The US intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s was called ‘Operation Restore Hope’. It was part of an ongoing UN mission in the country that brought despair, not hope. When the UN was forced to flee in 1995 Somalia was in tatters–the warlord General Aideed’s popularity had risen for resisting foreign intervention, an unknown number of Somalis had been killed (perhaps several thousand), and the country was further plunged into warring chaos that would last for years.
The film ‘Black Hawk Down’ is based on the book written by journalist Mark Bowden. It concentrates on the battle in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on 3 October, when US troops attempted to arrest two of General Aideed’s lieutenants. However, the operation ended in disaster–two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, and in the ensuing battle 18 Americans and between 500 and 1,000 Somalis were killed. The film follows the experiences of a number of American soldiers involved in the massacre. The first scene shows Somali gunmen killing civilians while US forces watch, frustrated that they are unable to intervene because they are paralysed by the UN’s rules of engagement. The film claims that US forces were there to ensure humanitarian aid could be distributed across the country, and to ‘restore order and stability’ to the region. This is utter rubbish–the US had come to fight.
Most of the film is one long and violent battle scene. It shows American forces trapped in the city, desperately fighting their way out. The Somalis, ‘skinnies’ as the US forces call them, are only objects to be killed. They are either a marauding mob brandishing weapons or a frenzied crowd mercilessly cheering on the militias who are attacking US soldiers. The only Somali we hear tells us ‘There will always be killing, this is how things are in our world.’ The film celebrates the camaraderie of the US soldiers, who we see fighting heroically to ensure, as the publicity for the film states, that they ‘leave no man behind’. The Somalis resemble drugged zombies high on war and murder. The only note of criticism is reserved for the White House for not being sufficiently behind ‘our boys’.
The film is a racist carnival that dehumanises Somalis. It does not show the routine atrocities and killings perpetrated by the US forces–on the contrary, it concentrates solely on the humanity of the occupying soldiers. When an injured pilot runs out of ammunition he pulls out a photo of his wife, which we see him trying to hold on to as he is beaten to death by a homicidal mob. One of the final scenes in the film shows American troops retreating from the city on 4 October. Lining their retreat are crowds of ordinary people cheering and clapping. This is meant to show the ruthlessness of the Somalis, but the truth is that their resistance and sacrifice managed to force a superpower to withdraw. As the titles come up there is a full list of the Americans killed, but not a single Somali is remembered.
The context of the film is clearly the aftermath of 11 September. The producer was determined to capitalise on the ‘war fever’, and insisted that it was released three months ahead of time. When Ridley Scott, who directed the film, was asked if he made propaganda he replied that he didn’t, but he said he would be pleased if the film helped the country. Do not be mistaken–the film is propaganda for Bush’s wars.
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