Film class — week 5

22 September 2006, 1615 EDT

Film #5 “Black Hawk Down” (2001). We viewed in Tuesday.

Readings for Thursday: Stephen J.Solarz and Michael O’Hanlon, “Humanitarian Intervention: When is Force Justified?” 20 Washington Quarterly, 1997, pp. 3-14.

Stephen John Stedman, “The New Interventionists,” 72 Foreign Affairs, 1993, pp. 1-16.

Almost everyone has seen this blockbuster film, which addresses UN/American humanitarian intervention in Somalia, 1993. It is set on October 3 of that year, after thousands of lives have been saved in the mission to deliver food to the hungry. On that day, a group of Army Rangers and Delta Force were sent into the city to capture a couple of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s top clansmen.

In broader terms, the new mission is to find warlord Aidid and perhaps create a stable order that would allow for broader nation-building.

Stedman, like realists, challenges these kinds of broad humanitarian missions, arguing that the US should only use military force when there is a clear American national interest. Idealists like Solarz and O’Hanlon counter by arguing that the US should intervene when the circumstances warrant — if the dying is on a horrific scale and if other great powers are unlikely to cause trouble.

Technically, the October 3 mission featured in “Black Hawk Down” was a success. The US forces penetrated their target building, captured the men they were seeking and got them back to base.

The bulk of the film, however, is about the violent and disastrous consequences of the mission. Local forces in the city downed a black hawk helicopter — and then another. Nearly 20 American soldiers are killed in the crashes and battles to retrieve the crews of these aircraft, though the film-maker notes that 1000 (!) Somalis lost their lives in the fighting.

There is plenty of food for thought about Iraq in this film. Early on, various individual soldiers decide not to take water, night vision devices and body armor. Essentially, they were confident that their mission would be accomplished quickly and there wouldn’t be any need for these supplies.

Sound familiar?

The soldiers expect to fight members of Aidid’s clan in the raid, but end up fighting what seems like the whole city of Mogadishu. It seems like the attacking locals are quite angry at the very presence of the Americans in their city. Though some locals support the US forces and cheer when they pass by, there’s plenty of evidence of inadequate planning.

Some critics of this movie claim that it glorifies the military and war, which is kind of odd since the overall mission — and takehome lesson — was that Somalia was a disaster. President Clinton removed American troops not long after this battle. The non-intervention into Rwanda may have been based on the experience in Mogadishu.

Aidid’s son, by the way, is the current Interior Minister of Somalia.

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