Black Hawk Down Book Essay

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Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War

Mark Bowden, Author Grove/Atlantic $25 (400p) ISBN 978-0-87113-738-8
This is military writing at its breathless best. Bowden (Bringing the Heat) has used his journalistic skills to find and interview key participants on both sides of the October 1993 raid into the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia, a raid that quickly became the most intensive close combat Americans have engaged in since the Vietnam War. But Bowden's gripping narrative of the fighting is only a framework for an examination of the internal dynamics of America's elite forces and a critique of the philosophy of sending such high-tech units into combat with minimal support. He sees the Mogadishu engagement as a portent of a disturbing future. The soldiers' mission was to seize two lieutenants of a powerful Somali warlord. Despite all their preparation and training, the mission unraveled and they found themselves fighting ad hoc battles in ad hoc groups. Eschewing the post facto rationalization that characterizes so much military journalism, Bowden presents snapshots of the chaos at the heart of combat. On page after page, in vignette after vignette, he reminds us that war is about breaking things and killing people. In Mogadishu that day, there was no room for elaborate rules of engagement. In the end, it was a task force of unglamorous ""straight-leg"" infantry that saved the trapped raiders. Did the U.S. err by creating elite forces that are too small to sustain the attrition of modern combat? That's one of the key questions Bowden raises in a gripping account of combat that merits thoughtful reading by anyone concerned with the future course of the country's military strategy and its relationship to foreign policy. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1999
Release date: 02/01/1999
Prebound-Other - 978-0-613-46212-9
Paperback - 396 pages - 978-0-8021-4473-7
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-60775-660-6
Hardcover - 614 pages - 978-0-7838-8983-2
MP3 CD - 978-0-7927-2661-6
Paperback - 392 pages - 978-0-14-028850-6
Analog Audio Cassette - 4 pages - 978-0-671-04572-2
Compact Disc - 978-0-7435-0436-2
Mass Market Paperbound - 496 pages
Prebound-Other - 978-0-606-22930-2
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-7435-4203-6
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-55584-604-6
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4423-5344-2
Mass Market Paperbound - 486 pages - 978-0-451-20514-8
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      As I sat in my room playing the video game “Black Hawk Down,” I realized that I didn't know why the U.S. Rangers invaded Somalia. So, I decided to read the book it was based on.

Black Hawk Down describes the events of one particular day. Before the Rangers went on their mission, their general said, “No man gets left behind; even the dead come back, no matter what.” In addition to this objective, the Rangers wanted to kill as few people as possible and get in and out fast; unfortunately, this did not happen.

As the Black Hawk helicopters circled a building, they encountered the most wanted warlords in all Somalia who had convinced the Somalis that the United States was the reason they were starving. As the Black Hawks converged, someone shot a rocket-propelled grenade, hitting one of the helicopters.

The general sent two Ranger snipers, Staff Sergeants Gordon and Shughart, to help the other Rangers, but their Black Hawk was shot down too, falling from the sky in a giant fireball. Once the flames died down, hundreds of Somalis tried to raid the helicopter, but Shughart and Gordon held them off.

If you are someone who can't tolerate war or violence, this book is not for you. Bowden describes some of the wounded with the most horrific images and detail.

My initial question of why the Rangers invaded Somalia was answered by the general: “The only reason we are here is because the warlords are starving their own people.” If you read this book, you will get a better understanding of what the Rangers experienced during this ill-fated mission.

This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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