The Common Good

Geronimo: A Revealing Code Name

A few days ago on my personal blog, I asked this question in response to the celebrations unleashed by the bin Laden shooting:

Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?

During a layover in the Hamburg, Germany, airport yesterday, I got the chance to read a few newspapers and learned (I've had limited news access recently) that an agency of the U.S. government code-named bin Laden "Geronimo." I imagine there has already been a lot of commentary on this, although I haven't had a chance to see it yet.

Suffice it to say that I was shocked, disgusted, dismayed, and sickened to read this. It makes me even more eager to press home the need for Americans like me to do some serious reflection at this point in our history.

For example ...

Are we still engaged in Westward Expansion (making our way from California to Hawaii and the Philippines, then to Southeast Asia and now to the Middle East)? Are we still cowboys hunting Indians? Are we still working out a narrative of Manifest Destiny? Has there been no acknowledgment in our government and our people of the holocaust we waged against Native Peoples, the land theft, attempted genocide, cultural imperialism, and outrageous injustice?

In the code-name Geronimo, has the U.S. government made a "Freudian slip" that reveals one of the dark and violent drives still at work in our national psyche?

Some of my white friends will no doubt say, "It's just a name. You're making too much of it." But I don't think this question should be left to white people to answer. Just as we in the United States need to listen -- as we have never listened before -- to our neighbors in the Muslim world (not to mention our Latin American neighbors, our African neighbors, and so on), we need to listen to our Native American/First Nations brothers and sisters and hear what they want to tell us about ugly parts of our history and contemporary national psyche that remain unacknowledged and that need to be radically changed.

What's in a name? In this case, more than we realize.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren ( is a former pastor and the author of over a dozen books, including Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words.

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