Black Hawk Down


Mark Bowden

Book & Movie Review

15 February 2002

An ordinary American viewing the current direction of armed conflict involving our military forces sees a much different landscape than in past decades. We now observe official Pentagon photos of Special Forces soldiers on horseback, riding alongside the Northern Alliance in the foothills of Afghanistan. They are dressed in Army fatigues but all have beards -- the marker of nearly all the men in the region. They 'blend into' the local population. These Americans have made liaison with allied clan leaders, trained the Afghans in the use of coordinated air-land attack and engaged in firefights with the Taliban when attacked. They have taken the lead in routing al Qaeda terrorists out of the extensive cave complexes in Afghanistan after the major opposition 'melted' into the landscape after being defeated on the ground by Alliance Afghans in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kabul, and Kandahar.

Few Americans know any of these men. Their missions are all classified secret. Even their parents and spouses know nothing of what they do. To them, the soldiers are known only as 'operators.' They have a long history, however, and have been deployed all over the world in 12-man A-teams. In the past decade they have been deployed in over 100 countries around the globe. They were an integral part of the operation in October 1993 to capture two of Mohamed Farrah Aidid's top aides. Aidid was the Somali warlord who controlled Mogadishu.

Before U.S. soldiers faced substantial hostile fire in Somalia, Pakistani military peacekeepers under U.N. control were ambushed by Warlord Aidid's guerrillas, with 24 killed and 54 wounded. Many of the Pakistanis were butchered and mutilated, with bodies dismembered and eyes gouged out [1]. Our troops in Somalia were placed under the command of foreign nations via the mask of the United Nations. They were asked by our politicians to first, provide protection for the distribution of United Nations humanitarian aid to a starving populace. Second, after securing the area and assuring the humanitarian mission, they were asked to expand their mission to find and capture (if not kill) a troublesome warlord, General Aidid.

Then during a battle in which several of Aidid's high-level accomplices are captured and eighteen of our Rangers were killed, one U.S. Ranger was captured, one was dragged through the streets while his corpse [2] was stoned, pounded with sticks, and spat upon by the populace, and other dead U.S. soldiers reportedly had their flesh rendered [3] and displayed by mobs before the populace. Indeed, all of the bodies were recovered eventually, but some remains were so badly disfigured that only through special tests could they be identified. The bodies of all five Americans slain near one location [4] "were desecrated by the Somalis, although according to Army officials, subsequent autopsies indicated that the men had been shot dead before their corpses were defiled." Small consolation to their families and those who may be called on to participate in similar activities in the future.

After this battle, our troops were asked to back down, and, indeed, escort and transport [5],[6], Aidid, via air, to a conference in another country. Finally, these troops are asked to withdraw by a time certain, dictated not by original design but by demands of the American people and the absence of a sense of purpose by our President and Congress. Everything that a generation learned about modern warfare in Vietnam and the Gulf War had been completely disregarded by the Clinton administration and Congress. Our fighting men were being placed in dangerous environments for which their advantages in arms and training were negated. In the words of a young American soldier [7] (in a letter home), who was killed in the Ranger raid on Aidid's headquarters, "I've got some horrible news. In today's intell brief, we received some real upsetting news. Tonight we are supposed to get hit by 150 Somali gunmen. The men are said to have women and children holding hands walking in front of the gunmen as they shoot -- sort of a human shield. I can't tell you how worried I am on this. Don't get me wrong but I'm scared, real damn scared. I knew the day would come when I might have to shoot someone and also knew the day would come when someone would shoot at me. I have no problem dropping the hammer on someone that is going to try to kill me but women and children that would be forced to walk into us. It's a no win situation. I don't know if I'm going to be able to open up on a crowd of helpless people. If we don't then they'll kill us and if we do we kill innocent people." The mother [8] of a young Ranger killed in the same raid on Aidid's headquarters has published a letter accusing President Clinton of "...allowing U.S. involvement to drift (as it did in Vietnam) into a quagmire of unclear objectives, inadequate support, and lack of viable contingency planes. The U.S. presidency requires much more leadership; Mr. Clinton needs to be held accountable for this disaster. War is hell, but what happened at Mogadishu appears to be equivalent to negligent homicide." This mother's attitude toward our current foreign policy is representative of a people who believe that their leaders have lost their way.

President Clinton, in a disgusting display of irresponsibility, summoned the fathers of sons killed in Somalia to the white house to declare [9] "...I was surprised and angered by the order to send your sons to capture Aidid. Why did they launch the raid?" The fathers at this meeting have reported this attitude as "...indicative of a president without any leadership qualities whatsoever."

Another father of a son lost in the 3 October raid on Aidid's headquarters has stated [10] "...I believe he wants the nation to forget those 18 brave young men who died last October trying to accomplish the frivolous mission he gave them." The father of a U.S. Ranger who was killed in that raid would not shake the hand of President Clinton at the White House ceremony at which the president presented the son a posthumous Medal of Honor for heroic acts during the Mogadishu raid. The father, Mr. Shughart, told the president [11], "You are not fit to be president of the United States. The blame for my son's death rests with the White House and with you. You are not fit to command."

At what was described as a 'highly' emotional moment, the president, never at a loss for words, launched into an attempt to convince the Shughart family that their son's death and the calamitous end of the Somalia venture were not his fault.

In the aftermath of the 3 October 1993 disastrous raid on Aidid's headquarters in Mogadishu, an elaborate damage-limitation [12] program [in the White House] managed to fog the public perception of Clinton's responsibility. One key facet was David Gergen's counsel to Clinton to avoid public appearances with the survivors of the firefight. The obvious lack of leadership qualities of the current elite Boomers who are now in charge of our government, media, and universities will have tragic consequences for the future.

A movie, Black Hawk Down, based closely on a book of the same name written by Mark Bowden, an investigative reporter for the Philadelphia Enquirer, opened in January 2002. Bowden's 1999 book is a marvelous rendition of the events in Mogadishu, told from the viewpoint of those who actually participated in the battle. The movie captures the courage, bravery, and bonding that was exhibited by our nation's finest when a mission went sour and they were engaged in a firefight, surrounded by thousands of angry Somalis with AK-47s, rocket propelled grenades, and heavy machine guns. The movie is the most moving I have ever seen in depicting the savagery and pure hell of battle (including the first 20 minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan,' the movie of the Normandy landing in World War II). Black Hawk Down is nearly 2 hours and 20 minites of continuous battle -- as mean and dirty as it gets.

But Bowden's book does much more than reveal the savagery of modern day close combat in dark and foreboding urban neighborhoods. It gives an account of the policy failures at the highest level which led to the blood-letting. While not as detailed as portrayed from national newspaper accounts -- as described in the beginning of this review -- it gives enough information on which to impale the Clinton administration on its own self-serving domestic political petard.

The movie, however, does not dwell on the higher-level bungling. In deference to the fact of the ground war in Afghanistan at the time of its release, the it focuses solely on the men who were caught in the vise of the Somali warlord's thousands of angry, armed, and ferocious street-fighters. In fact [13], "...[the movie] came within inches of being the first major Hollywood film to directly address the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks...But in the end...[the moviemakers] decided that referring directly to Sept. 11 was unnecessary and too distracting...[so they] rewrote a series of text blocks at the end of the film...that had initially linked America's loss to resolve in Somalia a decade ago with emboldening the terrorists who attacked America in September...[they did not want to] blame President Clinton and American public opinion for setting the stage for the kind of terrorism behind Sept. 11."

The earlier version of the film, with the text 'crawl' at the end "ticked off a series of events that followed the Mogadishu mission, including the removal of American troops from Somalia by President Clinton, the assassination of Mr. Aidid [by a rival warlord clan], the conflicts and humanitarian disasters in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo and, finally, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11...The implication was that an American loss of foreign policy resolve, and a reluctance to get involved in subsequent disasters, had played a role in convincing terrorists they could attack the United States."

"'With what happened in Mogadishu, with the way that all came down, you end up with the terrorism we see today,' Mr. Roth [the film studio chief] said. 'It's so obvious now, eight years later. [The others] and I all agreed we would be remiss in not making this connection to the general audience."

The focus group of journalists to whom the accusative ending 'crawl' was included were about 50 percent for and 50 percent against such an ending. Those against, however, were so determinedly vocal that the decision was made to remove that ending. "The closing crawl that audiences...actually see concludes after describing the withdrawal of American troops from Somalia, the assassination of Mr. Aidid and the retirement of the United States commander who had let the 1993 raid. 'I think the implication is there, if you want to discuss it,' Mr. Scott [the director] said. 'To me, it's very clear that there is a connection between Mogadishu and what is happening now. But to make it explicit at the end of this movie would have been too much."

Domestic politics and foreign policy aside, the book and the movie re-creates an horrific and heroic battle. It is a [14] "...meticulously researched account of the raid, based on interviews with the soldiers who took part in what has been called America's fiercest firefight since the Vietnam War. And for many, a moment of infamy."

"'There's no doubt that the perception people have of this episode is that it was a total fiasco,' Bowden says. 'But this was a successfully completed mission. And in the eyes of the military men involved, it's a mission they're very proud of.'...Two retired soldiers who fought in that operation signed on as the film's military consultants...[One] who led the rescue column into the heart of Mogadishu and [another] who commanded the helicopters circling over the battle...Van Arsdale received the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his role in the fighting. Matthews was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal...Everyone involved understood that this [film] was being done for the memory of the men [who were killed]."

"It was supposed to be simple. An hour max. The Rangers, leaving heavy equipment, night scopes, even canteens back at their base, roped down into Mogadishu from Black Hawk [helicopters] to cover the Delta soldiers dropped off minutes before. The [Delta Force troops] rushed the building and captured the targeted clan leaders. Suddenly things got messy."

When one, then two, of the heavily armed Black hawks were shot down, the ground soldiers fought through an urban hornet's nest to secure the crash sites and protect their wounded buddies before hostile forces got to them. The besieged troops were vastly outnumbered in an urban war with thousands of well-armed men, women and children until a relief column reached them 15 hours later. The Somalian body count was estimated at 500 to 1,000. One downed pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant, was captured by the rebels, held for 11 days, then released. The two Aidid lieutenants captured in the operation were set free a few months later."

"But to Bowden and the soldiers, this added up to a victory, not a defeat. 'If we [had] captured two of bin Laden's top guys like this, it would [have been] called a success,' says [the film producer]. Retired Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann, one of the first Rangers to drop into Mogadishu and portrayed in the film by Josh Hartnett, agrees. 'The reality of war is that good men who are well trained are going to die at the hands of an inferior enemy. That's been true from the time of Hannibal to Gettysburg to Normandy and Mogadishu,' Eversmann says. 'But I'll tell you until my dying breath that was our finest hour and something I am fiercely proud of. I get really bent, as a lot of the guys do, when I hear people refer to the action on October 3rd and 4th as a failure. That was wrong. That is untrue."

Any American who views this film will heartily concur with Sgt. Eversmann. Until now, few people other than the men who fought that day knew all the tactical details of the mission. The movie gives us this -- and much, much more. The movie is not for the squeamish or folks with weak stomachs. It is frank and brutal and about as realistic as you can get. This film is gorier than Steven Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan.' The latter films 20-hot-the-beach minutes are superceded in harsh reality by scenes of gore, with rockets lodged in bellies, torsos blown apart, hands and legs ripped off by grenades. One of the film's most graphic scenes is also one of the most touching. A geyser of blood spurts from a soldier's thigh. There's no hope of rescue, so his buddies hold him tight as a determined medic shoves his arm inside the screaming boy's groin to find the severed femoral artery and stop the bleeding."

The movie is an emotional exclamation that Sgt. Eversmann is correct. A military advisor to the movie's production concurs. "I think it's a tribute to the guys and gives people an incredible insight into what modern warfare is like,' says [Col.] Matthews." Nevertheless, the perception of the raid as a failure persists.-- at least it did until the book was written and the movie was made. "That perception arose, perhaps, because there were few compelling images of the combat itself, much of which was at night. The only bit seen by most Americans was the image of two American soldiers' bodies near the site of a crashed chopper. They'd been stripped and mauled by the frenzied mob, an image that caused such outrage, President Clinton soon withdrew U.S. forces from Somalia."

Nevertheless, the screen story is riveting. It has you sitting in the front edge of your seat. It is about heroism under fire. Politics is not a part of this film. One reviewer shouts [15], "Don't turn to Ridley Scott's stunning 'Black Hawk Down' for lectures on geopolitics, the tarnished Clinton foreign-policy legacy or theories of terrorist conspiracy. The movie reflects not a public intellectual's view of the world, but St. 'hoot' Hooten's. Hoot's the guy with the M-16 who doesn't make decisions but only tries to survive them."

The critic presciently observes that "The movie, then, may disappoint pundits and op-ed cowboys and all the men in gray suits and black shoes who so self-confidently throng [Washington, D.C.'s] streets over the lunch hour. It teaches stuff they don't know, only the smallest and most bitter lessons: that ammunition is more important then water, that cover is more important than concealment, and that the good die young."

"'Black Hawk Down' re-creates war at the micro level, as experienced by Army Rangers and Delta Force commandos on the ground...In Mogadishu...the mission fell apart in the worst possible way. The young soldiers found themselves the targets of what can only be described as a citywide homicidal rage, in which every angry Somali with a Soviet-bloc assault rifle or a rocket-propelled grenade launcher petitioned his grievance in lead and warheads."

"The movie doesn't moralize, and its political meanings may be arrived at only by laborious inference. It's too intense to let the rational part of your brain gear up; instead, you are simply there, scurrying, ducking, wishing you had more ammunition, luck or courage, and wishing the whole thing would end. You come out shaking and weak."

"So focused on the experience of the fighting is 'Black Hawk Down' that it doesn't bother much with context or with character [development], something that could never be said of...Bowden's original book. Bowden took the time to explain not merely the politics involved but, more important, the culture of the new, volunteer Army."

"There's not a whiff of Vietnam-era sullenness and resentment; these aren't draftees but volunteers, in it for the fun, travel and adventure. They aspire to be, or are, solid professionals; they don't see themselves as victims but as warriors. They are gung-ho, Number One, and RA (regular army) all the way. But they weren't interchangeable; there were essentially two American military cultures on the streets of [Mogadishu] that day, and Scott evokes them visually, he never explains them. The Rangers are shock infantry, basically conventional in all military respects; their hair is trimmed or shaved, their ranks low, their ages young (most are in their first enlistment). An institutional vanity requires that they bark 'HOOOO-AGH!' in place of 'Yes, sir' or 'Yes, Sergeant.' Most 'want action' or joined to fight; they're full of the bravado of a JV football team on its first road trip."

"The Deltas, or D-Boys, are all senior noncommissioned officers, heavily trained and armed, who've seen a lot of action in our little wars of recent note. They are in their late twenties and early thirties. They are not just Special Forces but the elite of the already elite Special Forces; so they are stars, and used to being treated like stars. They have a lot of perks, too, and like so many gifted men, they know their talent buys them extra latitude even in a bureaucratic empire as chronically anal as the American military. They wear their hair long, they dispense with conventional military courtesy, they have customized weapons, and they wear plastic bike helmets instead of the steel pots of the Rangers. And in action they are, by training and instinct, very, very aggressive."

"It's the strategy of [the movie-makers] to play up that big brother/little brother relationship between men of each unit/ it provides an emotional sub-text to what otherwise might be simple chaos, spectacle and things blowing up. Each grown-up Delta will 'adopt' a baby Ranger, and nurse him through the conflict with words of encouragement or chastisement. Each boy will try to please his big brother, and in the end, that, more than any exhortations to duty and country, is what gets them through the night."

Of the characters a viewer will likely remember, Sgt. First Class 'Hoot' Gibson (a composite Delta Force character) will be first in line. He acts as the 'big brother' to the young Ranger platoon leader who 'comes of age' in the firefight. 'Hoot' "has a southern accent, is cool in his swagger, toughness and professionalism -- and he has all the good lines..." When the operation is completed with all of the living and wounded back at the Ranger base in Mogadishu, 'Hoot' congratulates his little-brother Ranger on his passing the test of his first combat firefight with high merit. He describes the battle in the words of those in firefights in wars immemorial. "When the 'stuff' goes down, it comes down to the man on your right, the man on your left and you all alone with the enemy all around." As he suits up for another mission in the bad neighborhood, he stops on his way out of the compound, turns to the Ranger and says, "Hey, its Wednesday. We made it through another week!" All to the admiration of the young Ranger who will stay behind. This quiet professionalism conveys the spirit of the D-Boys -- that separates them from the rest of the nation's 'warriors.'

Another 'stunning' character is the Ranger colonel in charge of the rescue convoy. "His calm dignity and endless well of courage are breathtaking. When a boy says to him, 'Sir, I've been wounded,' he replies quietly, 'Son, we've all been wounded.' It's as if he's [a platoon sergeant] from 'Saving Private Ryan'] , commissioned, grown older and wider."

The reviewer was moved by the movie. "...'Black Hawk Down' is the next worst thing to being there. That's how real it feels." Indeed, that is the emotional level that a viewer reaches. It is the closest thing imaginable to 'being there.'

Another viewer claims that the film [16] "captures [the] fog of fighting modern war...[It] lays bare he brutality of war like few of the films. Its sweaty realism, bloody imagery and blistering pace leave viewers disoriented, frustrated and frightened...The movie serves as an all-too-vivid reminder of how bad things could get if -- or when -- they go wrong during what promises to be a long campaign against terrorism."

The film does an excellent job of showcasing just how 'special' those forces are, and it seems to revel in their courage...But while the film sparks pride in America's warriors, it also evokes a sense of helplessness that makes it tough to watch. The frustration of modern war, which rarely has well-drawn battle lines and blurs the distinction between combatant and civilian, is all too evident...'Black Hawk Down' is not a patriotic call to arms, but rather a reminder of those things that make America great, and the terrible price we occasionally must pay to keep it that way."

A more perceptive reviewer sees a deeper meaning in 'Black Hawk Down' -- a renewed respect for authority, a renewed moral authority, in the film. He sees that [17] "...war movies have always done else [than evoke patriotic fervor], albeit more subtly. They served as metaphors for America's attitude toward authority, both personal and moral, that the armed forces as institutions symbolized...In the long eye of history, [movies about the Vietnam War which portrayed authority as bankrupt] may turn out to be [an] aberration, and America's suspicion of authority relatively short-lived. With 'Saving Private Ryan' and now 'Black Hawk Down,' war seems again respectable...In 'Black Hawk Done,' Maj. Gen. William Garrison...stays at his command post watching the mission unravel over closed-circuit monitors and suffers for his troops...He orders that no man be left behind, regardless of the risks involved."

"In dropping the audience into the battle, literally making viewers lose perspective, the film conveys no sense of any noble cause to save humanity. The mission is instead suffused with another kind of morality. The Rangers' obligation is to one another -- to make sure their friends and fellow troops survive. If in World War II the battle served the larger cause, and if in Vietnam the battle got separated from a cause, in 'Black Hawk Down' the battle become the cause, and the cause is the individual. As one soldier [the composite Delta Force character, Sgt. 'Hoot' Gibson] in the film puts it: 'It's about the man next to you. That's all it is.'"

The broader context of the attitude of the D-boys, portrayed by the ‘Hoot’ Gibson composite, is portrayed in the scene in the aftermath of the battle, after those who ran the ‘Mogadishu mile’ regrouped with the others back at the base camp hangar. Everyone is still grimy and bloody from the battle just concluded. Hoot is eating standing up as he adjusts his gear to go back into the battle area. The young Ranger platoon leader says, “You goin back in?”

Hoot: “There’s still men out there. (Pause) When I go home — people ask me — Hoot, why do you do this? Why do you do it man? Why? You some kind of war junkie? (Pause) I won’t say a god damn word. Why? They wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t understand why we do it. They wouldn’t understand — it’s about the man next to you. And that’s it. That’s all it is.”

As the Ranger Sergeant moves to pick up his gear to go along with him, Hoot says, “Hey, don’t even think about it, alright? I’m better on my own.”

The Ranger stares with solemn admiration as Hoot walks off with his weapon and ammunition. Hoot turns and says, “Hey, we start a whole new week — it’s Monday.” This is the kind of attitude that fits the young 13er generation to a tee. They are seeking challenges in their private lives such as extreme sports which their Boomer counterparts never dared contemplate. They are finding these challenges in America’s elite fighting forces.

"Obviously, 'Black Hawk Down' was in production long before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, but its attitude toward moral authority reflects a new attitude in the country. In both the film and the nation, we don't fasten so much on the American Way of Life as on individuals -- on neighbors, friends and co-workers, the men and women right next to us. Americans aren't as interested in abstractions as in the concrete, are less interested in the larger picture than the smaller one. In the new metaphor war movies seem to be presenting, Americans are no longer distrustful of authority and no longer doubt the cause. Rather, we trust in each other and see the cause as us."

There are two sub-texts in the Black Hawk Down story that are not even hinted at -- neither in the book nor in the movie. One is the politically motivated effort to 'feminize' our nation's combat arms. The other is the part that race did or did not play in the story.

A viewer of the movie comes away with a renewed sense that the battle in the streets of Mogadishu -- indeed the ground battle in Afghanistan after Sept. 11 -- is no place for women. The idea that women could be involved in the Ranger and/or Delta Force contingent that fought a brutal and bloody battle against thousands of enraged Somalis armed with AK-47s, RPGs, and heavy machine guns is simply beyond imagination.

First of all, the motivation of those Rangers and Delta Force 'operators' for being there was based on adventure, an ultimate personal challenge requiring bravery, courage, ability to stem the tide of fear, and professionalism in the art of killing human beings -- up close and personal. Not one of those soldiers involved in the operation was there for 'career advancement.'

The motivation expressed by the radical feminists and politicians who have 'feminized' our nation's conventional military is CAREER ADVANCEMENT. That is, to them, a willingness to engage in combat is only to punch tickets in billets that lead to flag rank -- breaking the glass ceiling. To them it is JOBS. There could be no worse motivation for women being placed in situations as revealed in Black Hawk Down. Just the notion of a woman being involved in the action makes the mind dizzy with the absurdity of it. In fact, it is clear that the training that the Rangers and Delta Force soldiers undertook is so far beyond the physical and mental limits of nearly all females that it is an exercise in absurdity to even attempting to visualize their participation in such combat situations. An yet the radical feminists and pandering politicians persist in inching closer and closer to opening all combat specialties to women.

In his book, Bowden describes who these people were and the rigors of training soldiers in these forces [18]. "The Rangers (average age nineteen) were immensely proud of their status. It spared them most of the numbing noncombat-related routine that drove many an army enlistee nuts. The Rangers trained for war full-time. They were fitter, faster, and first -- 'Rangers lead the way!' was their motto. Each had volunteered at least three times to get where they were, for the army, for airborne, and for the Rangers. They were the cream, the mostly highly motivated young soldiers of their generation, selected to fit the army's ideal -- they were ALL MALE and, revealingly [but not explained by Bowden], nearly all white (there were only two blacks among the 140-man company)."

"Some were professional soldiers... Some were overachievers in search of a different challenge...Some were daredevils in search of a physical challenge. Others were self-improvers, young men who had found themselves adrift after high school, or in trouble with drugs, booze, the law, or all three. They were HARDER-EDGED than most young men of their generation who...were weeks into their fall college semester. Most of the Rangers had been kicked around some, had tasted failure. But there were no goof-offs. Every man had worked to be here, probably harder than he'd eve worked in his life. Those with troubled pasts had taken harsh measure of themselves. Beneath their bed hard-ass act, most were achingly earnest, patriotic, and idealistic. They had literally taken the army up on its offer to 'Be all You Can Be.'"

"[Rangers] held themselves to a higher standard than normal soldiers...they saw themselves as the army at its gung ho best. Many, if they could make it, aspired to join Special Forces, maybe even get picked to try out for Delta, the hale, secret super-soldiers now leading this force in. Only the very best of them would be invited to try out, and only one of every ten invited would make it through selection. In this ANCIENT MALE HIERARCHY, the Rangers were a few steps up the ladder, but the D-boys owned the uppermost rung."

Compare this description of the elite fighting ground forces with that of the rest of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and yes, maybe even the Marines, where reduced qualification and training standards have been introduced -- steadily, and irrevocably downward -- during the 1990s. The purge of the 'warrior ethos' in naval aviation and all other combat specialties which have been 'feminized' has produced an armed force which is only a skeleton of what it was in the past -- from the recruits, to the first tour people, to the mid-level officer corps and the senior enlisted ranks, to the flag rank officer corps. The purge has eliminated all who would protest -- even silently -- the 'feminization' of the force. The warriors are gone -- all except in those combat units where women are excluded. The premiere of these all-male combat units are the Rangers and the Delta Force.

According to Bowden [19], "Rangers knew the surest path to that height [Delta Force] was combat experience...Which was what they all wanted. All of these guys...A lot of these men had started as afraid of war as anyone, but the fear had been drummed out. Especially in Ranger training. About a fourth of those who volunteered washed out, enough so that those who emerged with their Ranger tab at the end were riding the headiest wave of accomplishment in their young lives. The weak had been weeded out. The strong had stepped up. Then came weeks, months, years of constant training. The Hoo-ahs couldn't wait to go to war. They were an all-star football team that had endured bruising, exhausting, dangerous practice sessions twelve hours a day, seven days a week -- for years -- without ever getting to play a game."

"[The Rangers] yearned for battle. They passed around the dog-eared paperback memoirs of soldiers from past conflicts, many written by former Rangers and savored the affectionate, comradely tone of their stories, feeling bad for the poor suckers who bought it or got crippled or maimed but identifying with the righteous men who survived the experience whole. They studied the old photos, which were the same from every war, young men looking dirty and tired, half dressed in army combat fatigues, dog tags hanging around their skinny necks, posing with arms draped over each other's shoulders in exotic lands. They could see themselves in those snapshots, surrounded by their buddies, fighting their war. It was THE test, the only one that counted."

Specialist Rob Phipps...was the youngest of the Rangers on board [the medivac helicopter] in the Mogadishu firefight. Bowden tells his story [20]. It is emblematic of the core of many of the young Rangers who fought that battle. "He was twenty-two. To the more experienced men [on the medivac chopper], battle was a grim necessity, part of their jobs. They had weighed the risks and for various reasons accepted them. For Phipps, the prospect of going in was just thrilling. His pulse raced and his senses seemed twice as alert. The only thing he could compare it to was a drug. He could hardly sit still. He had been a hellion of a teenager growing up in Detroit, drinking and partying, breaking all the rules, running completely out of control. The Rangers had taken all the fearless exuberance and pointless bravado and channeled it. That was the secret core of all the Hoo-ah discipline and esprit. You would be given permission, in battle, to break the biggest social taboo of all. You killed people. You were supposed to kill people. It wasn't often talked about in just that way, but there it was. Phipps didn't consider himself bloodthirsty, but he'd been groomed and primed for a moment just like this, and he was eager. He had his CAR-15, which could fire upward of six hundred rounds per minute, and he'd been trained to hit what he aimed at. Part of him never believed he'd actually be asked to do it. Now he reminded himself: This is for real! He was frightened, excited, and nervous all at once. He had never felt this way."

If the Rangers were special, the Delta Force soldiers were the top of the rung, the cream of the crop. They were the experienced professionals in the art of war-fighting. Bowden uses Sergeant Paul Howe, the leader of three other men in his Delta team charged with capturing Warlord Aidid's top aides in the raid. Howe's team had reached the second floor of the building where the target aides were meeting when a volley of machine-gun fire slammed into the ceiling and wall, just missing the head of one of Howe's men. Bowden tells the story of what came next [21]. "They all dropped down. The rounds came through the southeast window, and had clearly come from the Ranger blocking position just below the window. One of the younger soldiers outside had evidently seen someone moving in the window and fired. Obviously some of these guys weren't clear which building was the target."

"It was what [Sgt. Howe] feared. Howe was disappointed in the Rangers. These were supposed to be the army's crack infantry? Despite all the hype and Hoo-ah horseshit, he saw the younger men as poorly trained and potentially dangerous in combat. Most were fresh out of high school! During training exercises, he had the impression that they were always craning their necks to watch him and his men instead of paying attentions to their own very important part of the job."

"And the job demanded more. It demanded all you had, and more...because the price of failure was often death. That's why Howe and the rest of these D-boys lived it. It separated them from other men. War was ugly and evil, for sure, but it was still the way things got done on most of the planet. Civilized states had nonviolent ways of resolving disputes, but that depended on the willingness of everyone involved to back down. Here in the raw Third World, people hadn't learned to back down, at least not until after a lot of blood flowed. Victory was for those willing to fight and die. Intellectuals could theorize until they sucked their thumbs right off their hands, but in the real world, power still flowed from the barrel of a gun. If you wanted the starving masses of Somalia to eat, then you had to outmuscle men like this Aidid, for whom starvation worked. You could send in your bleeding-heart do-gooders, you could hold hands and pray and sing hootenanny songs and invoke the great gods CNN and BBC, but the only way to finally open the roads to the big-eyed babies was to show up with more guns. And in this real world, nobody had more or better guns than America. If the good-hearted ideals of humankind were to prevail, then they needed men who could make it happen. Delta made it happen."

"They operated strictly in secret. The army would not even speak the word 'Delta.' If you had to refer to them, they were 'operators,' or 'The Dreaded D.' The Rangers worshiped them, called them D-boys. Secrecy, or at least the show of it, was central to their purpose. It allowed the dreamers and the politicians to have it both ways. They could stay on the high road while the dirty work happened offstage. If some Third World terrorist or Columbian drug lord needed to die, and then suddenly just turned up dead, why, what a happy coincidence! The dark soldiers would melt back into the shadow. If you asked them about how they made it happen, they wouldn't tell. They didn't even exist, see? They were noble, silent, and invisible. They did America's most important work, yet shunned recognition, fame, and fortune. They were modern knights and true."

"Howe did little to disguise his scorn for lower orders of soldiering, which pretty much included the whole regular U.S. Army...[The D-boys] called each other by their nicknames and eschewed salutes and all other traditional trappings of military life. Officers and noncoms in Delta treated each other as equals. Disdain for normal displays of army status was the unit's signature. They simply transcended rank...They were allowed a degree of personal freedom and initiative unheard of in the military, particularly in battle. The price they paid for all this, of course, was that they lived with danger and were expected to do what normal soldiers could not."

"Howe had been through Ranger school and earned the tab himself, but had skipped straight over the Rangers when he qualified for Delta. He disdained the Rangers in part because he believed hard, realistic, stair-stepping training made good soldiers, not the bullshit macho attitude epitomized by the whole Hoo-ah esprit. Out of the 120 men who tried out for Delta in his class (these were 120 highly motivated, exceptional soldiers), only 13 had made it through selection and training. Howe had the massive frame of a serious bodybuilder, and a fine, if impatient, analytical mind. Many of the Rangers found him scary. His contempt for their ways colored relationships between the two units in the [Ranger compound]."

"Now Howe's misgivings about the younger support troops [the Rangers] were confirmed. They were shooting at their own men! Howe and his team left the room with the mattress and then moved out to clear the flat roof over the front of the house. It was enclosed by a three-foot concrete wall with decorative vertical slats. As the Delta team fanned out into sunlight, they saw the small orange fireball of an AK-47 erupt form a rooftop one block north. Two of Howe's team returned fire as they ducked behind the low wall for cover."

"Then another burst of machine-gun rounds erupted. There were inch-wide slits in the perimeter wall. Howe and his men crouched and prayed a round didn't pass through an opening or ricochet back off the outside of the house. There were several long bursts. They could tell by the sound and impact of the rounds that the shots wee being fired by an M-60, this time from the northeast Ranger blocking position. The Rangers were under fire, they were overeager and scared, so when they saw men with weapons, they fired. Howe was furious."

"He radioed Captain Scott Miller, the Delta ground commander down in the courtyard. He told him to get Steele [the Ranger ground commander] on the radio immediately and tell him to stop his men from shooting at their own people!"

Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison, the commander of Task Force Ranger (as the combined Ranger and Delta operation was known) [22] "...had been living by the sword now for about three decades. He was one of the least known important army officers in America. He had run covert operations all over the world...One thing all of these missions had in common was they required cooperation from the locals. They also demanded a low threshold for bullshit."

"The general was a bemused cynic. He had seen just about everything, and didn't expect much -- except from his men. His gruff informality suited an officer who had begun his career not as a military academy graduate, but a buck-private. He had served two tours in Vietnam, part of it helping to run the infamously brutal Phoenix program, which ferreted out and killed Viet Cong village leaders. That was enough to iron the idealism out of anybody. Garrison had risen to general without exercising the more politic demands of generalship, which called for graceful euphemism and frequent obfuscation. He was a blunt realist who avoided the pomp and pretense of upper-echelon military life. Soldiering was about fighting. It was about killing people before they killed you. It was about having your way by force and guile in a dangerous world. taking a shit in the woods, living in dirty, difficult conditions, enduring hardships and risks that could -- and sometimes did -- kill you. It was ugly work. Which is not to say that certain men didn't enjoy it, didn't live for it. Garrison was one of those men. He embraced its cruelty. He would say, this man needs to die. Just like that. Some people needed to die. It was how the real world worked. Nothing pleased Garrison more than a well-executed hit, and if things went to hell and you had to slug it out, then it was time to summon a dark relish for mayhem. Why be a soldier if you couldn't exult in a heart-pounding, balls-out gunfight? Which is what made him so good."

This descriptions of Gen. Garrison and Sgt. Howe remind us of whom we have allowed to be driven out of the regular Army, Navy, Air Force and yes, even the Marine Corps during the 'feminization' of the nation's conventional combat arms during the 1990s. They exemplify the officers and senior enlisted men, those we have depended upon to fight and win our nations wars over the past 226 years -- men who have been purged from our conventional armed forces over the past decade. There can be no better characterization of these men than is given by Mark Bowden in his brilliant 'Black Hawk Down.'



1) Yost, Mark, "A Short History of Somalia," The Wall Street Journal, 19 October 1993.

2) Ibid.

3) Gertz, Bill, "Retrieving comrads who fell in battle," The Washington Times, 1 November 1993.

4) Atkinson, Rick, "Night of a Thousand Casualties," The Washington Post, 31 January 1994.

5) Fritz, Mark, "Warlord's ride in U.S. plane perturbs military brass," The Washington Times, 5 December 1993.

6) Keating, Dick, "U.S. escort for Aidid proves that this administration has no shame," Letter to the Editor, The Washington Times, 10 December 1993.

7) Associated Press Wires, "Thoughts on life, death fed soldier's letters," The Denver Post, 17 October 1993.

8) Smith, Caroline M. Letter to the Editor, "Our president's 'first obligation,'" The Washington Times, 17 April 1994.

9) Editorial, "White House Confusion," The Spotlight, 6 June 1994.

10) Joyce, Larry E., "'Unfortunate Losses' Have Names," NEWSWEEK, pp.12. 11 April 1994.

11) Grenier, Richard, "The end of the rugged individualists?" The Washington Times, 15 June 1994.

12) Sloyan, Patrick J., "How the Warlord Outwitted Clinton's Spooks," The Washington Post, 3 April 1994.

13) Lyman, Rick, "An Action Film Hits Close, But How Close: Second Thoughts Prevail Against a Political Message," The New York Times, 26 December 2001.

14) Snead, Elizabeth, "The Special Operation of 'Black Hawk Down,'" The Washington Post, 13 January 2002.

15) Hunter, Stephen, "Shock Troops: The Battle Is Engaged, and So Is the Audience, in the Ferocious 'Black Hawk Down,'" The Washington Post, 18 January 2002.

16) Lowe, Christian, "They paid freedom's price," NAVY TIMES, 28 January 2002.

17) Gabler, Neal, "Seeking Perspective on the Movie Front Lines," The New York Times, 27 January 2002.

18) Bowden, Mark, "Black Hawk Down," pp. 8, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999.

19) Ibid, pp. 9.

20) Ibid, pp. 137.

21) Ibid, pp. 33.

22) Ibid, pp. 23.


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