Craven: Operation Geronimo

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(HOST) Commentator, filmmaker and Marlboro College teacher Jay Craven hopes that the recent US action against Osama Bin Laden will lead to some new ways of thinking about war, justice, and history.

(CRAVEN) Now that the dust has settled from the recent Bin Laden raid, I’m left with several thoughts and feelings. First, I share the relief of all Americans – for this substantial measure of resolution, even if it doesn’t signal the end of the conflicts that surround it.  But, perhaps the Bin Laden event will create an opportunity to re-assess our protracted war in Afghanistan and launch aggressive diplomacy.  Maybe we can now shift to constructively engage that region especially through the dynamic movements associated with the Arab Spring.

The Bin Laden raid suggested to me how a courageous and well-trained military team can be effective – even as an alternative to all-out war.  I thought about the Iraq War, where, impatient with the pace of UN inspectors, we invaded – sure that Sadaam Hussein possessed highly threatening weapons of mass destruction.  When no weapons were discovered, we focused our attention on the alleged crimes of the Iraqi strongman himself.  

Perhaps a small team of elite forces could have apprehended Sadaam Hussein – or could put their hands on Muammar Gaddafi who has recently been accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The Obama administration has begun to cooperate with the International Court – and I hope the U.S. will join the 114 nations who are members – and that our participation can help boost its effectiveness.  The Court successfully apprehended Serbian dictator Slobadan Milosevic – and its mission is to hold tyrants and leaders of terror accountable for their criminal behaviors – in Uganda, Darfur, Libya, The Congo, and elsewhere.  Left unchecked, criminal rulers stifle democracy, thwart development, and cause untold suffering.

Finally, while I found myself dazzled by the preparation and precision of President Obama’s SEAL commandos – I scratched my head when I heard the operation and Bin Laden himself referred to as "Geronimo." What were people thinking? Students of American history know that Geronimo was the Apache chief who resisted Mexican and American attacks on his family and people.  Feeling betrayed by U.S. cavalry assaults a year after he agreed to a peace treaty, Geronimo and his band organized in the mountains and returned to fight the soldiers. He fought for decades to preserve tribal lands before being captured in 1886.

125 years ago, the U.S. cavalry saw Geronimo as its enemy – he led, after all, one of the last Indian bands who refused to acknowledge the U.S. occupation of the American West.  But the study of history invites us to take repeated looks at our collective past, including the Indian wars.  Today, many Native Americans view Geronimo as their most famous leader, a tough but brave man with spiritual powers. To equate him with Osama Bin Laden, a reviled mass murderer, seems insensitive to these first Americans – and oblivious to a more nuanced and even self-critical reading of our complicated but always illuminating history.

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