The graphic novel was somewhat informative but mostly disappointing, but I’m glad I read it because it’s shortcomings motivated me to revisit an excellent podcast
When I picked this up (from the library) I was hoping for an in-depth analysis of the tactics of the operation and unbiased information on the background and context of what was going on. That was far too much to hope for.
An account of operation Neptune Spear, the American military operation for eliminating Osama bin Laden, the comic book doesn’t delve into interesting issues such as the validity of state-sanctioned revenge. And while the post-script commentary is happy to include Osama bin Laden ‘s “Timeline of Atrocities”, it very pointedly neglects the CIA’s history in the region, their role in the rise of Islamic extremism (consider, for example, Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men).
I remember the announcement of bin Laden’s death, now a decade ago, and the ensuing celebrations broadcast on the news. I suppose that no matter how distasteful or dangerous an individual, I couldn’t help but feel that the celebration of another’s death to be in bad taste (I remember finding Dan Carlin’s exploration of these issues quite fair an interesting (Common Sense 199 – Pyrrhic Schadenfreud)), especially when one considers the scale of retaliation exacted by the United States. I wonder how the deaths from terrorism stack up against the ‘collateral damage’ (deaths of non-combatants) resulting from military operations abroad, justified by the ‘war on terror’.
In fact, in referencing this podcast I wanted to determine which exact episode covered this material. I was surprised that it came out the same night that bin Laden’s death was announced – such an output is basically unheard of for Carlin. I’m glad I listened to it again – despite being a decade old, it still resonates. It is chilling and concerning, and insightful. I strongly encourage anyone to listen to it, because it delves into all of the issues that the graphic novel in question should have done. Carlin laments seeing crowds chanting “USA! USA!” on CNN, questioning if they understand the irony of what the values of the country were in the pre-9/11 world. He likens it to killing an enemy that has mortally wounded. “We’re taking off our shoes at airports, we’re living with amazing amounts of security when judged by pre-9/11 standards. Who’s responsible for that? That’s that knife wound in the back, folks, continually bleeding long after we’ve cut Osama’s head off. You wanna pick it up and laugh at it? It might laugh back.” (07:15) Even if you aren’t particularly interested in any of this, I’d still recommend listening to this podcast. For me it’s a sober reminder of what happened, how the United States reacted, and it certainly calls into question the wisdom of that reaction. The effects have been so normalized that some of the statements might seem out of touch, but that’s the important thing – they shouldn’t. Especially in light of the revelations by Edward Snowden, and the findings that the NSA’s criminal violation of privacy rights via the Patriot Act (passed in response to 9/11) did not make a “concrete difference” in the outcome of a single counter-terrorism investigation.
The policy’s ineffectiveness is certainly damning, but perhaps beside the point. The point is that this enemy turned the society into something it didn’t want to be, and his death didn’t bring things back to normal. Indeed, his death did not cure the affliction his actions caused, and while his death might be the cause for relief, it certainly isn’t the cause for celebration.
Given all that, it was hard to read an account completely deaf to all of these issues. But that gets one to thinking about who is okay with this kind of narrative. The ignorant, the patriotic, the tribal. None of them are enviable qualities, and so we are left to wonder at the state, and intent, of the creators.
I was a little surprised at how blatantly the non-Americans were dehumanized – shown with shadowed eyes unless they were being portrayed as dead or afraid. Meanwhile we got a lot of shots of Obama looking concerned, thoughtful, worried, and for no discernible reason a frame of Hilary Clinton appearing very concerned. So the book isn’t only asking you to worship the military, but it is also asking you to please not forget to vote Democrat.
I recalled a claim that the CIA had a hand in training and funding bin Laden (via Operation Cyclone) in an effort to thwart the Soviets when they were in Afghanistan. This hasn’t been established as an indisputable truth, but if one considers CIA activities in Latin America, this would not be out of character at all for the organization.
The highlight of this book occurred in the afterword, when it explains what exactly “Seal Team Six” is, and gets into some complicated military structures that I always found confusing. Probably the most interesting thing between the covers of this book was the account of the training standards, the elimination process, and the hierarchy in the various military units.
Also included (and very interesting) was a defensive/apologetic explanation for why ‘Geronimo’ was chosen as the code word to indicate that the mission had been accomplished, with an interesting explanation of how Goyathlay (of the Chiricahua Apache tribe) came to be known as Geronimo.
But that could have been in a little essay or article, and did not make up for the poorly told story that preceded it.
Code Word: Geronimo offers interesting material for the study of propaganda in mainstream media. That being said, I regret not being familiar enough with the background information and the historical and political context to more accurately evaluate to what degree this story is hypocritical and misleading, but… high. I feel safe in saying that it is hypocritical and misleading to a high degree, indeed.