Black Hawk Down is significant because it not only documents the events of The Battle of the Black Sea but also addresses diverse social and political issues. Throughout the book, Bowden (1999) uses the contrast between images of the hell of the reckless warfare and life stories of soldiers on both sides to raise the rhetorical question regarding the necessity of the US military involvement in Somalia, the nature of war in general and the influence it has on the lives of soldiers and civilians.
Black Hawk Down presents a narrative battle log of the US Special Forces operation The Battle of the Black Sea, which took place on October 3, 1993, in Somalia. The goal of this military mission was to abduct two lieutenants of the Somalian dictator Mohammed Farrah Aidid. The operation involved about 100 US soldiers including Rangers and Delta squads covered by Black Hawk helicopters. Rangers are the infantry unit of the US Army, and Delta is the elite counter-terrorism unit that deals with special operations. The mission was supposed to last no more than an hour, but instead, it ended on October 4 and resulted in 19 American soldiers dead and hundreds of Somalian casualties. The breaking point in the battle occurred when two of the Black Hawks helicopters have been hit. Having lost the air support, the ground combat forces found themselves outnumbered and had to defend against hundreds of Somalian gunmen on the completely hostile territory. Black Hawk Down is written in a narrative journalism genre, which means that Bowden had conducted an extensive research to reconstruct the events of the operation prior to writing his book. However, the purpose of this book is not only to tell about the events but also to show how those events undermine the social and political views of their participants.
Mark Bowden addresses the issues of soldiers’ perception and their views on a war very thoroughly. The author does this to a great extent by recognizing numerous soldiers who have fought in The Battle of the Black Sea. Bowden (1999) presents the thorough description of life stories of many troop members allowing learning why each decided to join the army. The main character’s backgrounds do not only bring greater realism but also helps to perceive the book’s main themes from different perspectives. Thus, Bowden (1999) presents the fighting through the eyes of its various participants, including the Somalian fighters whom he had bribed in order to take interviews. The result of these efforts is a powerful image of brutal urban warfare that levels down people with different worldviews and motivations into killing each other just to stay alive.
One of the major militarism issues Bowden discusses in his Black Hawk Down is the failure of the US Army command to successfully use the intelligence and successfully plan the operation. One of the most interesting things about the events of The Battle of the Black Sea is that there had not been any systematic research and very little US government involvement in the investigation. The book, published in 1999, turned to be the best account of those events. Bowden has recorded detailed chronicle that serves more than decent compensation for the lack of official research. With the use of the facts Bowden has collected, the book highlights and defines the mistakes and complications, both avoidable and unavoidable that led the US military command and forces to lose control over the mission progress. In fact, taking into account the logistical difficulties of the preparation, completing of the mission, and failure to predict the enemies’ use of modified rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and the fierceness of their response in general, the issue of estimating the fault of the intelligence and command’s decision-making still remains an open question.
In a forthright and unbiased epilogue, Bowden (1999) discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the operation and its goals and changes the book’s focus from the events of the battle to a debate over the US foreign policy. Black Hawk Down serves as a reminder that the lives of real people are put on the stake, because of the decision of administrative policy, particularly those that involve the application of combat power.
One of the most significant issues in the novel is the relationship between the soldiers. Particularly between Rangers and Deltas, and the way these relationship influences on the outcome of the battle. The Delta Forces are elite soldiers who function independently and are given wide flexibility to fulfill their objectives. They were confident and seem to be able to do what they thought was right, because their “instincts” are never wrong. Being outside the loop of regular Army procedure, Deltas defy many rules, from haircuts to obeying senior officers. In the barracks, Deltas showed open arrogance toward Rangers. Rangers are young boys, and many of them have just graduated from school. That is why they tend to envy and idolize Deltas. The relationships between Deltas and Rangers create a substantial tension in the operation. Delta members often supposed that less-skilled Rangers were holding them back. Rangers try to imitate Deltas, and that causes the violation of discipline and tension with their own commanding officers, which tend to be overprotective to those Ranger members who fancy Deltas. Bowden pays close attention to this issue as it turned to be very significant. Special Forces unit inspires the Rangers, but it has a drawback too. When in the rage of the battle, several Rangers retreat their positions in order to follow Deltas, and by that exposing other squad mates, Rangers’ captain Steele shouts, “Now the very breakdowns the captain had feared were happening when it mattered most” (Bowden 1999, p. 174). Another reason why Rangers appeal Delta is that of close resemblance of the latter to the “Hollywood” war-heroes. Bowden (1999) attempts to make a point of the significance of interpersonal and intergroup relations as they have a great impact on the outcome of the battle. The tensions within the troops created damaged the soldiers’ morale as much as the unexpected Somalian resistance did.
Under the circumstances of heavy Somalian resistance, the squad’s integrity was damaged as Deltas and Rangers behaved differently during the battle and failed to cooperate properly. It is worth pointing to the Bowden’s perfect work in keeping the reader oriented through capturing one of the most important elements — the confusion of battle. Bowden (1999) describes how Ranger troops lose control under heavy fire and that their discipline collapses. Some of them have never been under fire before. Bowden (1999) records that one of Rangers joined the military due to his wife’s pregnancy and the need for a well-paid job with a health plan. Bowden (1999) is not concerned about producing glorious event out of a military disaster. Among all the issues raised in his book, he questions whether these young men have been killed for a reason or died for nothing.
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The answer to those questions lies in the background of the US interference in Somalia that included long-term involvement in the country and its part in creating the disastrous situation through the support for the malicious dictator Siad Barre. The US had begun aiding Barre in the mid-1970s in order to lower the Soviet Union’s influence in the country. The US government poured millions worth modern weapons into Somalia, and, in return, expected to gain a base with a strategically beneficial location against the Middle East. Barre’s rule had led to clan wars and famine throughout Somalia. He dealt with opposition ruthlessly, razing cities to the ground in his attempts to destroy opponents. Through these years, every young citizen in Somalia learned to use weapons. When Barre was overthrown, the US forces had to evacuate. A year later, the attempt to regain control over the point was made, but it proved unsuccessful. However, the administration of the US president has shown its persistence in completing unfinished business in the Middle East (Talbot 2002). The historical background and the events prior to The Battle of the Black Sea are vital for understanding why Bowden criticizes the US foreign policy. The American government attempted to remove Aidid not only because he was an anti-democratic dictator, but also because he refused to cooperate with the USA as Barre did. The book addresses the political issue to the same extent it addresses the issue of war. Geopolitical ambitions of the US administration led to a devaluation of human life. It can be easily concluded that the point that Bowden is trying to make is that the government in making decisions to land in the midst of the foreign hostile territory does concerns about the losses, not mentioning collateral damage and civilian deaths.
Bowden (1999) attaches significance not only to political aspects but also to social ones. Though the issues of race and gender are not prevailing, the book reports on the racist, the sexist and colonialist language of the US militaries. For example, the woman that is shot for having grenades in a basket is called “a bitch,” and the American soldiers refer to the Somalians as “skinnies.” However, Bowden (1999) sends the message that racism and sexism are not a part of the modern combatant’s mentality, as he can shoot equally at men and women of any race. On the other hand, the book might promote both racism and patriotism. US soldiers, who though being outnumbered by the Somalians and having casualties, managed to complete the mission. This fact creates the impression that the USA is mistreated by the country of the non-white people who do not appreciate American values of peace and democracy, and its intentions to help. Yet 500 Somalians died during the events of The Battle of the Black Sea, compared to 18 Americans.
Despite the seemingly peace-making motives, a great number of civilians stood against the Americans and were killed, that is why the issue of resistance is significant in the book. The troops have departed to Somalia in order to rescue its citizens. What Bowden has achieved to present in the right way is the other side of the battle. Bowden (1999) makes an insightful point that while the US Army flew to Somalia considering that its citizens must need rescuing, this proved to be not entirely true. What began as simply a humanitarian mission to bring food to the starved people and medication, later turned into military aggression between US forces and Somali war clans, with civilians trapped between the cross-fire. Bowden (1999) delivers numerous descriptions of Somalian people showing that a great amount of those who fought the US militaries were civilians that had just been angry at the Americans for invading their country. It is rational that local people rushed into the streets to oppose the US invaders, as they would have seen Americans. Somalians were being angry due to US interference into inner political and social life of the country. It is obvious that before American troops landed in Somalia Aidid has not been popular among citizens. However, the battle in Mogadishu had led to something similar to an uprising. Unexpectedly for US troops, the whole city wanted suddenly to assist in killing Americans.
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The author shows the face of war and resistance in urban areas when women and children help the Somalian warfighters in their struggle against the American invaders.
Black Hawk Down tells a thrilling story, but, what is more important, it describes important issues of what America’s military forces can and cannot do. The Mark Bowden’s book, like most of the best realism-oriented books about war, is timeless, but the themes it touches are timely today, as the US administration continues its aggressive eternal policy and send more men to foreign lands.
- Bowden, M 1999, Black Hawk down: A story of modern war, Penguin, New York.
- Talbot, 2002, Black Hawk down: Naked propaganda masquerading as entertainment, viewed 29 March 2014.