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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Somalia at the movies

There's a post at America magazine's blog about sending aid to Somalia, so when I saw the movie Black Hawk Down at the library, I picked it up to watch. The 2001 film, based on the book of the same name by Mark Bowden, was directed by Ridley Scott, starred, among others, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Josh Hartnett , Tom Sizemore, Ron Eldard and Sam Shepard. BTW, I mentioned Mark Bowden in an earlier post about Elaine Scarry ... they both participated in a panel discussion held at The New York Public Library, 06/01/05, about torture.

The movie is a fictionalized account of a real event, the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu that was ...

part of Operation Gothic Serpent and was fought on October 3 and 4, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, between forces of the United States supported by UNOSOM II and Somali militia fighters loyal to the self-proclaimed president-to-be Mohamed Farrah Aidid who had support from armed civilian fighters.

- CW3 Michael Durant's helicopter Super Six-Four above Mogadishu on October 3, 1993 - Wikipedia

The background of the film's story is the civil war that began in Somalia in 1991 that led to a large number of casualties and to the destruction of agriculture, and then to starvation. The international community sent food to Somalia, but the food was often hijacked by warlords to sell for weapons (Wikipedia states that up to 80% of the food was stolen) and this led to even more starvation. The UN sent military observers to oversee the distribution of the food sent, and in 1992 President Bush backed Operation Provide Relief with U.S. military transports. When this didn't seem sufficient, the US assumed command and landed troops in in Mogadishu as Operation Restore Hope to facilitate airlifted humanitarian supplies. In 1993, the UN established UNOSOM II to force reconciliation among the rival groups in Somalia. It didn't work, violence escalated, and it was at this time that the events in the movie took place ... the US sent troops into Mogadishu to kidnap Somali General Mohammed Farrah Aidid's foreign minister and his top political advisor. Things went very wrong. You can read about the 2009–present phase of the Somali Civil War here at Wikipedia.

I should mention that Wikipedia has a section in its page on the movie on controversies about historical inaccuracies in the storyline and in the way the Somalis in the film were portrayed.

I thought the movie was well made and the acting very good (Roger Ebert gave it four stars), but it was really disturbing on a whole number of levels. War is bad (said me, the peacenik). I know sometimes it's necessary for humanitarian reasons, but it still does something weird to many of those who participate in it, and I distrust the glorification of it (yes, there's a Delta Force: Black Hawk Down game). I guess we do this in part to remember and honor the courage and commitment of those who fight, and that's a good thing, but I fear we also do it to drum up cannon fodder and to pander to the love of doing violence.


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