The American government and its armed forces named the secret operation to kill Osama Bin Laden "Operation Geronimo." This was a major mistake. Geronomino and bin Laden are in many ways the complete opposite of each other.
The real Geronimo was an Apache Indian from the southwest of what is now the United States of America. He was born in 1829. He died in 1909. His manhood corresponded with that period when the United States was establishing its authority over that part of Mexico that it had conquered in 1848, during the Mexican American war, and which includes what are now the border states of Arizona and New Mexico.
From then on, the American government did everything possible to restrict the movements of the Apache who were native to that area, and to take as much of their land as force and guile would permit. At the same time, Mexican government forces raided and took Apache scalps from the south. The dwindling tribe was caught in a bind. They could not emigrate, so their only opportunity was to fight -and fight they did, often brutally.
Geronimo's first wife and many relatives were killed in a Mexican raid. And from that day on, he vowed vengeance on the Mexicans, and then on the growing power and presence of the Americans.
Geronimo's real name was Goyaale. Geronimo is a nickname that he apparently acquired from Mexican soldiers who were so astounded by his military bravery on the battlefield that they called on St. Jerome to save them -which in turn led to the word "Geronimo."
Geronimo and his surviving warriors were hunted down by an Apache-speaking American officer using Apache guides who in those days were considered to be "friendlies." He was confined to a reservation, but then broke out and was captured again. Deported from his native southwest, he died in exile.
Toward the end of his life, he demanded that the American government provide him with a scribe and a translator to take down the details of his life. He would brook no questions or interruption and spoke without faltering. The result is the impressive document of a man who fought against one of the most unjust periods of American expansion -the settling of the southwest.
For those who argue that America had to take Indian lands in the southwest to expand human settlement, we must remember that two-thirds of Arizona's land still belongs to the state. These lands once belonged to tribes like the Apache.
Bin Laden, the spoiled son of a Saudi millionaire, wanted to convert the world to Islam. Geronimo wanted to be left alone. Geronimo fought at the head of his armies. Bin Laden never fought, but ordered thousands to kill themselves in the killing of others.
In short, Geronimo was brave and bin Laden was a coward. And it is an insult to the former to have his name associated with a military operation aimed at taking down the latter.
First published on the National Post.