As more details come out regarding the operation to capture Osama bin Laden, we find that history has repeated itself. Namely, in the summoning of Native American-ness during battle. Said operation was apparently called “Geronimo” among insiders and when the goal was achieved, the Navy SEALS sent the message: “Geronimo EKIA (Enemy Killed in Action.)”
Many groups, mostly representing Native American interests, are upset about the use of Geronimo’s name in such a way, stating that it is insulting to equate the real Geronimo with bin Laden. Opponents argue that it’s just a name and that we can’t be so sensitive; after all, did women named Katrina protest their name usage for hurricanes (this is the logic of the women on The View)?
But it isn’t just a name. It’s an entire history, over two hundred years of strained relations between the United States (specifically our government) and Native Americans. Our historic treatment of these communities has been deplorable as we pushed them farther West and out of our collective consciousness. We took their children out of their homes and placed them into boarding schools to learn the ways of mainstream society; we robbed them of their livelihood, which has mired many in poverty. And to add insult to injury, we have appropriated their culture when it suits us: during the Boston Tea Party, when colonials dressed as Mohawks; as mascots for the Atlanta Braves, Florida State Seminoles, etc. The U.S. Military has also long used Native American names on it equipment. Does summoning Native American-ness add bravery to the protest, game, or battle?
Is there anything wrong with using these names? I think so. I doubt there’s a PayPal way to reimburse Native American communities for copyright. But we can’t evoke these names willy-nilly, especially since Native Americans remain an important part of our collective culture. This isn’t simply a matter of political correctness. It’s acknowledging the complex history between both parties and recognizing that, perhaps for the sake of improving relations, we can just call it “Operation John Doe.”