Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War

Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War - Mark Bowden Bowden's book is every bit as riveting as the film based upon it, every bit as harrowing and visceral. It takes us minute by minute through the terrible battle on the streets of Mogadishu in Somalia on October 3, 1993. The American mission to capture two of clan warlord Aidid's top people was supposed to "take an hour" and at first seemed like it would be completed within minutes of their taking off from base. But then a black hawk helicopter went down, then another, and "ninety-nine American soldiers [were] surrounded and trapped" overnight and fighting for their lives. These were elite soldiers. The Rangers were volunteers thrice over--they had to choose the army, then the airborne, then the Rangers. And the Delta Force soldiers were the elite of the elite. They were what the Rangers aspired to be. They were backed by observation helicopters, on ground intelligence, spy planes and satellites. Their average age was only 19. The account of the warfare is detailed and spools before your inner eye as vividly as any film--it reads like a novel. In his Afterward Bowden writes about how he tried to efface himself from the story, that he tried to "get out of its way." I greatly appreciated that--I think in another book I read recently, Blood Diamonds, the author was too much in the story. This story was seemless and felt authentic--what came through was the voices and humanity and courage of the soldiers. It was hard to read at times--Bowden doesn't pull any punches in graphically relating what bullets and shrapnel does to vulnerable flesh and bone. But you do feel like he gives you the most vivid account of modern warfare possible without going into combat yourself. I not only learned about the combatants from both sides, but why the mission was almost inevitably doomed to failure. In that regard the Somali perspectives were invaluable. Not simply because they humanized "the enemy" but because of their explanation of how the initially welcomed American intervention soured for them. As one Somali put it, the Americans "were trying to take down a clan--the most ancient and efficient social organization known to man." And the experience in Somali haunted US Foreign Policy to at least the events of 9/11. As one US State Department Official put it, "Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and the killing continue because they want it to--or they don't want peace enough to stop it." As a result, for better or worse America didn't get involved in Rwanda or Zaire's bloody civil conflicts. As a result of that firefight in Mogadishu, 18 American soldiers lost their lives, and 73 were wounded. The toll on the Somali side was horrific. "Conservative counts numbered five hundred dead among more than a thousand casualties." Even more sobering? It's twenty years later, and Somalia is still a "failed state" in the midst of war. And after that battle in Mogadishu, no one in the international community cares to come between them killing each other. A gripping and unforgettable book.