May 04, 2011


Osama bin Laden's code name during the recent operation designed to kill him was "Geronimo." There is a history of cheeky code names that our elite forces use in their operations. President Obama's secret service code name, for example, is (or was) "Renegade." Fidel Castro was "AMTHUG" to the CIA during the various, often whimsical schemes to kill him. (AM was the code name for Cuba.) The list goes on. NPR reports that some Native American groups were offended by the use of Geronimo's name in connection with Osama bin Laden—or in connection with the operation in which he was killed—but in their respective times each occupied the role of boogeyman in the American imagination. Che Guevara is another figure who briefly filled this role. The code name Geronimo, though impolitic and perhaps insensitive at this point in history, was perfectly apt.

Geronimo was a war leader of the Apaches, not a chief, and "Geronimo" was not his name but rather a nickname given to him by the Mexicans. (Most of his activity and animosity was always directed at Mexico.) Among his own people he was called Goyahkla, the One Who Yawns. The Chiricahua Apaches were under persistent, even genocidal pressure from both the U.S. and Mexican governments (and previously, the Confederate government) as the last wild areas of the continental United States were brought to heel.

Geronimo pillaged and killed, and used terror as a weapon, and was hated and feared and reviled in the U.S. media and popular imagination. There was outrage over his audacity and the crimes he committed. He is famous because he was active until a startlingly late date, 1886, when the West was already won. He was eventually captured, domesticated, and paraded around Wild West shows, where, we can imagine, parents pointed to him and told their children he would get them if they were bad. He died in captivity in Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1909. Nowadays his name, and that of the Apaches holds no fear, but rather the opposite: understanding, empathy, compassion. We understand the pressure Geronimo faced as a vice was relentlessly closed on his people. In a hundred years, or more, or less, will the name Osama bin Laden be spoken of the same way?

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dog's picture

The story of Capt Goodheart (no relation) in the Mahayana Upaya Sutra is an exemplary reference here. Therein, the Buddha, in a former life, realises that one of his passengers is about to murder 999 others on board his ship. To save them from death and the perpetrator from further bad karma, he ends the passengers life.

Killling Bin Laden will never bring the dead back. However, as we now know, he intended to cause further deaths in the NY subway. Therefore, from a Buddhist perspective, even unarmed, was a justifiable act. It prevented great misery for his victims and himself,

Those who take the Bodhisattva vow have a commitment to 'break the 7 non virtues of body and speech where love and compassion deem it necessary.Killing is one of three of body. Therefore, for a Bodhisattva NOT to take such a life would be a breakage of his vows.

Tharpa Pema's picture

After Osama Bin Laden was assassinated, I immediately thought of the passages below from Smile at Fear. They are etched in my memory because of trauma I suffered as a child. My family’s lives were repeatedly threatened by the Ku Klux Klan because of the nonviolent civil-rights activity in which my father was engaged. I’ve spent a lifetime coming to terms with my conflicting impulses: to defend my life and the lives of others versus lay down my life—or someone else’s—out of compassion for others.
Even though I am femaie, I’ve never felt that my gender excuses me from the responsibility involved in making such decisions, whether I make them as an individual or as a member of a republic.
Without expecting ever to arrive at a definitive answer to a question that can only be decided in the present moment in an actual situation, I feel compelled to ask the question over and over again—to somehow prepare for such an unlikely event. I would like to discuss my discomfort with fellow Buddhists.
Under what circumstances, if any, would we take the life of an “enemy”?
Chapter 10—The Tools of Bravery
P. 66. In the Shambhala warrior tradition, we say that you should only have to kill an enemy once every thousand years. We mean here the real enemy, . . .or ego run wild. You can work with other enemies by subjugating or pacifying them, talking to them, buying them out, or seducing them. . . However, once in a thousand years a real assassination of the ultimate enemy may be necessary. . . Your action has to be completely free from aggression, and it cannot be motivated by anger, greed, or a desire for retribution or vengeance. The motivation has to be pure compassion. You might use a sword or an arrow, . . . so that their ego is completely popped. Such an assassination has to be very direct and personal. It’s not like dropping bombs on people. . . . You always look for other alternatives to cure the situation, but sometimes there are none.
Chapter 9—Overcoming Doubt
P.59-60. . . .[R]enunciation is the willingness to work with real situations of aggression in the world. If someone interrupts your world with an attack of aggression, you have to respond to it. Renunciation is being willing to face that intense kind of situation rather than cover it up. Everyone is afraid to talk about this. . . .
P.60 You don’t need party-line logic or a package-deal response. . . . You don’t kill an enemy before they become the enemy. You only slash the enemy when they become a hundred percent good enemy. . .
P.61 When a warrior has to kill his enemy, he has a very soft heart. He looks his enemy right in the face.
P.62 When you slash your enemy, your compassionate heart becomes twice as big.

Chogyam Trungpa. Smile at Fear:Awakening the True Heart of Bravery.
Shambhala: Boston & London, 2009.

Dolgyal's picture

"roosevelt, truman and churchill killed more. hitler and stalin, more still. "

Lets not forget the dubious distinction of history's foremost genocidal maniac is still held by Chairman Mao Tsetung.

avalmez's picture

roosevelt, truman and churchill killed more. hitler and stalin, more still. a difference between this quartet is that the latter two intentionally and maliciously, methodically and as a matter of policy, spilled blood on orders of magnitude of innocents. bin laden was more akin to these kind of evil men than those forced to oppose them. the death of bin laden is not a happy event. but, it doubtless eases the suffering of his victims and their loved ones - and, according to reports, the majority of those poor souls are or were brothers and sisters of his own faith. i read that the Buddha suffered upon learning that his country had been conquered resulting in the deaths of many of his country and kins men, a country which as its sovereign he would ordinarily have been responsible for protecting.'s picture

Obama also kills intentionally, maliciously, methodically and as a matter of policy. Obama, Bush, Stalin, Hitler, etc. are brutal murderers. i don't really see any difference between them.

avalmez's picture

isn't there? ignoring the difference doesn't make it irrelevant. i mean, we can both see each other's points and acknowledge our entitlement to the same, but there are degrees of correctness just as there are degrees of "bad". war - bad. intentionally killing innocents - badder. but again, i do get the point.'s picture

Obama and Bush killed much more people than Osama bin Laden.