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Do anti-war films glorify conflict?
March 3, 2003 12:49 PM   Subscribe

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it. Platoon. Full Metal Jacket. The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. It's surprising that anyone volunteers for the armed forces after a steady diet of Hollywood depictions of the horrors of war. In "Jarhead" Gulf War sniper Anthony Swafford contends that these"...Vietnam War films are all pro-war, regardless of what... Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man." Does the terrible beauty of Apocalypse Now actually help military recruitment?
posted by spotmeter (44 comments total)

 
"...Vietnam War films are all pro-war, regardless of what... Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man.

This statement is naive. Although Full Metal Jacket is my least favorite of Kubrick's movies, it is definitely anti-war. Joker is dehumanized, and in the end his humanity is totally subjugated and cannot win. To say that this movie is pro-war because military men are drawn to guns and death is to paint them all as stupid and incapable of understanding any movie with an intellectual slant to it.

Black Hawk Down I feel is a movie glorifying war, as it doesn't seem to show the human side of war. It is instead a movie where the Americans triumph over the "skinnies". Can't say that movie really made me feel bad for the Somolians. More like it was trying to inspire pride in the American military, the best soldiers on Earth.

And if anyone really wants to see a movie that is anti-war, check out No Man's Land, about a Bosnian and a Serb who are stuck in a trench together. There's a real anti-war movie.
posted by rift2001 at 1:02 PM on March 3, 2003


Apocalypse Now isn't about the Vietnam War. It's not even about war, really. That's just a convenient backdrop for the story it tells.
posted by rocketman at 1:07 PM on March 3, 2003


My gut reaction is that such movies really just serve as visual fodder for whatever opinion you might hold on the subject already. A pacifist might see the violence and misery as evidence that war really is the worthless hell he imagines it to be, while a battle-hungry 18-year old who's dreamt of joining the army since he was 12 might find the films reassuring or romantic in some twisted way, given the separation and unreality of it all, not to mention the balancing effect of more positive war films.

The author of the article wrote Black Hawk Down; I wonder what he thinks of its film translation (haven't seen it myself).
posted by daveadams at 1:09 PM on March 3, 2003


It's valid to think that "...Vietnam War films are all pro-war...." because to the military man these films are motivating. Sure, it's preaching to the choir, but it's the truth.

"Does the terrible beauty of Apocalypse Now actually help military recruitment?"

Well, I'm not sure about that exactly, though it does help recruit certain types of people...though it might be balancing out that effect by making others shy away. So does it "help"? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

On Preview, daveadams has it pretty much right.
posted by taumeson at 1:16 PM on March 3, 2003


Why do people like GTA3, including me?

Violence and killing are in our genes and in our jeans - hormones cause males, especially young males, to desire aggressive behavior. There is an underlying need to kill all other men and impregnate all healthy females that longterm continuous exposre to testosterone creates in nearly all males. Whether or not this fantastic energy is channeled into more constructive venues than fighting is the defining choice of every individual.

I think what needs to be understood here is that there is during the event of violent media an ongoing exultation and revelry. After the fact however, serious consideration of just what such actions actually entail occurs. Existentialist thoughts creep in and one considers what it is to cessate, and whether there is any worse thing that can happen to self.

Ultimately, the effect of violent media - especially the more realistic example like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan, Medal of Honor, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six games or the America's Army: Operations game put out by the US Army - can swing either way. The real factor is timing - when do the recruiters catch you? During or after the rush?

The release provided by this media in this apostasy we call 'civilization' is, I believe, ultimately a socially beneficial thing. The knife wielded by anything which greatly effects emotions is double-edged, be it movies, books, computer games, pot, or alcohol.

All of this is pretty damned obvious.
posted by Ryvar at 1:20 PM on March 3, 2003


Interesting topic. I think dave gets it exactly right as war film serving as support for whatever pov you held already. For my own part, with it's slick action scenes and simple message of selflessness ("it's about the man next to you"), Black Hawk Down did play a bit like a recruitment vehicle.

Contrast that with a much more complex film like Three Kings, where it's impossible not to confused by the utter pointlessness of war as it's experienced by those on the ground in combat, unlike a more simplistic and high-minded view held by, say, those who are running the show from Washington.
posted by psmealey at 1:23 PM on March 3, 2003


rift2001 during WWII dead American Soldiers were not allowed to be shown in the American news or magazines. I believe Life Magazine printed the first pictures of the dead, but after the war was over.

I thought Born on a 4th of July was the first movie for me that really made war look bad. This at a time in my life I knew a career in the military was never going to be. Also I had no control over the matter of the why I couldn't either.

Death is never a good site nor is it how I want to be remembered. Few have control over it, but everyone dies and is a fact of life. As tragic as it is, it is a personal moment for the decease.

Because of my brothers' occupations I'm foregoing war movies during these current times. As it stirs thoughts of the future, which I have no control over.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:33 PM on March 3, 2003


rift2001: triumph in Somalia? Dead US soldiers were dragged through the streets...

I don't think Black Hawk Down (the film, haven't read the book) was either 100% pro- or anti-war. It was about soldier's intense desire to do the job they were trained to do and, when a comrade falls, not, under any circumstances, leave anyone behind.
posted by turbodog at 1:37 PM on March 3, 2003


The terrible and haunting imagery of Hot Shots and its equally provocative sequel, Hot Shots Part Deux forever instilled in my heart not only a fear of war's inhumanity but a noble desire for pacificism.
posted by xmutex at 1:44 PM on March 3, 2003


What daveadams said.

And I always find it surprising that people see Black Hawk Down as remotely pro-war. It's about a specific series of events, and the human interactions and experiences which take place therein, the degree to which "war" as a larger concept is relevant to the film is quite small (unlike Full Metal Jacket which also doesn't glorify war, in my opinion, but which is about war in a larger sense), and war is portrayed very negatively in any event (the experiences are horrible and the soldiers appear defeated at the end). I just don't see how you can view it as a film which glorifies war - there's some helicopter porn for sure (but that's not glorifying war, that's glorifying technology, which is fine by me), but war itself is portrayed as lonely, frightening, confusing, painful and ultimately futile - how is that glorifying? One scene which sticks out in my mind is when the soldiers first come under fire and a very young one says "They're shooting at us!" incredulously. I think that speaks to nature of the film as a whole.

However, I find the concept of the post interesting. I think the problem is that so many of the trappings of war have a mystique to them (fighter planes are beautiful, radio communications sound cool, aircraft carriers are impressive, etc), that it's very hard to show an appreciation for the technology without also implying approval for its purpose.
posted by biscotti at 1:49 PM on March 3, 2003


xmutex: Have the films led you to rule out atlanticism, for now?
posted by allaboutgeorge at 1:49 PM on March 3, 2003


The film that I would say could be seen as pro-war is the recent We Were Soldiers. It struck me as blatant propaganda - especially the part where the dying young rookie shoulder moans "I'm glad I could die for my country" and then the shot panning off to a Star Spangled Glory. I cringed. That said, I am not a US citizen - perhaps Americans feel differently about it, or perhaps I'd feel the same if it had been an Irish soldier and an Irish flag.

I don't see Black Hawk Down as either pro or anti war - it simply says "this is modern combat". Band of Brothers (and to a lesser extent, Saving Private Ryan) I don't see as anti-war either - it strikes me as saying "War is pure hell. If you go to war, ensure it's for the right reasons, ensure the physical, emotional and psychological losses you will suffer are worth it".

As for Full Metal Jacket, it's not about war - it's about the loss of individuality and becoming part of a machine - the story it tells could have been centered around a large corporation as well as war.
posted by tomcosgrave at 1:58 PM on March 3, 2003


Black Hawk Down I feel is a movie glorifying war, as it doesn't seem to show the human side of war. It is instead a movie where the Americans triumph over the "skinnies". Can't say that movie really made me feel bad for the Somolians. More like it was trying to inspire pride in the American military, the best soldiers on Earth.

Did you even watch this movie, or did you just read accounts of it in poorly written editorials criticizing it?

The movie has a long scene where the Rangers are waiting for reinforcements and a soldiers bleeds to death from a wound to his thigh. The whole platoon agonizes as there is nothing they can do but sit there and watch him die. It shows Rangers falling off helicopters, getting shot in the head, and beat to death by Somalians. It is some of the most stomach-twisting on screen violence since Saving Private Ryan.

Why should the movie make you or anyone feel bad for the Somalians that attacked the Rangers? They used women and children as human shields while they were shooting at US forces that were going to arrest men who were stealing food aid and keeping most of the country from eating.

Just because the movie didn't glorify the opponents of the US military does not mean that it is pro-war. I think that your comments are very revealing as to your thoughts on who really are the 'bad guys'.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:59 PM on March 3, 2003


especially the part where the dying young rookie shoulder moans "I'm glad I could die for my country"

Eh, that's soldier, folks, as opposed to shoulder. Apologies for that. I've had too much caffeine today.

and then the shot panning off to a Star Spangled Glory

I of course meant Star Spangled Banner. I was thinking of using the term Old Glory as I wrote that part of my piece, and I guess I started typing subconsciously. As I say, I'm not a US citizen and I guess that post proves it ;-)
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:00 PM on March 3, 2003


I think there's also a difference between being pro-soldiers, which many of these movies are, and being pro-war.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:02 PM on March 3, 2003


And what about Patton?
Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:12 PM on March 3, 2003


It's really an issue of basic mentality. If one is inclined towards not analyzing anything, that person could watch a documentary about the Bataan Death March and walk away saying "war is so cool!" Of course there are dim folks who watch "Full Metal Jacket" and just remember the adventure in it.

Myself, I only remember the Sgt. Hartman lines.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:29 PM on March 3, 2003


I'd feel the same if it had been an Irish soldier and an Irish flag.

oh come on...most irish music is about fighting...
"armoured cars and tanks and guns....."
you cant tell me that stuff doesnt get you going...
what about the michael collins film ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:50 PM on March 3, 2003


Steve_at_Linnwood: if you haven't, do read the book by Bowden. Thereafter you can make an interesting comparison in terms of analysis between the description of events in his account (still very much pro-US military overall) and the way they are depicted. A catalogue of incompetence and political opportunism, rather than a heroic failure with the undue emphasis on heroic.

Ridley Scott at the time used the 'any war film is anti-war defence' to justify his rather apolitical stance, which I don't buy. Apolitical is just lazy conservatism. Least Randall Wallace (it seems) is openly attempting to come up with some strange justifications for all kinds of gruesomeness...

Best war film: the other war film by Kubrick that isn't Strangelove (although, that too of course...) Paths of Glory was it? One with Kirk Douglas in.
posted by klaatu at 3:04 PM on March 3, 2003


As for Full Metal Jacket, it's not about war - it's about the loss of individuality and becoming part of a machine

Anti-army then?
posted by iamck at 3:33 PM on March 3, 2003


Once you realize that the guy who wrote Apocalypse Now, John Milius, also did Red Dawn -- you can see it's no anti-war movie. It's about the glory of war's hellishness.
posted by inksyndicate at 3:36 PM on March 3, 2003


Props to rift2001 for recommending No Man's Land. I'm glad that No Man's Land beat out Amelie for the best foreign film Oscar. It's hilarious, beautiful, and depressing--I highly recommend it.
posted by LimePi at 3:58 PM on March 3, 2003


I walked out of Black Hawk Down thinking that the movie was romanticising the job of being a soldier. Steve points out that the camera lingers on some very gut-wrenching shots, and that's right, it does. But even taking that into account, you're clearly supposed to walk out of the theater seeing this big snafu (the most US casualties since Vietna, wasn't it?) as somehow a triumph of the human spirit, since we see the comraderie and loyalty of the soldiers, how they don't leave anybody behind, how they kill the sneering bad guy, et cetera.

Now, you can split hairs and say this isn't pro-war, since these qualities that are being glorified aren't necessarily related to war. But if these same qualities are what the Army is using to advertise itself and try to recruit people (which it is), you can't, as a film-maker, ignore this and pretend you're not making a movie about war.

I mean, it's a movie about army rangers that depicts the army as the good guys, and there's all kinds of stirring themes about "the guy next to you", and then when the movie is out it's used as a recruitment vehicle for the army, so yeah, it's hard to blame the average Joe for thinking it's pro-war.

Which is what I think happened, just based on the many arguments I had with people when that movie came out.
posted by Hildago at 4:01 PM on March 3, 2003


I think the terrible beauty of Apocalypse Now mostly helps to recruit film students.
posted by alumshubby at 4:08 PM on March 3, 2003


Best war film: (...) Paths of Glory was it? One with Kirk Douglas in.
Yes. One of the best, definitely. But please, please check out Grand Illusion (great Criterion DVD) -- FDR's favorite movie, condemned to destruction by the Nazis
Also of note:
THe Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

I think that your comments are very revealing as to your thoughts on who really are the 'bad guys'

Just call him a "commie", or a "terrorist", since you really think he was rooting for the bad guys. You'll feel better.
It's just too bad that Usama-Rift2001 was trying to make a perfectly reasonable point -- that Ridley Scott is not really interested in human beings, in what they do and feel. In BHD there's no back story, the movie does not really take the time to explain you what's happening in Somalia because it's first and foremost an _action_ movie, with awesome editing, sound and cinematography (I loved how the golden light becomes slowly colder, then bluish when night approaches). The book, as already pointed out, was much more critical of the screwups -- political and military --of the US during that mission. The movie, simple and plain, is a Western: it's about the good guys who remain trapped in the Ghost Town, and about their buddies who go there to bring them back. Very straightforward storytelling. Not a recruiting poster like the appalling Top Gun or Green Berets, maybe (even though Scott, former tv ad director, can't avoid making people -- Sam Shepard and all the others -- looking great, even if they're getting shot at). But BHD is not Johnny Got His Gun, either
posted by matteo at 4:24 PM on March 3, 2003


About movies and propaganda:
(...) But you're not going to write it that way, are you.' This wasn't a question. It was an accusation.`I -- I don't know,' I said.`Well, I know,' she said. `You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of these other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.'
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5
posted by matteo at 5:33 PM on March 3, 2003


I'm reminded of these words of wisdom from Bart Simpson:

"Contrary to what you've just seen, war is neither glamorous nor fun. There are no winners, only losers. There are no good wars, with the following exceptions: The American Revolution, World War II and the Star Wars Trilogy."
posted by TBoneMcCool at 5:48 PM on March 3, 2003


But even taking that into account, you're clearly supposed to walk out of the theater seeing this big snafu (the most US casualties since Vietna, wasn't it?)

That would almost certainly be Beirut.

as somehow a triumph of the human spirit, since we see the comraderie and loyalty of the soldiers

I thought you were meant to leave the theater drained and hopeless. How is a movie about people being screwed over by their superiors a triumph of the human spirit? If anything, we saw the human spirit in full flower when a horde of Somalis rushed to kill the downed pilots, standing up for their right to starve their neighbors. It's a bleak, bleak film about how people are going to keep right on slaughtering each other by the bucketfull, even when you try to stop them.

how they don't leave anybody behind

You didn't see the same movie I did. In the one I saw, people got left behind (namely, Durant).

how they kill the sneering bad guy, et cetera.

What sneering bad guy got killed? There was Mr. Man from the beginning, but nobody killed him AFAICR. The only people we see getting killed up-close and personal are random hapless schmucks, not sneering bad-guys.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:13 PM on March 3, 2003


klaatu: I have read the book, we are talking about movies.

But even taking that into account, you're clearly supposed to walk out of the theater seeing this big snafu (the most US casualties since Vietna, wasn't it?) as somehow a triumph of the human spirit, since we see the comraderie and loyalty of the soldiers, how they don't leave anybody behind, how they kill the sneering bad guy, et cetera.

No I think this movie was political, but not being of a pro-war or anti-war stance. I think the movie's point was on the political ramifications of US foreign policy choices at the time.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 6:29 PM on March 3, 2003


Once you realize that the guy who wrote Apocalypse Now, John Milius, also did Red Dawn -- you can see it's no anti-war movie. It's about the glory of war's hellishness.

Milius (and Coppola) wrote the screenplay. The story is based on Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, and Vietnam stands in for the Congo in the movie.
posted by biscotti at 6:34 PM on March 3, 2003


I'm surprised that All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, I think), quite possibly my favourite "war" movie isn't mentioned. There's a synergy between technical/financial limitations and cinematic intent during a scene where the Germans are shooting line after line of charging Brits that's simply creepy to watched. The director filmed the scene with the Germans shooting a machine gun full of blanks at a broad screen onto which is projected a twenty second loop of film of British soldiers charging run slightly faster than it should be. The camera sits behind the machine gunner and simply pans across the screen with him, as the same ten or fifteen British soldiers mechanically charge at the position and are mowed down over the course of several minutes. Well worth watching, and certainly not "pro-war".
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 6:46 PM on March 3, 2003


If I may be so bold, here's my list of favorite anti-war movies.
posted by muckster at 8:48 PM on March 3, 2003


That would almost certainly be Beirut.

I meant in one day, sorry.

I thought you were meant to leave the theater drained and hopeless.

Well, all I can say is that I'm not alone in getting the "noble brotherhood of warriors" sort of impression from the movie:

Salon said "Inevitably, Scott and the producers have attempted to recast "Black Hawk Down" as a story of American military heroism, rather than a grim fable of a Murphy's-law mission doomed by arrogance, incompetence and sheer bad luck."

Joe Roth, head of Revolution Films (the guys who made Black Hawk Down, said ""[I]t's not America's darkest hour, but America's brightest hour." Take that for what it's worth, I guess.

But I agree with you that you should have come out of the movie drained and totally wasted. And I think to some degree most people did (which I never said wasn't the case), but at the same time the soldiers themselves were glorified (perhaps rightly so, but that's not the point) -- there's no getting around it.

You didn't see the same movie I did. In the one I saw, people got left behind (namely, Durant).

For those of you playing at home, Durant was the guy who got captured. I concede the point, but I'd say he's an exception only insofar as they couldn't possibly do anything about it. Anyway, he didn't get left behind in the end, since he was freed.

What I'm trying to get at is that the motto they kept repeating throughout the film -- "no one gets left behind" -- was obviously significant. Would you argue this?

What sneering bad guy got killed?

I'm thinking of the guy in the jeep; the same guy who took imaginary pot shots at the helicopter in the very beginning of the movie. Apologies, I don't have a copy of the movie here to verify. Wasn't he the guy who got set up as the big tough Somali warrior, and we kept seeing shots of him throughout the movie, pretty much acting like Snidely Whiplash?
posted by Hildago at 8:59 PM on March 3, 2003


That would almost certainly be Beirut.

I meant in one day, sorry.


I think that's still Beirut -- a good 150 or 200 or so Marine blown to bits or squished in a truck-bomb attack.

That one scud that hit a military mailroom and took out about 100 people in the Gulf War had to have been worse, too.

As to the movie, I think the real lesson here (as someone I'm too lazy to page up to name suggested) is that different people can have very different perceptions of the same movie, probably mostly based on what they went in with.

Like that cavey-tree thing in _Return of the Jedi_... the only things in there are what you bring.

Oh, and I know who you mean -- Mr. Shootey-Downey Man with the RPG's. He gets killed? I thought he took Durant away.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:34 PM on March 3, 2003


How po-mo of you, ROU. But as Umberto Eco would have it in The Limits of Interpretation, there are -- well, you get the idea. I for one believe rumors of the author's demise have been greatly exaggerated. I haven't seen Black Hawk Down but I'd venture that it belongs into the group of movies that trade in heroism and loyalty rather than suffering and misery.

The cave is in Empire.
posted by muckster at 9:52 PM on March 3, 2003


You're right, it is in Empire. What an idiot.

There was plenty of heroism and suffering and misery and loyalty in BHD, AFAICT
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:01 PM on March 3, 2003


For some reason, I've been catching up on war books and films.

BHD shows that people asked to choose between their dictators and their liberators can make surprising decisions.

Neither the book nor the film explained why the populace attacked the soldiers. I think they ignored the soldiers until the intervention, much as those in a domestic argument will ignore the cops until they arrive.

The point was made in the book that the soldiers' camp was defenceless against a carbomb or mortar attack - the population took no notice of them 'till they got in the game.

The image I tremember most from the film is the soldier who was cut in half.

Another interesting film in the genre is Enemy at The Gates, which again was merciless in its depiction of the suffering created by war.
posted by emf at 11:56 PM on March 3, 2003


Apocalypse Now and Aliens were the two texts closest to my decision to enlist: the latter for its sense that soldiers in elite units tapped into an earned swagger and an eros denied the rest of reality, and the former precisely because its Willard and its Kurtz both knew "the horror" and found themselves utterly remade by it.

I buy the premise of the review and the FPP, although I find Swofford's writing pedestrian and wingless. No matter what the intent behind depicting scenes of evisceration, traumatic amputation, decapitation, napalming, etc., the (adolescent male?) viewer senses on some level that these are facts, nonnegotiable, ultimate, bedrock and real in the way precious few moments of our relatively comfortable lives ever are.

As a nineteen year old, I got Nietzsche, totally and utterly, when he counseled that we should "love peace as a means to a greater war." I *got* the look of mingled disgust, awe, and longing on Martin Sheen's face whenever the script threw him into a set-piece scene of "insanity." I wanted that - to witness it, to suffer it even - in preference to fading seamlessly into a laminar life of mediocrity. Most of the soldiers in every platoon and team in which I served knew and loved the same texts and felt the same way about them.

As it turns out, I was lucky, lucky and thrice lucky in the conditions of my service. I got to tear-ass around in Chinooks and throw humvees over red-clay ruts and blow entire belts of machine gun ammunition into little clinking drifts of links and get stupid drunk on soju and howl laughter long into the Songnam night with my stupid and awesome buddies, and do it all without ever having to harm a human being or see a human being seriously harmed. It was close enough for me, and eventually I came to see that heroism and facticity could be experienced in ways that didn't do quite so much to put the soul at peril.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:36 AM on March 4, 2003 [1 favorite]


oh come on...most irish music is about fighting...
"armoured cars and tanks and guns....."


Have you ever been to Ireland for longer than 2 weeks? Ever read anything about Irish culture, aside from cliched paddy-whackery?

you cant tell me that stuff doesnt get you going...

No. It doesn't. I've seen the aftermath of violence. Not fun. Not amusing.

what about the michael collins film ?

What about it? There was no choice but military action to take - how else could there have been a rebellion?And if you watch the movie carefully, you'll see that Collins disliked violence, and this is also true of him in real life.
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:46 AM on March 4, 2003


eventually I came to see that heroism and facticity could be experienced in ways that didn't do quite so much to put the soul at peril.

Well said. Hear hear.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:28 AM on March 4, 2003


A certain percentage will always join the military - as did I, my friends and several of my family over the years... the reason isn't actually that hard to understand.

We actually feel the country deserves our willingness to defend it.

I know it would be easier to think everyone who joins is ignorant of the risks - or the potential costs.

I know the concept of doing something out of patriotism isn't a well received one these days.

I know it would be easier for some to believe we were seduced by the hardware, or the uniforms, or duped by "hollywood".

That simply hasn't so - a good portion of those I met in the military joined for the simple reason that they believed in the USA and actually felt it was their duty to be willing to serve.

Certainly, not everyone. Most people who were in were there for the college money or skill training, but about 40% of us were there simply do do what we saw as the right thing.

Now, there is no denying that the ridiculously cool hardware was a compensation (god, I love tanks) :)
posted by soulhuntre at 4:36 AM on March 4, 2003


Gee, with the reference to "pornography for the military man" in the post, I'm surprised no one mentioned that clumsy little film Taps, where Tom Cruise eventually orgasms out as he sprays machine gun lead at the evil forces of civilian control of the military.

Did you even watch this movie [Black Hawk Down], or did you just read accounts of it in poorly written editorials criticizing it?

~guffaw~

That's right. Instead, why didn't he just read your poorly written editorial parroting the propaganda from a film made with the assistance and "clearance" of the Pentagon?

In case you really just didn't get it, that's why discussion of the differences between the movie and book is important. Let's see what Bowden also wrote about this brave little military "intervention", before the movie ever got made:

WHEN THE AMERICAN helicopters opened fire on Kassim Sheik Mohamoud's garage in southern Mogadishu, two of his employees were killed. Ismail Ahmed was a 30-year-old mechanic, and Ahmad Sheik was a 40-year-old accountant and one of Kassim's right-hand men. Somalian militiamen were hiding inside the garage compound, so Kassim knew they might be bombed. When the shooting started, the beefy businessman had quickly run to the Digfer Hospital to hide. He figured the Americans would not shoot at a hospital. He stayed there two hours. It sounded as if the whole city were exploding with gunfire. As dusk approached his men brought him news of the two deaths, and because their Islamic faith called for them to bury the dead before sundown, Kassim left the hospital and returned to his garage to lead a burial detail. He set off for Trabuna Cemetery with three of his men and the bodies of Ismail Ahmad and Ahmad Sheik. Mogadishu was in turmoil. Buses had stopped running, and all of the major streets were blocked. American helicopters were shooting at anything that moved in the southern portion of the city, so many of the wounded could not be taken to hospitals. Wails of grief and anger rose from many homes, and angry crowds had formed in a broad ring around Cliff Wolcott's Blackhawk, the first of two helicopters that crashed. People swarmed through the streets, seeking vengeance. They wanted to punish the invaders.

Ali ran. People were scrambling everywhere. The streets were crowded with terrified women and children, and there were dead people and dead animals. He saw a woman running naked, waving her arms and screaming. Above was the din of the helicopters, and all around was the crisp popping of gunfire. Out in the streets were militiamen with megaphones. They were shouting, ``Kasoobaxa guryaha oo iska celsa cadowga!'' (``Come out and defend your homes!'')

His friend Adan Warsawe was hit in the stomach and knocked flat on his back. Ali helped carry him to cover. He felt afraid but very angry. Who were these men who came to his home spreading death?

Sgt. First Class Matt Rierson kept radio lines up with the Little Birds, relaying the convoy's status and calling in air support. Things had deteriorated so badly that officers in the command helicopter were considering just releasing what they called ``all the precious cargo'' - the 24 Somalian prisoners. Ahmen Warsame was among the handcuffed prisoners in a five-ton truck. They were stacked tightly into the space, laid out on their sides. Under the din of gunfire he heard the sound of muttered prayers, until the Somalian man praying was shot dead. There was no telling who had fired the shot. Told to be silent, the frightened prisoners began talking among themselves until a Ranger clubbed one of the Somalis in the head.

The truck was weaving and banging into the sides of buildings. It ran over a Somalian man on crutches. ``What was that?'' asked Maddox. ``Don't worry about it. We just ran over somebody.'' And they laughed. They felt no pity and were beyond fear. They were both laughing as Maddox stopped the truck.

They shot their way back to the base, blasting everything they saw. Rules of engagement were off. Sizemore saw young boys, 7 and 8 years old, some with weapons, some without. He shot them all down. He saw women running in crowds alongside men who had rifles, and he mowed down the crowds. He didn't care anymore. He just felt numb - numb and angry and full of fight. He just wanted to hit as many Somalis as he could.

Black Hawk Down reports for the first time in America on the full extent of civilian casualties in Mogadishu on October 3rd, and explains for the first time that American soldiers fired on crowds of men, women and children -- and explains why. It gives the first detailed report, with eyewitnesses, on the surprise American/UN missile attack on July 12, 1993 that killed scores of Habr Gidr clan elders. It records the efforts of Somali doctors battling to save lives through two long days of treating horrible wounds. It also records the grief and anger of Somalis who lost loved ones or who were wounded themselves in the fight. It makes clear that many of those killed or hurt were not directly involved in the fight. I think there is certainly still room for a fuller version of this story from the Somali perspective (this version is, admittedly, primarily an American perspective). Given the great difficulty we faced doing research in Mogadishu, and how easy it would have been for me to simply do the story without seeking the Somali perspective, I am proud that Black Hawk Down documents exactly the things you suggest. MB

Read the original Bowden newspaper series here.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:07 AM on March 4, 2003


Read the original Bowden newspaper series here.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:09 AM on March 4, 2003


But war's a game, which, were their subjects wise,
Kings would not play at.
- Task (bk. V, l. 187)
William Cowper.
posted by emf at 2:31 PM on March 4, 2003


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