Friday, February 13, 2009

No. 13 - Black Hawk Down

by Mark Bowden

Started: February 13
Finished: February 20

Notes: Yep, saw the movie. Wanted to read the book, too. This is the true story of U.S. inolvement in the attempt to capture two underbosses of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid in the early 1990s. As a newspaper editor at the time, I remember the tragedy of the events, and the tragic photo images I saw from the Associated Press. The majority of these photos were not shown to the public, and definitely not at the newspaper where I worked, which is as it should have been.

Mini review: There are too many emotional responses from this book for me to easily list them all. Frustration. Anger. Sadness. And admiration. At it's most basic, this was a situation where everything that could go wrong pretty much did go wrong. There were sometimes ill decisions, all the way from the commander in chief down to even individual soldiers. There was bad timing. There were misunderstandings. There was bad luck. There were far too many deaths in a military operation that in theory should have gone down smoothly and swiftly. But among all this there were also moments of heroism, moments of pride and sometimes even dark humor. Anyone with interests in military history, especially recent history and U.S. military history, should read this book.

9 comments:

von Darkmoor said...

Why "which is as it should have been"?

Ty Johnston said...

Most of the photos were of the bodies of dead U.S. Rangers or Delta guys (can't remember which exactly, though it might have been both since both were involved in the initial extraction) being drug through the streets by Somali crowds. Then the bodies were strung up.

I don't think Americans need to see that. Whether they want to see it or not and whether they have a legal right to see it or not are issues that are debatable, I suppose. But I, as a journalist at the time, felt it would have been unethical to show such images to the civilian population at large. Let alone what I felt would be a great disservice to the families of the deceased.

I know some of the images did make it into a few newspapers and I'd guess they're out there on the Web somewhere. But of the few photos I remember seeing in other newspapers, I don't ever remember seeing the absolute worst of the photos printed. And they were available on the AP wire. Probably some of the most graphic, violent images I've seen in my life.

Besides the fact I've been a journalist nearly all my adult life, I've never been a proponent of mixing journalists with military. I think it hinders military objectives way too much, though I suppose journalism can sometimes help those objectives, too.

von Darkmoor said...

Understood and mostly agree. On most points. I agree media and military should not be as mixed as they are now, nor should information be as promptly and readily available. I highly doubt if the beach-hopping assaults of the Pacific War during WWII were happening today and the American public was viewing the mass deaths of our men in real-time that America would have won the war, let alone remained in the war. The outcry would have been huge.

On the other hand, I think that what is done to US should not be hidden. Americans are visually-stimulated visceral reactors to what f's us up. As evidenced by 9-11 and its aftermath, take away the visual stimulus, and the majority cave in and forget in no time.

Sure, it's emotional-incitement of the people. Could be argued to be a form of brainwashing or propagandizing. BUT so f'ing what!? If we are so weak as to forget when it's not in front of our faces, that is what we must do.

Ty Johnston said...

I mostly agree with you, too. However, I don't think images of violence (even against fellow Americans) would drive most in the U.S. to jump up and shout, "Something must be done!"

9/11 was an exception, but I think it takes something that huge and close to home to really get Americans riled up again. If it happens overseas, it seems like it's out-of-sight and out-of-mind, even when it involves U.S. troops (for the most part).

If such photos would get Americans up off their duffs to do something, I would never have been so hesitant to run the images. Unfortunately, in my experience, the reaction to such things is always a negative backlash at the media, blaming them for running the pictures instead of blaming those truly at fault.

Another reason I'm glad I'm out of the business.

von Darkmoor said...

You raise good points regarding "over-seas, out of mind" and "blame the media, not the culprits."

Hate that those characteristics are so American AND so ignorant, though.

...now let's go talk of finer things, like how much I appreciate your approval/like-age of the RotB cover art :)

Ty Johnston said...

No prob! I love talking about RBE stuff. And yep, your RoTB covers are fantastic so far. I'm betting the rest will be just as good.

Can't wait to get a copy of RoTB for myself. Not only great stories, but I'm excited to find out what the next RBE anthology project will be.

NewGuyDave said...

Ty,
Did you write something for RotB?

Ty Johnston said...

Hey Dave,
I did indeed write a story for RoTB, but I was busy editing some novels at the time and couldn't get my act together to get the story submitted to RBE in time. Since then the story has been finished and is sitting in a slush pile at another publication, but time will tell if it will sell.
It happens.
Meanwhile, I'm now between novels and I'm having some fun working on some short stories.

Bruce said...

Black Hawk Down is one of my favourite Ridley Scott movies. I read the book shortly after and found it equally compelling. The sad result of the entire affair was Clinton pulling out of Somalia due to public outrage over the photos and footage, an outrage that altered their peacekeeping strategy. This was most evident the following year when they did nothing during the Rwanda genocide. Public opinion can be a dangerous thing.