"Black Hawk Down" - Hollywood drags bloody corpse of
truth across movie screens
by Larry Chin
January 3, 2002 -- True to its post-9/11 government-sanctioned role as US war propaganda headquarters, Hollywood has released "Black Hawk Down," a fictionalized account of the tragic 1993 US raid in Somalia. The Pentagon assisted with the production, pleased for an opportunity to "set the record straight." The film is a lie that compounds the original lie that was the operation itself.
Somalia: the facts
According to the myth, the Somalia operation of 1993 was a humanitarian mission, and a shining example of New World Order morality and altruism. In fact, US and UN troops waged an undeclared war against an Islamic African populace that was hostile to foreign interests.
Also contrary to the legend, the 1993 Somalia raid was not a "Clinton foreign policy bungle." In fact, the incoming Clinton administration inherited an operation that was already in full swing -- planned and begun by outgoing President George Herbert Walker Bush, spearheaded by deputy national security adviser Jonathan Howe (who remained in charge of the UN operation after Clinton took office), and approved by Colin Powell, then head of the Joint Chiefs.
The operation had nothing to do with humanitarianism or Africa-love on the part of Bush or Clinton. Several US oil companies, including Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips were positioned to exploit Somalia's rich oil reserves. The companies had secured billion-dollar concessions to explore and drill large portions of the Somali countryside during the reign of pro-US President Mohamed Siad Barre. (In fact, Conoco's Mogadishu office housed the US embassy and military headquarters.) A "secure" Somalia also provided the West with strategic location on the coast of Arabian Sea.
UN military became necessary when Barre was overthrown by warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid, suddenly rendering Somalia inhospitable to US corporate interests. Although the pretext for the mission was to safeguard food shipments, and stop the "evil Aidid" from stealing the food, the true UN goal was to remove Aidid from the political equation, and form a pro-Western coalition government out of the nation's warring clans. The US operation was met with "surprisingly fierce resistance" -- surprising to US officials who underestimated Somalian resolve, and even more surprising to US troops who were victims and pawns of UN policy makers.
The highly documented series by Mark Bowden of the Philadelphia Inquirer on which the film is based, focuses on the participants, and the "untenable" situation in which troops were placed. But even Bowden's gung-ho account makes no bones about provocative American attacks that ultimately led to the decisive defeat in Mogadishu.
Bowden writes: "Task Force Ranger was not in Mogadishu to feed the hungry. Over six weeks, from late August to Oct. 3, it conducted six missions, raiding locations where either Aidid or his lieutenants were believed to be meeting. The mission that resulted in the Battle of Mogadishu came less than three months after a surprise missile attack by U.S. helicopters (acting on behalf of the UN) on a meeting of Aidid clansmen. Prompted by a Somalian ambush on June 5 that killed more than 20 Pakistani soldiers, the missile attack killed 50 to 70 clan elders and intellectuals, many of them moderates seeking to reach a peaceful settlement with the United Nations. After that July 12 helicopter attack, Aidid's clan was officially at war with America -- a fact many Americans never realized."
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Somalis were killed in the course of US incursions that took place over three months. In his book The New Military Humanism, Noam Chomsky cites other under-reported facts. "In October 1993, criminal incompetence by the US military led to the slaughter of 1,000 Somalis by American firepower." Chomsky writes. "The official estimate was 6-10,000 Somali casualties in the summer of 1993 alone, two-thirds women and children. Marine Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni, who commanded the operation, informed the press that 'I'm not counting bodies . . . I'm not interested.' Specific war crimes of US forces included direct military attacks on a hospital and on civilian gatherings. Other Western armies were implicated in serious crimes as well. Some of these were revealed at an official Canadian inquiry, not duplicated by the US or other governments." Bowden's more forgiving account does not contradict Chomsky's in this regard:
"Official U.S. estimates of Somalian casualties at the time numbered 350 dead and 500 injured. Somalian clan leaders made claims of more than 1,000 deaths. The United Nations placed the number of dead at ``between 300 to 500.'' Doctors and intellectuals in Mogadishu not aligned with the feuding clans say that 500 dead is probably accurate.
The attack on Mogadishu was particularly vicious. Quoting Bowden: "The Task Force Ranger commander, Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison, testifying before the Senate, said that if his men had put any more ammunition into the city 'we would have sunk it.' Most soldiers interviewed said that through most of the fight they fired on crowds and eventually at anyone and anything they saw."
After 18 US Special Forces soldiers were killed in the final Mogadishu firefight, which included the downing of a US helicopter, television screens filled with the scene of a dead US soldier being dragged through the streets by jubilant Somalis. Clinton immediately called off the operation. US forces left Somalia in disgrace. Some 19,000 UN troops remained for a short period, but eventually left in futility.
The Somalia defeat elicited howls of protest and rage from the military brass, congressional hawks, and right-wing provocateurs itching for an excuse to declare political war on the "liberal" Clinton administration. The "Somalia syndrome" would dog Clinton throughout his presidency, and mar every military mission during his tenure.
Today, as right-wing extremist George W. Bush occupies the White House, surrounded by his father's operatives, and many of the architects of the original raid, military fanaticism is all the rage. A global war "without end" has just begun. What a perfect moment to "clean up" the past.
Hollywood to the rescue
In promoting the film, producer Jerry Bruckheimer (who rewrote another humiliating episode of US military history with "Pearl Harbor") is seeking to convince Americans that the Somalia operation was "not America's darkest hour, but America's brightest hour;" that a bungled imperialist intervention was a noble incident of grand moral magnificence.
CNN film reviewer Paul Tatara describes "Black Hawk Down" as "pound for pound, one of the most violent films ever released by a major studio," from "two of the most pandering, tactless filmmakers in Hollywood history (Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley Scott)" who are attempting to "teach us about honor among soldiers."
More important are the film's true subtexts, and the likely emotional reaction of viewers. What viewers see is "brave and innocent young American boys" getting shot at and killed for "no reason" by "crazy black Islamists" that the Americans are "just trying to help." (Subtext one: America is good, and it is impossible to understand why "they hate us." Subtext two: "Those damned ungrateful foreigners." Subtext three: "Those damned blacks." Subtext four: "Kill Arabs.")
What viewers will remember is a line spoken by one of the "brave soldiers" about how, in the heat of combat, "politics goes out the window." (Subtext one: there is no need for thought; shoot first, talk later. Subtext two: it is right to abandon one's sanity, morality and ethics when faced with chaos. Subtext three: when the Twin Towers went down on 9/11, America was right in embracing radical militarism and extreme violence, throwing all else "out the window.")
In the currently lethal political climate, in which testosterone rage, mob mentality, and love of war pass for normal behavior (while reason, critical thinking, and tolerance are considered treasonous), "Black Hawk Down" will appeal to the most violent elements of American society. Many who have seen the film report leaving the theater feeling angry, itching to "kick some ass." In short, the film is dangerous. And those who "love" it are dangerous. Considering the fact that Somalia is one of the targets in the next phase of the Bush administration's "war on terrorism," the timing of the film is no coincidence.
As Herbert London of the Hudson Institute said of "Black Hawk Down," "I would never deny the importance of heroism in battle, but just as we should recognize and honor heroes, we should also respect the truthfulness of the events surrounding their heroic acts. In the case of 'Black Hawk Down,' we get a lot of the former and almost nothing of the latter."
Larry Chin is a freelance journalist.