Bowden, Mark. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. New York: Grove Press, 1999.
On the afternoon of October 3, 1993, more than one hundred and sixty men prepare themselves with a mission to capture the two men. Following the starvation of Somalis, food is brought into the country but the people do not benefit from it as warlords store it and in turn, cause further starvation among the people. However, the mission on that day targets the two men, Salad Omar and Awale Mohammed, the lieutenants of Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The rangers manage to capture the two men and twenty-two other Somali nationals in the first building they raid. After years of civil unrest, the Somali men possess weapons and do not hesitate to use them against the Americans while using women, children, and cows as shields. In the end, they shoot down two black hawk planes and a skirmish ensues between the two opposing sides.
In Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, the author aims at bringing to light the causes of the bloodbath that took place in Bakara Market and its environs. The reports made on
the same depict a lot of hostility and anger directed towards the American troops. To understand the causes of the events that took place on October 3, 1993 and the following days after that, there is need for a thorough analysis of the opposing sides and their reasons behind the actions they took.
On the fateful day, one hundred and twenty American soldiers were deployed into the heart of Mogadishu Somalia. According to Bowden, “Their mission was to abduct several top lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and return to base” (1) The mission entailed the capture and arrest of Salad Omar and Awale Mohammed the top aiders of Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Salad Omar was the top political adviser to the warlord while Awale Mohammed was the foreign minister to the same. The American forces believed that the arrest of these two men would cripple Aidid’s command and would in turn stop his hoarding of food meant for Somali people.
According to Bowden, after years of civil unrest, Somalia had a number of warlords who in turn had men and weapons to fight against any threat. To attest to the statement on men and weapons, he writes that, “when Yousuf Dahir Mo'Alim heard the helicopters come in low, he grabbed his M-16 and quickly rounded up his 26-man militia. They had two bazookas, two rocket propelled grenades, and a more modern Russian antitank weapon” (35). Mo’Alim has men and weaponry under his command and he does not hesitate to use them. Bowden’s inclusion of the amount of weaponry the Somalis have explains the aggressiveness and determination to fight seen among the Somalis. They were not afraid of the American soldiers because they knew they had weapons. Mo’Alim is just an example used to show the presence of Somali militia in Baraka Market and the kind of weapons they possess.
The amount of weapons and the number of men the warlords have is a clear indicator of the danger posed against the Americans. However, not just the militias have weapons, but the civilians seem to possess guns that they do not hesitate to use on the American troops. This led to confusion as the rangers had specific orders not to shoot civilians, women, and children during the operation. The fighting men were aware of this because, “Mo'Alim's fighters tried to stay together in the crowds of people moving toward the battle, knowing the Americans would be less likely to shoot at combatants surrounded by unarmed civilians”(36). Here, Bowden tries to explain why the American troops hesitated to use full force against the people. The troops had loaded weapons and were trained soldiers. Regardless of the numbers, if they had been in actual battleground, more Somalia civilians would have died. It can be argued that Bowden saw the Somalis as cowards, they even used children, and women as shields, something an American soldier would never think of doing.
Bowden includes the above statements in his narration to show his readers the amount of danger that faced the Americans. The detail he uses to describe the amount of weaponry that was available to the Somalis should also be taken into consideration because the same weapons were used to bring down the black hawks and kill part of the troop. He mentions a particular group and there were more groups in the city that had access to the same amount of weapons. Couple that with the confusion the Americans were in and the resulting battle could not be avoided. If the troop chose not to fight the Somalia nationals and concentrate of the targets, none of them would have survived another day.
With the evidence of militia and weapons in mind, the reaction exhibited by the natives towards the Americans is the next reason behind the battle. For starters, “In some parts of town the men would shake their fists at the Rangers as they drove past” (3). another reaction is seen in the case of Ali, A Somali boy Bowden writes about in the book. Once aware of the Americans in his hometown, Ali goes towards the scuffle while thinking of killing an American ranger for they spread bullets and death (32). Both statements show the anger the Somali nationals feel towards the Americans. Besides, their act of dragging the bodies of dead American soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu show the level of hostility and disregard the Somalis feel towards the American troops.
While providing background information on the mission, Bowden points out that the tension between America and Aidid’s clan dated back to almost a year before the skirmish. According to him, “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 U. N.) on a meeting of Aidid clansmen” (1) The missile attack caused the deaths of an estimated fifty to seventy people belonging to Aidid’s clan. The clan occupies most of the area around Bakara Market and so the people were aware of what had transpired. The quote explains the Somali’s negative attitudes towards America and at the same time shows the tense relationship between the two countries. It is possible that the outcomes of the battle were caused by vengeance on the Somalis’ side.
When the Black Hawks are shot at, there are two crash sites but one is contained by the American troops on the ground. Still, the American men have to retaliate by firing gunshots to the mob and vigilante men who surround the helicopters when they crash. Again, previous history between America and Aidid’s clan dictates vengeance of the Somalis’ part and it is possible that they all went in to ensure it takes place. Ali’s thoughts gives evidence to this as Bowden writes, “Ali moved on to the next street, leaving Adan with two friends. He would shoot a Ranger or die trying” (32) Ali’s thoughts are probably an echo of what every other Somali man is thinking. In addition, surrounding the helicopter gives the Somalis an advantage as they get to shoot at close range and ensure the Americans do not escape. They manage to kidnap Durant.
Durant Mike’s abduction came after Mo’Alim’s intervention and decision to take him hostage and use him as a pawn against the Americans. Him being a Somali national and a commander in Aidid’s clan means that the people have to listen to his words. The people also listen to their own because with the threat of Americans looming over them, the best option would be to unite their strengths. For instance, because the soldiers managed to capture Salad Omar and Awale Mohammed, Mo’Alim voiced his idea of using Durant in an exchange with the Americans for all captured Somalis. Mike Durant was Black Hawk super sixty-four’s pilot and the only survivor of that crew. He was abducted and later released after President Clinton ordered Aidid to set him free. His freedom saw that of the arrested Somali’s take place later.
Finally yet importantly, it important to highlight that religion played little to no part in the skirmish. Bowden’s inclusion of a conversation between the irate Somali men and Saudi troops is the first evidence of this fact. According to Bowden, the Saudi men state that, “This is an American soldier,'' one of the Saudis said. ``If he is dead, why are you doing this? Aren't you a human being?” (122) and at the same time, “Bashir Haji Yusuf was disgusted and ashamed by what he saw” (122). Both cases show that not all Muslims were in support of the actions taken by the Somali men who severed the limbs of dead American Rangers and dragged the body of the dead through the streets of Mogadishu. Bowden’s inclusion of these facts curbs the assumption that Islam led to the hatred portrayed by Somalia towards the Americans. The reasons behind the bloodbath and its aftermath lay within one particular clan and its need for vengeance against America.
The Somalis retaliation, as discussed, was because of what they considered interference by the Americans and murder of their people. Aidid was after all part of their clan and so were the men who were murdered before the events of Black Hawk Down. When the helicopters crashed, the people saw a chance to fight back but instead, more Somalis lay dead while the Americans lost eighteen men. America was seen as bringer of death, rather than aid and was in turn forced to leave Somalia to its own devices.
The narration’s readability is another factor that Bowden takes care of in the novel. He uses simple English that is understood by different ages and English speaking countries all over the world. He even adds a little humor in the story. For example, he writes “Nelson saw a man with a weapon ride out into the open - on a cow. There were about eight other men around the animal, some with weapons. Nelson didn't know whether to laugh or shoot” (30). Despite the seriousness of the situation, Bowden’s impeccable writing gives readers a pause from the tension building up before he goes back to the doomed Rangers. In addition, Bowden’s research is thorough and offers insight to the events that led to a gruesome end to the lives of American soldiers and Somalia citizens. He goes further and allows survivors to narrate what happened, and in turn, reassures readers and his peers on the validity of the information he gives in the novel. His ability to give the story while relying on the given information helps in assuring his audience that the story is indeed legitimate and has value to those affected by the October 3, 1993 scenes of carnage.
With respect, in Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, the author aims at bringing to light the causes of the bloodbath that took place in Bakara Market and its environs. Indeed the battle was not premeditated and both teams seem to be overtaken by events. Bowden’s argument stands because the blotched mission led to an unplanned confrontation and killings of both the Americans and Somalia citizens involved. In the end, America had to withdraw from the pursuit of the warlord and Somalia continues to experience civil unrest, hunger, and extreme poverty to this day. His argument stands because of different reasons. Somalia, the attacking force, lost more men than the America although they were the ones attacked. Second, not all people in Somalia shared the sentiments of Aidid’s clan, instead, some exhibit shock and displeasure over the incident. Finally, the Somalis had reason to feel vengeful but were unable to act upon it until that fateful day. If it were planned, they might have taken the war to America instead of waiting for the helicopters to crash.
Bowden, Mark. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. New York: Grove Press, 2010.