign Policy Research Institute in 2004, Robert D. Kaplan, an American journalist, showed how the American Indian Wars and the war in Afghanistan are quite similar. Here is an excerpt from a summary of his speech.
INDIAN COUNTRY In essence, he said, the U.S. military is back to the days of fighting the Indians. In the second half of the 19th century, the U.S. Army had to fight large numbers of Indian groups — from different tribes and with different languages and cultures — of which there were almost as many as there were ethnic groups around the world. It had the job of hunting them down and fighting them in small numbers and unconventional conditions. Success was wrought by people who knew the language and understood the culture: the pathfinders and mountainmen.
Mr. Kaplan goes on to show that the US didn’t defeat American Indians on the battlefield, rather it was more of a structural victory. A combination of factors like the expansion of the railroad system, disease, and the destruction of valuable resources.
The pathfinders and mountainmen, Kaplan noted, proved that before you could defeat an enemy, you had to understand them and their culture and speak their language. The U.S. Army never really learned how to defeat the Indians this way, by making itself a light and lethal force, but won thanks to the railroads and other factors. Its large groups of horse- drawn cavalry were the equivalent of Humvees today, bristling with weaponry that were easily immobilized by small clusters of Indians on foot, or just one lone bicycle bomber in the case of Iraq. Around the world today we face not uniform conventional armies, but small clusters of combatants hiding out in big third-world cities, jungles, and deserts who no longer require an economy of scale to produce and deploy a WMD. Combating these adversaries involves intelligence and linguistic work, among other things
In other words, the Plains Indians fielded one of the finest forces of light cavalry the world has ever seen. An article written by Bill Bridgewater describes how the Viet Cong used similar tactics, possibly inspired by Indian tactics.
They [the Viet Cong] had two good models: the American colonies against the British in our war for independence, and the American Indian wars, where the value of slash-and-run against a superior foe was escalated to a fine art by the world’s finest light cavalry.
Furthermore, Mr. Kaplan went on to explain the admiration the US Military has for the way American Indians fought.
“Indian country” is a term our armed forces use a lot, and very specifically, Kaplan noted. They not only mean no disrespect to Native Americans, but greatly admire them, hence their radio call signs such as “Black Hawk,” “Comanche,” “Apache,” “Red Cloud,” and “Sitting Bull.”
The tactics employed in the Pueblo Revolt, the Plains Indian Wars, and the wars in the Eastern United States are the same that have toppled empires. They were used by the American Colonists to beat the British Empire, by the Vietnamese to beat the French and the US, by the Mujahideen to defeat the USSR, and they are currently being used by terrorists against the US.
I, for one, am rather proud that the mighty United States of America considered us such a formidable enemy, that they describe their war in the Middle East in terms of the American Indian Wars. As awful a person Osama bin Laden was, he was a formidable enemy whose legacy will continue to wreck havoc on the US. So too were the American Indians formidable enemies and, in our case at least, worthy of respect.