Black Hawk Down


This book is riveting. You experience this book rather than read it. This is one of those books that you almost need to read in one sitting. Very absorbing.

So read the book; it’s a war story with some nice touches of human interest and what we might call “current affairs”.

What struck me -after I had finished – was that old adage about “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it”. And indeed, America’s adventure in Somalia is a great example of this. Really the Battle of Mogadishu is just another episode in American Empire; a dress-rehershal for Iraq.

There was something about the spectacle of helicopter-bourne high-tech American infantry blasting the hell out endless numbers of dirty, poor and ignorant natives; both sides absolutely clueless about why they where there and why they where fighting, that seems sickeningly familiar. The Somalis would say they were defending their homes from heavily armed foreigners; our soldiers would say that we there to “help the Somalis” or to “get rid of the bad guy so democracy and capitalism can take root”. It seems like nobody ever really learns.

It’s a long list: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, Afghanistan, now Yemen, Syria…

I think that the best I can do here is to explain why we went into Somalia; and why it all went wrong.

The short answer is American exceptionalism/neoconservativism. This long and storied trait of ours (neo-conservativism is simply an update for our times; it’s the same implies at root, let’s say) is the justification and fuel for our international adventures. It’s not all bad. It’s idealistic and the soldiers on the ground seem to genuinely believe what they are fighting for. And that’s really something.

There is the political realist’s justification for the interventions: that is that America is the 800 Pound Gorilla and many nations rely on our muscle and relatively pure motiviations when we intervene (as is the case in Somalia). We have massive treaty obligations; someone has to be the Adult In the Room, as it were.

I am not an isolationist. And so, to an extent, I acknowledge and support America’s moral obligations abroad. But the rational of being “the Adult” has been badly abused – from their very beginning in the post-1945 world. First of all, the ideological motivation needed to get men to fight is a heady, dangerous brew. Playing World Police has come with a cost increasing social militarisation. What we tell our people and soldiers to get them to fight and support wars and interventions across the globe is increasingly emotional and disconnected from reality and the complex truth of a given situation.

There is an even darker side; the link between wars and the military-industrial complex. It’s hard to ignore the evidence that points to an American economy that’s dependant on War to keep it going. In the invasion of Iraq, this motivation is at it’s most obvious. The need for cheap oil – this lurks behind most actions of our military in the past few decades. To ignore this is simply naive. War is profitable for a select few and immensely impoverishing for everyone else. War is a racket: Our economy is on a permanent/perpetual war footing.

So why did we go into Somalia? The framework of international relations depends on nation-states. Somalia, a small, poor former colony of Italy lacked the education and modern sets of laws and customs needed for a nation state. After a period of dictatorship – the modern equivalent of kingship – Somalia lapsed into civil war, mass starvation and genocide.

This co-incided with America’s “victory” in the Cold War and in the Gulf War. The triumphalism of the ’90s was in full swing. I do think that our motivations were correct, and I would have support the intervention.

But here’s where it starts to go wrong. A complex situation is presented as black and white. Our ideology traps the very politicians launching the intervention in the name of “being an adult”; the soldiers on the ground is the wrong tool; what started as a mission of mercy turns into an a grotesque masquerade of international cops-and-robbers. Somalia was torn apart by warlords (backed by a complex web of clans). Our ideology makes us think “remove the chief warlord, and a stable democracy and capitalism can thrive”. This is delusional. We keep acting like beneath the burka is a sequinned dress; if it where not for the dictator, there would be democracy. We ignore the true complexity of the issues for our own moral comfort.

We are not learning a lesson from this. As the War in Iraq reaches into it’s dozenth year, we come face to face with Perpetual Warfare; Endemic Warfare against utterly impoverished societies fighting for simply the patch of dirt they happen to inhibit. It’s disgusting and pointless in many ways.

I am tired of images of our high-tech military fighting peasants with AKs. We never seem to learn; we are fighting ancient social structures and systematic poverty and ignorance, not “a bad guy”.





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