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The 51st State

“I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say.”

—Geronimo

Business Facilities joins everyone in America in congratulating the courageous American heroes who brought justice to the mass-murdering coward Osama bin Laden on Sunday.

On Monday morning, the world was a much better place thanks to the awe-inspiring resolve and competence displayed by all who were involved in this mission, which saw the U.S. Navy’s best commandos reach across the world and strike like lightning as ordered by the President of the United States.

Not since Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Jimmy Doolittle and his crew to hurl fully loaded bombers off skimpy aircraft carriers and deliver his response to Pearl Harbor directly to Tokyo has the world seen such a combination of daredevil logistics, finely honed skill, guts and righteousness. Like that incredible mission in World War II, Sunday’s exploits in Pakistan have entered the nation’s hallowed lore and will never be forgotten.

So it truly pains us to point out the one, albeit minor, off-key note that sounded during this heroic symphony. But here goes:

The CIA’s mission code word for Osama bin Laden was Geronimo.

Geronimo was the Chiricahua Apache leader who led a revolt of 4,000 Apaches after they were forcibly removed by U.S. authorities from their land to a barren reservation in east-central Arizona in the 1870s. A few years before that episode, Geronimo’s family had been slaughtered by the Mexicans, who like the American pioneers had no use for Native Americans and wanted their land.

For a dozen years, Geronimo mounted a series of daring and bloody attacks in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, wreak his havoc, and disappear into the desert. Apparently cornered in 1884, he surrendered and then promptly escaped.

Unable to capture the wily Apache, the U.S. authorities used the only weapon in their arsenal that could overwhelm Geronimo’s nimble defenses: they lied to him. They promised him a safe return to his sacred land in Arizona if he turned himself in. When he did in 1886, they arrested him and locked him up.

After years of hard labor in a prison far from Arizona, Geronimo was placed on a reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he dictated his autobiography and later died after falling off his horse. Geronimo never set foot in Arizona after he was locked up by the Americans. We broke our promise.

Why did Geronimo trust his enemy to keep this empty promise? The answer is simple and compelling: Geronimo never lied.

Geronimo could not imagine anyone making a promise to someone and failing to keep it. Geronimo had a code of honor that could not be broken by the harshest cruelty. He believed that this code must live in the hearts of all men, even the men with different colored skin who burned his villages, slaughtered his people, took his land and reviled him as less than human.

Geronimo was not Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was a vile coward who convinced young men to kill themselves, and many others, by lying to them.

What were the folks at CIA thinking when they attached Geronimo’s name to bin Laden? Sure, there are some easy surface similarities–terrorist who strikes from nowhere, exacts revenge, disappears, etc. We wish the nation’s top spooks had taken a moment to scratch the surface and consider the deeper implications of the moniker they chose: man who had a legitimate grievance, man who was lied to by his enemies, man who fought with courage.

Bad call, Langley.

As this is being written, our president has announced that he will not permit a photograph of bin Laden’s dead body to be released. That is not who we are, the president said. We do not revel in the death of our enemies. We celebrate life and we stand for justice. We are healers, not defilers.

In that spirit, we would like to suggest that perhaps it is time to for us to heal Geronimo’s ancient wounds.

For well over a century, the descendants of Geronimo and all of the other Native American tribes have been cloistered on squalid reservations. We treat their presence among us as an oddity, a disjointed theme park for history’s forgotten losers, a place to get cheap souvenirs.

With more than a bit of subliminal guilt, we pay lip service to the courage of their warriors and the code of their chiefs by naming our sports teams and weapons systems for them. We grant them reparations in the form of gambling casinos, encouraging them to corrupt
us in a perverse, funhouse-mirror reflection of the ways we tried to corrupt them so many years ago.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Barack Obama has said many times that his ultimate mission is to unite all Americans, to heal our divisions—to make us one nation, indivisible. He repeated that message in his eloquent coda on Sunday night.

If that is your mission, Mr. President, you will not accomplish it until you invite all of the Native American tribes to the White House and ask them to become the 51st state of the United States of America.

Geronimo was born in America and his people were the first Americans. It is time to let him come home. As he approached his death far from Arizona, this is how he remembered it:

“I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.”

One nation, indivisible.

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