Lee #2 This space is reserved for Your response Will post it anonymously as always
Both saviour and victim
Black Hawk Down creates a new and dangerous
myth of American nationhood George Monbiot
Guardian Tuesday January 29, 2002
The more powerful a nation becomes, the more it asserts its
In contemporary British eyes, the greatest atrocities
of the 18th and 19th centuries were those perpetrated on
compatriots in the Black Hole of Calcutta or during the Indian
mutiny and the siege of Khartoum.
The extreme manifestations of the white man's burden, these
events came to symbolise the barbarism and ingratitude of the
savage races the British had sought to rescue from their darkness.
Today the attack on New York is discussed as if it were the
worst thing to have happened to any nation in recent times. Few
would deny that it was a major atrocity, but we are required to
offer the American people a unique and exclusive sympathy.
Now that demand is being extended to earlier American losses.
Black Hawk Down looks set to become one of the bestselling
movies of all time. Like all the films the British-born director
Ridley Scott has made, it is gripping, intense and beautifully
shot. It is also a stunning misrepresentation of what happened
In 1992 the United States walked into Somalia with good
intentions. George Bush senior announced that America had
come to do "God's work" in a nation devastated by clan warfare
and famine. But, as Scott Peterson's firsthand account Me
Against My Brother shows, the mission was doomed by
intelligence failures, partisan deployments and, ultimately, the
belief that you can bomb a nation into peace and prosperity.
Before the US government handed over the administration of
Somalia to the United Nations in 1993, it had already made
several fundamental mistakes. It had backed the clan chiefs
Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi against another warlord,
shoring up their power just as it had started to collapse. It had
failed to recognise that the competing clan chiefs were ready to
accept large-scale disarmament, if it were carried out
impartially. Far from resolving the conflict between the clans, the
US accidentally enhanced it.
After the handover, the UN's Pakistani peacekeepers tried to
seize Aideed's radio station, which was broadcasting anti-UN
propaganda. The raid was bungled, and 25 of the soldiers were
killed by Aideed's supporters. A few days later, Pakistani troops
fired on an unarmed crowd, killing women and children. The
United Nations force, commanded by a US admiral, was drawn
into a blood feud with Aideed's militia.
As the feud escalated, US special forces were brought in to deal
with the man now described by American intelligence as "the
Hitler of Somalia". Aideed, who was certainly a ruthless and
dangerous man but also just one of several clan leaders
competing for power in the country, was blamed for all Somalia's
troubles. The UN's peacekeeping mission had been transformed
into a partisan war.
The special forces, over-confident and hopelessly ill-informed,
raided, in quick succession, the headquarters of the UN
development programme, the charity World Concern and the
offices of Midecins sans Frontieres. They managed to capture,
among scores of innocent civilians and aid workers, the chief of
the UN's police force. But farce was soon repeated as tragedy.
When some of the most senior members of Aideed's clan
gathered in a building in Mogadishu to discuss a peace
agreement with the United Nations, the US forces, misinformed
as ever, blew them up, killing 54 people. Thus they succeeded
in making enemies of all the Somalis. The special forces were
harried by gunmen from all sides. In return, US troops in the UN
compound began firing missiles at residential areas.
So the raid on one of Aideed's buildings on October 3 1993,
which led to the destruction of two Black Hawk helicopters and
the deaths of 18 American soldiers, was just another round of
America's grudge match with the warlord. The troops who
captured Aideed's officials were attacked by everyone: gunmen
came even from the rival militias to avenge the deaths of the
civilians the Americans had killed. The US special forces, with
an understandable but ruthless regard for their own safety,
locked Somali women and children into the house in which they
Ridley Scott says that he came to the project without politics,
which is what people often say when they subscribe to the
dominant point of view. The story he relates (with the help of the
US department of defence and the former chairman of the joint
chiefs of staff) is the story the American people need to tell
The purpose of the raid on October 3, Black Hawk Down
suggests, was to prevent Aideed's murderous forces from
starving Somalia to death. No hint is given of the feuding
between him and the UN, other than the initial attack on the
Pakistani peacekeepers. There is no recognition that the worst
of the famine had passed, or that the US troops had long
ceased to be part of the solution. The US hostage-taking, even
the crucial role played by Malaysian soldiers in the Rangers'
rescue, have been excised from the record. Instead - and since
September 11 this has become a familiar theme - the attempt to
capture Aideed's lieutenants was a battle between good and evil,
civilisation and barbarism.
The Somalis in Black Hawk Down speak only to condemn
themselves. They display no emotions other than greed and the
lust for blood. Their appearances are accompanied by sinister
Arab techno, while the US forces are trailed by violins, oboes
and vocals inspired by Enya. The American troops display
horrific wounds. They clutch photos of their loved ones and ask
to be remembered to their parents or their children as they die.
The Somalis drop like flies, killed cleanly, dispensable,
Some people have compared Black Hawk Down to the British
film Zulu. There is some justice in the comparison, but the
Somalis here offer a far more compelling personification of evil
than the blundering, belligerent Zulus. They are sinister, deceitful
and inscrutable; more like the British caricature of the Chinese
during the opium wars.
What we are witnessing in both Black Hawk Down and the
current war against terrorism is the creation of a new myth of
nationhood. America is casting itself simultaneously as the
world's saviour and the world's victim; a sacrificial messiah, on a
mission to deliver the world from evil. This myth contains
incalculable dangers for everyone else on earth.
To discharge its sense of unique grievance, the US government
has hinted at what may become an asymmetric world war. It is
no coincidence that Somalia comes close to the top of the list of
nations it may be prepared to attack. This war, if it materialises,
will be led not by the generals in their bunkers, but by the
people who construct the story the nation chooses to believe.