"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." ~ Douglas Adams
Geronimo, Cochise and Osama bin Laden
Geronimo, Cochise and Osama bin Laden
'They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one. They promised to take our land, and they took it.' ~ attributed to Red Cloud If they were living today, the legendary Apache chieftains Geronimo and Cochise might fully understand the motives of the guerilla warrior, Osama bin Laden, even if most of the 'civilized' world cannot. The tall, ascetic Osama, a charismatic chieftain as elusive as Geronimo and as compelling as Cochise, remains an enigmatic terrorist, with the huge price on his head and a billion admirers. 'What a vile, despicable excuse for a man,' argued columnist Mona Charen, 'He delights in the image of burning men and women hurling themselves from the top floors of skyscrapers and of orphans mourning the loss of parents.' 'Osama bin Laden is the product of failure, a failed culture that is being left behind by the rest of the world,' added James Klurfield. 'Men of few earthly prospects,' wrote Colonel Ralph Peters of OBL and his followers, 'they imagine a divine mission for themselves. It is the summit of self gratification.' 'These writer were wrong before . . . and they are wrong now,' observed CIA insider, Michael Scheurer, author of "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," although their stubborn resistance to post 11 September reality is remarkable.' Perhaps most remarkable is a collective American myopia to history. Only a century and a half ago, the charismatic Cochise held the American military to a bloody stalemate for a dozen years with fewer than 200 fighters, and Geronimo frustrated US captors for a quarter century with as little as 37 followers. Cochise finally negotiated a favorable truce from Washington DC , but not before he conducted a series of vengeful raids and depredations from his mountain sanctuary in southeastern Arizona . Fifteen thousand casualties later, the roads leading to Tucson cut and that city besieged, a half dozen US generals and five thousand troops frustrated, President Grant realized the futility of fighting a conventional war against an unconventional warrior. Twelve years later Grant negotiated a peace settlement with Cochise. 'I have retaliated with all my might,' said the chief of the Chiricahua tribe. The skirmish had escalated from a simple misunderstanding into a brutal guerilla war. As Cochise explained: 'One day my best friend was seized by an officer of the white men and treacherously killed. At last your soldiers did me a great wrong, and I and my people went to war with them.' 'Cochise was a monumental chieftain,' observed Elliot Arnold, 'fiercely aquiline in features and more than six feet tall, renowned for wisdom and justice, even kindness.' But he could be firm, even cruel, in his resolve if he felt wronged. 'Tell the boy soldier I have Americans to trade for my people,' he said. When Lt. George Bascom, who had abducted Cochise's relatives, refused to negotiate'against the advice of veteran troopers--the hostages of both sides were executed and a bloody guerilla war of reprisals began. Having forgotten the origins of our own country, built on a foundation of resistance to foreign occupation, Americans did not expect then, nor do we understand now, the resistance of indigenous people like Geronimo, Cochise'or Osama bin Laden to foreign occupation. We forget at our own peril. 'Underestimating the brains, patience, and religion-based fortitude of our foes,' is foolhardy, Scheurer observed. 'This line of analysis takes a brilliant, calculating and patient foe like bin Laden (or Cochise before him) and reduces him to the status of a madman, blood thirsty and irrational . . . America is facing a talented, sturdy, charismatic and determined enemy.' As all formidable leaders before or since, both Cochise and Osama recognized the need to rally followers by personal example. They became chieftains not through election-tampering or family connections but by the force of their own integrity, by their resistance to perceived injustice at great personal sacrifice to themselves. 'You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts. Speak Americans . . . I will not lie to you . . . do not lie to me,' said the Apache in a moment of candor and diplomacy. Despite his reasonableness, Cochise fought with unbelievable cunning and ferocity''terrorism' we would call it today. 'The greatest rule of safety is justice, and stopping injustice and aggression,' said Osama, sounding oddly like Cochise. 'It was said, oppression kills the oppressors and the hotbed of injustice is evil'We would like to inform you that labeling us and our acts as terrorism is also a description of you and of your acts. Reaction comes at the same level as the original action. Our acts are reactions to your own acts, which are represented by the destruction and killing of our kinfolk in Afghanistan , Iraq and Palestine .' Cochise, well aware that attrition favored the white settlers, held out hope for a peaceful'and fair'settlement one day. 'Nobody wants peace more than I do,' he said. 'Why shut me up on a reservation? We will make peace; we will keep it faithfully. But let us go around free as Americans do. Let us go wherever we please.' Nearly 150 years later, the measured words of Osama seem to echo those of Cochise. 'As for those who want reconciliation, we have given them a chance. Stop shedding our blood so as to preserve your blood. It is in your hands to apply this easy, yet difficult, formula. You know that the situation will expand and increase if you delay things.' Would the demise of bin Laden'captured, killed or contained--signal the inevitable defeat of terrorism? After all, Geronimo surrendered and died in captivity; Cochise died before him without achieving a lasting peace, and the Apaches eventually succumbed. For those hoping history repeats itself, the answer is no. The difference is simple math: The tribes arrayed against us now number not in the hundreds, nor in the thousands, nor even in the millions, but more than a billion. Peaceful reconciliation, or bankruptcy in a long, futile, foreign guerilla war; appear to be our choices. Lately we have heard reports of permanent 'enduring forts' in Iraq and Afghanistan 'reports denied by the US army officers there. I'm reminded of the string of enduring forts constructed in Indian territory during the Nineteenth Century' Laramie , Leavenworth , Reno, Bowie and Kearny among others'and how envoys from Washington DC assured the indigenous people they had nothing to fear then. Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux observed otherwise. In the end, every old warrior, chieftain or common soldier who ever fought knows what the fool continually ignores: the most enduring fort is a permanent peace built on a foundation of justice.