Thursday, May 05, 2011


The small details around this “surgical strike” against bin Laden are accumulating.  One is that there was a dog on the SEAL team, because of the possibility of explosives in suicide vests or booby traps or because there might have been hidden internal bunkers something like Saddam’s spider hole.  They say it would be a traditional-type German shepherd, trained to catch and hold or knock-down a fleeing person.  Here in Valier Deputy Shannon has such a dog, very expensive because both man and dog must be trained.  This dog is named Luci.  She gets used more than I would have predicted because she can smell drugs.
A repulsive array of photoshopped false photos of bin Laden dead have filled the vacuum left by Obama’s refusal to allow the real images to be published.  Of course, he and everyone else knows that eventually they will leak out, but he cannot be blamed then if it starts riots and fatwas all over the planet.  I don’t know how anyone but a computer expert could distinguish between the false and the true photos.
One of the people who helped Bob Scriver construct the Bighorn Foundry in the Sixties was Bob Gordon, a Navy SEAL, so I have a sense of what those men are like.  Gordon was brilliant, a little erratic, daring and handsome.  Alcoholic, possibly trauma-damaged, he could weld underwater.  His widow, Geraldine, is well-known on the rez.  Their children were among my students and also handsome and brilliant with tragic lives.  
Another issue has cropped up that is relevant to the reservation: the use of the name “Geronimo” for bin Laden’s code name.  I want to spend the rest of this space on the issue.  First, I know that it was the WWII cry when a parachuter jumped out of a plane, so it has that connotation.  But that would have fit only if the SEALS yelled “Geronimo” as they bailed out of the helicopters.  To say “Geronimo is dead,” means that they are picturing themselves as actors in a John Wayne movie about the Prairie Clearances, in the same way that Vietnam War fighters referred to “Gooks” as short for “Chingachgook,” the Indian character in James Fenimore Cooper novels.  It identifies the US soldiers with the white (usually Brit/German/Irish) cavalry, though for all I know there may have been Native Americans on that SEAL team.  Or blacks or Asians.  
To label someone Geronimo is not a factual act but one of metaphor.  Consider the actual man, more properly called Goyaałé or Goyahkla in his own language.  Geronimo is another of those mistaken names that abound in the Americas.  This is from Wikipedia: On March 6, 1858, a company of 400 Mexican soldiers from Sonora led by Colonel José María Carrasco attacked Goyahkla's camp outside Janos while the men were in town trading. Among those killed were Goyahkla's wife, his children, and his mother. His chief, Mangas Coloradas, [note that this is Spanish meaning “Red Sleeves”] sent him to Cochise's band for help in revenge against the Mexicans. Allegedly it was during this incident that the name Geronimo came about. This appellation stemmed from a battle in which, ignoring a deadly hail of bullets, he repeatedly attacked Mexican soldiers with a knife, causing them to utter appeals to Saint Jerome ("Jeronimo!"). Americans heard this and thought his name was Geronimo, and the name stuck.”
In 1950, the year Tim Barrus was born, I saw “Broken Arrow,” a movie featuring Jeff Chandler as Cochise (a “good” chief) and Jay Silverheels (remarkably, a genetic Indian) as Geronimo.  This movie made a huge impression on me because the theme was peace, aimed at WWII veterans.  Tim’s 2004 book, a fictionalized version of his real life woven together with Geronimo and called “Geronimo’s Bones” was controversial but Geronimo was truly a sort of guiding spirit to him.  He speaks of the oak tree near Geronimo’s grave where people hang eyeglasses for healing, for respect, for true seeing -- which has created a giant tinkling, glittering, mobile.  Geronimo was said to be capable of magic like telekinesis or invisibility.  He had great power.
One of his powers was the ability to survive gunshot wounds.  In old age Goyaałé finally died of pneumonia after being thrown from his horse and lying out on the prairie alone all night.  It was 1909. One could write an epic poem imagining his mind as he lay looking at stars that were far brighter in those days, waiting to die.
Geronimo was not a civic “chief” but rather a war leader, a “general” if you like.  He and three dozen other Apaches managed to evade the US and Mexican cavalries for a year in country nearly too tough to traverse.  Once captured he was never allowed to go back there for fear he might just vanish again.  But he participated in American life, riding the ferris wheel at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and selling his photo just as Sitting Bull did.  In 1905 he rode a horse in Teddy Roosevelt’s Inaugural parade.  It’s impossible to imagine bin Laden on a tasseled Arabian horse in a contemporary presidential parade. 
Americans are deeply, deeply ambivalent about the people they overran to take this continent.  Another illustration of this is the claim that the Yale University secret honor society called “Skull and Bones” (which has a mysterious overlap with the CIA and spying) is the possessor of Geronimo’s skull and some of his long bones.  George Bush is a member of this society.  The story of the bones is denied by the group.
The elements of Goyaałé -- loved by some, hated by others, the husband to many women and the father of many children -- nearly magic in his resources and highly religious -- are slightly different than those of Geronimo, which are mostly projections of the emotional needs of his destroyers.  No doubt there will be many biographies of Osama bin Laden.  They say that the SEAL operation has quickly been renamed “Neptune’s Spear.”  I suppose because of the sea burial.   I would rather see a new version of “Broken Arrow,” the case for peace among all tribes.

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