Why Can’t They Name Attack Helicopters After Hippies?
With the Redskins under attack, a Boston Review editor wants weapons systems renamed.

Army AH-64 Apache gunship (Sergeant Alun Thomas)



First they came for the Redskins. Now, following up on charges that the name of Washington’s football team is racist, offended activists are calling on the United States military to rechristen the military vehicles — including the Apache and Black Hawk helicopters — that are now named for American Indians.

At the Washington Post, Simon Waxman, managing editor of Boston Review, has an Onion-worthy op-ed outlining the case.

Why do we name our battles and weapons after people we have vanquished? For the same reason the Washington team is the Redskins and my hometown Red Sox go to Cleveland to play the Indians and to Atlanta to play the Braves: because the myth of the worthy native adversary is more palatable than the reality — the conquered tribes of this land were not rivals but victims, cheated and impossibly outgunned. . . .  It is worse than denial; it is propaganda. . . .  In whatever measure it is tribute to the dead, it is in greater measure a boost to our national sense of superiority.

Waxman evidently has more of an inclination for psychoanalysis than for scholarship. While helicopter names may suggest a worthy former adversary, these names exist with that adversary’s blessing. The military helicopter was envisioned by General Hamilton Howze, first director of Army aviation, as “a fast, mobile, stealthy machine on the field of battle using terrain and vegetation to an advantage similar to the Warrior Tribes,” says Bob Mitchell, curator of the U.S. Army Aviation Museum. But unlike “redskin,” which is sometimes considered a racial slur, “Apache,” “Comanche,” and other designations are official names for tribes that are not “dead” at all but still around today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Americans Indians and Alaska Natives grew by 27 percent between 2000 and 2010, nearly triple the rate of U.S. population growth overall.


Army Regulation 70-28, dated April 4, 1969, made the tradition of conferring tribal names on military choppers official policy, and names are selected from a list provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 2012, American Indian leaders came out to ritually bless two new LUH-72 Lakota helicopters. These and other easy-to-locate facts can be found in U.S. Army aviator Major Crispin Burke’s “Everyone Relax — The Army’s Native American Helicopter Names Are Not Racist.”

In his pity for American Indians, Waxman ignores the very strong warrior ethic that girded many native cultures, and that still does today — which helps explain why American Indians serve at higher per capita rates than almost any other group.

“The first thing I can remember is my father telling me about war,” Chief Apache John told the Last Great Indian Council in 1914. “At that time if an Indian wanted to win distinction, he must be a good man as well as a good fighter.” Courage was a quality to be prized, valor in combat a virtue.

Indians were not alone in placing a high premium on martial courage, of course. Until about the time Franklin and Penelope Rosemont started printing “Make Love, Not War” buttons and distributing them on the streets of Chicago in 1965, people tended to see war as an unavoidable part of the human condition, and it was a truth universally acknowledged that a society seeking to survive would need a sizable corps of men fierce enough to fight. Vergil, following Homer, sang “of arms” and the men who bore them.

But the progressivism that has flourished over the past half-century is not interested merely in eradicating war (a doomed, if well-intentioned, undertaking). It sees a self-evident evil in the martial virtues themselves. Progressives see not an America whose martial virtues have been exercised in defending and liberating but rather a jingoistic country that has used superior military force to conquer and brutalize. They would much prefer an army (if such a thing is necessary) of SNAGs: Sensitive New-Age Guys. American Indians such as Apache John, who embrace warrior glory rather than victim status, are not only unwelcome in the progressive vision but impossible. Like offensive team names, they need to be disappeared. 

Rewriting the history of American-Indian relations the way Waxman desires has nothing to do with Indians’ feelings or wishes. Unanimous tribal support for AR 70-28 would not convince Waxman that he is wrong — only that the timing is. Rather, the military’s capitulation to this latest demand would signify an admission of American guilt, which would bolster the progressive version of American history and ground new demands for sweeping policy changes. As long as institutions submit to the notion that America must be constantly repenting past injustices, real or imagined, those with the inclination to revise history will continue to demand concessions.

A military that renames its attack helicopters for flower children will eventually fight like them. America’s native peoples produced very fine warriors, whose courage and ferocity in battle were prized virtues. Christening our military equipment in their honor symbolizes our dedication to promoting those same qualities in our armed forces — and broadcasting that to our foes.

National security is not achieved by diplomats, or by experts in racial sensitivity, or even by editors at quarterly reviews. Diminishing a military’s militarism is a luxury no society can afford.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.

Warriors in the Sky
In a recent pique of political correctness, a column in the Washington Post criticized the tradition in the U.S. military of naming aircraft after American Indian tribes. Here’s a look at that tradition and some of the aircraft that have flown with proud warrior names. (Pictured, the AH-64 Apache)
Over the years, at least a dozen aircraft in the U.S. arsenal have used the names of American Indian tribes. The practice is part of official U.S. Army policy and a gesture of respect, with regulations requiring the blessing of tribal representatives. (Pictured, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters)
And blessings they do receive. Over the years, American Indian officials have participated in ceremonies with aircraft bearing their tribal namesake. Pictured, Apache tribal chairman Ronnie Lupe (center) performs a traditional sacred blessing to a new AH-64 helicopter in Mesa, Ariz., in 2011.
Spiritual leader George Ironshield takes part in a dedication ceremony for new UH-72 Lakota helicopters in Bismark, N.D., in 2012.
Young Lakota dancers perform at the Crazy Horse Memorial during a welcoming ceremony for new Lakota helicopters assigned to the South Dakota National Guard in May 2011.
A-36 Apache (Introduced: 1943): An early dive-bomber variant of the famous Mustang fighter, the Apache flew during the North African and Italian campaigns of WWII before being replaced by the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt in 1944. Only 500 were produced. (Photo: USAF)
An A-36A nicknamed "Doodle" at an airfield in Paestum, Italy, in 1943. (Photo: USAF)
H-13 Sioux (1945): One of the first helicopters to see regular use in a combat environment, the H-13 helped pioneer aerial medical evacuation, carrying two stretchers on outboard carriers. The Sioux was also used in a reconnaissance role.
An H-13 Sioux lifts off with wounded soldiers in the Korean conflict, a role dramatized on the long-running TV show M*A*S*H.
H-19 Chickasaw (1950): The all-purpose Chickasaw was flown by all service branches and was widely exported. It was used in the early days of the Vietnam War until being replaced by the H-34 Chocktaw, which was based on the Chickasaw design.
An H-19 Chickasaw takes on troops during the Korean War.
CH-21 Shawnee (1952): The oddly-shaped “flying banana” was a tandem-rotor cargo helicopter that saw service with the Army and Air Force during the Vietnam War until it was replaced by the Iroquis and Chinook. The Shawnee could carry up to 20 fully-equipped troops into battle.
South Vietnamese troops rush towards waiting CH-21 Shawnees during an operation against Viet Cong forces in 1962.
H-34 Choctaw (1955): Used by the Navy in an anti-submarine role, the Army’s variant proved a capable transport and heavy lift platform that is still in use in the civilian sector. One of the last piston-engined helos, the H-34 was flown by all service branches and saw extensive use in Vietnam. A UH-34 also served as the first Marine One helicopter.
An Air Force H-34 Choctaw hooks up to a O-1 Bird Dog plane at Da Nang Air Base in Vietnam, 1968. (Photo:
UH-1 Iroquois (1960): Popularly known as the “Huey,” the UH-1 was the iconic helicopter of the Vietnam War, where some 7,000 flew in both attack and troop transport roles. The Iroquis has flown with all service branches, with the Marines still flying a descendant design, and many are still in use in civilian industries.
Army troops leap from a UH-1 Iroquis during the Vietnam War. The conflict was a turning point in the use of rotor-wing aircraft to increase the mobility of ground troops.
CH-47 Chinook (1962): First deployed during Vietnam and continually upgraded, the venerable Chinook heavy-lift helicopter can carry more than seven tons of cargo or up to 33 troops. The Chinook is still in service with the Army and special forces units.
A pair of Army CH-47 Chinooks with the 160th Special Operations Air Regiment land aboard USS Peleliu, April 2014. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight)
OH-6 Cayuse (1966): A light helicopter used for personnel transportation and reconnaissance, the Cayuse's civilian variant, the Model 500, has seen wide use by law enforcement agencies. Another descendant, the MH-6 Little Bird, is flown by the Army’s Special Operations Air Regiment.
An OH-6 Cayuse on an airstrip in the central highlands of Vietnam, 1969.
OH-58 Kiowa (1969): A close cousin of its civilian counterpart the JetRanger, the Kiowa is a light and fast single-engine scout helicopter. The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior (shown) performs an armed reconnaissance role.
Two OH-58 Kiowas with the 101st Airborne Division on patrol in the skies over Zabul Province, Afghanistan in 2010. (Photo: Specialist Tracy R. Myers)
UH-60 Black Hawk (1974): The Black Hawk is the workhorse medium-lift utility helicopter used by the United States Army for transport, escort, and medevac roles. Various models of the UH-60 are also flown by the Air Force (Pave Hawk), Navy (Seahawk) and Coast Guard (Jayhawk).
A UH-60 Black Hawk heads in during Exercise Fused Response in Guyana, 2012. (Photo: Sergeant Teresha Neal Joiner)
AH-64 Apache (1986): The Army’s premiere attack helicopter was originally designed to kill Russian tanks in the European theater. Flown by a two-man crew, the nimble and deadly gunship has seen extensive use in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is also flown by allies including England and Israel.
An AH-64D Apache with the Army's FIrst Cavalry Division warms up on the tarmac at Camp Taji in Iraq, 2010. (Photo: Sergeant Alun Thomas)
UH-72 Lakota (2006): A militarized version of the EC145 Eurocopter, the Lakota is a light utility helicopter that has replaced many aging UH-1 and OH-58 aircraft. The Lakota can carry up to eight troops and is also used in a medevac role to ferry wounded personnel. (Photo: Staff Sergeant Timothy Chacon)
AH-56 Cheyenne (First flight: 1967): The Cheyenne was developed as a high-speed attack and escort helicopter for the Army, but after technical problems persisted the program was cancelled in 1972. The replacement program resulted in the AH-64 Apache, which shared the long, slim fuselage and tandem cockpit approach.
RAH-66 Comanche (First flight 1996): The Comanche was an advanced helicopter design intended to fulfill an armed reconnaissance, light attack, and air-combat role alongside the AH-64 Apache. The aircraft featured a five-bladed rotor and also incorporated stealth technology. The Comanche program was cancelled in 2004.
Updated: Jul. 03, 2014