Courage Under Fire

ost Americans observe war through a collection of cloudy lenses--limited media coverage, nationalism and personal experiences skew the portrayal of the frontline. This is especially true of battles tinged by politics. Based on a book by the same name, Black Hawk Down attempts to clarify an infamous 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia--a mission that was deemed a total failure by American politicians and media for all the wrong reasons.

In December, 1992, President George Bush sent troops to Somalia with two objectives--to offer humanitarian aid to Somali people, who were being ethnically massacred by terrorist warlords, and to stifle the various terrorist groups (budding bin Ladens who now make up cells of al-Qaeda). President Bill Clinton inherited the mission in 1993. Poorly explained to the domestic public, the humanitarian effort was largely unpopular--Americans do not support foreign war when it is not sold well. Also, the Republican Party, sensing weakness in the new president's foreign policy, openly argued against the mission, largely blaming its failures on Clinton.

Black Hawk Down impressively dismantles the foregoing myth. To civilians, safe in their homes and congressional offices, the war was some kind of political power struggle--culminating in a botched mission that resulted in the deaths of 19 American servicemen. But Black Hawk Down hammers the audience with the viewpoint of the soldiers. The film explains that our brave servicemen don't give a damn about politics and politicians when they are at war--their patriotism and their actions are defined by their commitment to each other and to the greater cause. Combined with a sense of honor that most politicians do not seem to understand, the fraternal quality of American armed forces drives its members and our missions.

Despite its clear anti-war-for-political-gain message (and it's ringing endorsement of the bravura of our troops and the importance of humanitarianism), Black Hawk Down does not come across as too political. In an impressive display of restraint and clarity, director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have created a near-virtuous film. The film's ensemble cast--Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard and many others--handles the weighty material well, mimicking the camaraderie and dependence displayed by our troops.

Make no mistake--the mission on that awful day in Somalia was a disaster. Black Hawk Down does not hide the truth of the brutality. But unlike the politicized American accounts, the film reminds us that the raid also resulted in the death of over 1,000 Somali warlord troops. More importantly, Black Hawk Down deals with the gritty reality of war that American politicians and press often overlook.


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