Mark Bowden's ''Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War'' is a minute by minute reconstruction of the climactic battle in the short, American military campaign in Mogadishu. The Battle of the Black Sea, as it is known, was the most serious firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War. Eighteen American soldiers were killed, and more than 70 wounded, in 15 hours of ferocious fighting. More than 500 Somalis combatants were killed, among more than a thousand casualties. Bowden, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, was not in Mogadishu at the time. But his account, built on interviews with battle participants and Army records, has great immediacy nevertheless. Although the Americans suffered some losses the United States clearly won the battle.
The author Mark Bowden shifts the narrative point of view, rapidly and regularly, from one battle participant to the next. The Rangers see themselves as ''predators, heavy metal avengers, unstoppable, invincible,'' and the book tells of the confusion and panic of individual soldiers as the operation begins to unravel. Black Hawk Down describes the type of men who become Rangers, very young (average age, 19), physically fit, highly motivated, white males and I came to know something about the remarkable array of weapons they carry. The indigenous people are known as ''Skinnies'' or ''Sammies.'' A limitation to the author's seeming omniscience becomes evident only when the battle grows desperate: you realize that the fighters to whose thoughts we are privy must be those who, however imperiled, survived.
Somalia had not had a central government since 1990, when its longtime dictator was overthrown by rebel factions. Warlords had so ravaged the nation battling among themselves that their people were starving to death. Then the world sent food, the clan leader hoarded it and killed those who tried to stop then. So the civilized world had decided to intervene. The United Nations, having taken responsibility for the American-led intervention, naturally preferred to have a government to which it could hand over authority. And so the international agency got into the ''nation-building'' business, seeking to reconcile Somalia's faction leaders to a power-sharing arrangement. But Mohammed Farah Aidid, whose Habr Gidr clan militia had been the main player ...
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...e a Democratic government.
Before this book was published, surprisingly little has been written about this conflict. Especially when you consider that it is one of our larger firefights in resent history. One thing in particular that stuck me as odd was that Washington considered the battle a “lost”. The battle was not lost. On the American side eighteen men were killed, and on the Somali side five hundred men were killed. This is an unbelievable ratio that shows the superior ability of our troops. Two of my cousins died in France, but I didn’t think we lost WW2. What kind of warped logic is this? As America changes from a nation of pioneers to a nation of immigrants, and from a nation filled with solidarity to a nation of pluralism, she has become intolerant to any loss of life in military conflicts. This sound contradictory to me and the book left me wondering why we send soldiers into battle anywhere if we can not tolerate any loss of human life. On the other hand the book provided an excellent first person perspective on war and I believe gained from the reading. I think it helps me to appreciate the sacrifice my kin and others have made for this nation.
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