Black Hawk Down

It was reasonably predictable that a slew of patriotic films would follow September 11th. By the time you read this "Black Hawk Down" may, finally, have made an exit but following closely is "Behind enemy lines" and Mel Gibson's "We were soldiers" where America finally gets win the Vietnam war. I will shortly deal with the slack jawed excuse for a film that is Black Hawk Down but first a very short trip into history: what really happened!

On December 12th 1992 28,000 US soldiers moved into Somalia on a supposed humanitarian mission with the UN. In 10 months of occupation more then 10,000 Somalis died as a result of aggressive US military action. In reporting on the US/UN operation in Somalia the human rights group Africa Rights stated that "troops have engaged in abuses of human rights, including killing of civilians, physical abuse, theft....many UNOSOM soldiers have also displayed unacceptable levels of racism towards Somalis" The UN/USA force left shortly after the aborted attempt to kidnap Mohammad Farah Adid described in this film. They left behind a shattered country overrun with warring factions and starvation and it remains so today. The mission certainly did not succeed in its stated objectives.

The incidents involved in Black Hawk Down are described in the book by Mark Bowden. From the excerpts I've read the entire operation was clearly a piece of total military incompetence. But Hollywood's job is to transform an embarrassing defeat into a glorious victory. In the course of the days fighting 1000 Somalis died and 19 US rangers. In the film there are only 3 very short speaking parts for the Somalis or "skinnys" as the rangers call them (charming egh?). Their main purpose is to jump up, be mown down in sheets, leap on to bullets and generally look nasty. Each of the 19 rangers dies in loving slow motion with martial music shooting to the last clip, clutching photos of their loved ones wringing every ounce of sympathy. Indeed in this version of history, hey they could have made it if only Washington had of authorised some tanks and spectre gunship planes (..those fools in Congress) or if only the other UN troops hadn't of been so slow to act (..those god damn Pakistanis).

At the end of the film we get the name of every ranger killed - the "skinnys" remain nameless. In some ways they are like the alien creatures in director Ridley Scott's other film. Another even more meaningful comparison was made by John Patterson (Guardian February 1st) "what remains is basically a remake of "Zulu" with a tiny outfit hemmed in on all sides by a multitude of ululating savages".

Back in the real world we now know the name of every casualty of September 11th but none of the estimated 4100 Afghan civilians (thanks to the meticulous counting of P rofessor Marc Herold see for a link) killed up to December 20th. Most people will probably remember where they were when they heard about September 11th for the rest of their lives. But on that day, just like every other, 38,000 children died of starvation and related diseases - who remembers them?

Conor McLoughlin

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This edition is No69 published in March 2002

Workers Solidarty 69 cover