December 21, 2001
12:24 AM   Subscribe

There is growing evidence that Somalia may be the next target in the "war on terrorism". Let's hope that the military doesn't repeat the same mistakes it made in the last intervention in Somalia chronicled in the book Black Hawk Down. All of this is great news for the upcoming movie based on said book. And you can't buy marketing like that. Or can you?
posted by euphorb (15 comments total)
i have heard that if you wish to use genuine military gear (which you hire from the military) in your film, you had better make sure that the film shows the military in a positive light. not entirely suprising, but censorship nonetheless.
posted by asok at 3:24 AM on December 21, 2001

And if there's a piece of scum among the participants, just rewrite history.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:01 AM on December 21, 2001

Speaking of real-world events acting as marketing vehicles for movies, remember when The China Syndrome was showing in theaters about the same time that Three Mile Island happened?
posted by alumshubby at 6:03 AM on December 21, 2001


You are correct. If you want to use Armed Forces land or expertise, you better make them look good. Check out the reasons for why certain movies were denied cooperation, some of them are quite funny.

Re: Forrest Gump

"The 'mooning' of a president by a uniformed solider is not acceptable cinematic license."

Carol Anne is also correct. Getting the Pentagon's approval for a movie can result in rewriting history, like in the movie Pearl Harbor:

Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Dorie Miller, the African-American mess attendant aboard the West Virginia, who really did man an anti-aircraft gun during the attack. In the movie, he’s promptly awarded the Navy Cross. In life, his medal had to be pried out of a reluctant Navy after his death later in the war.
posted by thewittyname at 6:05 AM on December 21, 2001

asok, that's why the US Marine Corps pulled out their support for the Clint Eastwood movie Heatbreak Ridge -- among many other problems, it made the elite-among-the-elite Marine Force Reconnaissance guys look like a bunch of screwups, misfits and wild cards, which they definitely are not.
posted by alumshubby at 6:07 AM on December 21, 2001

Censorship? How? They don't stop you from making the movie, they just decline to pitch in.
posted by techgnollogic at 7:56 AM on December 21, 2001

Asok, you don't know the meaning of the word censorship, if you're going to abuse it like that. (I suppose by criticizing you here I'm also engaging in censorship through marginalization.) It cheapens the word to use it in such an asinine manner. Why should the military cooperate with a movie that shows it in a poor light? Why should anyone?

As for Somalia, it's definitely true that "the Mog" was an important event. It was, however, a military success. The objectives of the mission that day were met; the survivors of the battle were extracted; and the casualties ran 20:1 in favor of the isolated, surrounded American special forces. The failure was not in execution, but in political considerations which placed the teams in potentially hostile territory without armored vehicles or cavalry. (The US and UN wanted to keep a low profile; but there was mission creep, as they became more than a humanitarian-protection force and more of a UN police force attempting to arrest, and later neutralize, warlord Aidid.) As a result the US was unable to rescue its own forces by itself, and they've vowed never to let that happen again. They were dependent on help from the Malaysian and Pakistani contingents of the UN force.

The other failure was one of intelligence, though it would be hard to fault. The headline version of the story was "popular backlash against Americans", but this neglects to note two key things. First, the presence of the UN force directly threatened the power of the warlords, once it was decided that they were too great a threat to the aid convoy protection mission. (Aidid's men had surrounded and dismembered something like half a dozen Pakistanis.) Second, the warlords had been hijacked by an early mission of the al Qaeda network funded by Osama bin Laden, who had supplied Somalis with rocket-propelled grenades and training. To support this mission, whose goal was the direct humiliation of the US forces, he paid off cooperating warlords and distributed propaganda that the UN force was going to shut down mosques and convert everyone to Christianity. The United States was not aware they were being targetted this way; they saw a population that became increasingly agitated the more they were being fed, and couldn't make sense of it. As a result of this information gap, the US forces ended up in an untenable situation from which they exited with excellence and bravery.

Some other minor aspects include the fact that we couldn't trust the intelligence we were being given as to Aidid's whereabouts in a small city (could have been a rope-a-dope game, could have been simply Tailor-of-Panama style invention motivated by greed), and that the Italian contingent was essentially tipping off the Somalis to our movements in exchange for its soldiers not being attacked. (And our allies wondered why they weren't invited to the Afghanistan party. *snort*)

The military has taken these lessons to heart, and they can be seen, for example, in the US refusal to take direct part in the peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. One mission at a time. Two competing missions can undercut and cannibalize each other. Another is the insistence on search-and-rescue capability available very nearby. We got this with our use of bases in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, and later within Afghan territory itself. Finally there is a greater emphasis on liaison forces on the ground so that we have allies we can turn to and good sources of information. That capability had been politically downplayed as an embarassment due to its politicization in the Vietnam War. It is certain that the use of liaisons and allies were criticial to our success in Afghanistan.

Already we have been asking Kenya for assistance (for those S&R missions) and there's no doubt in my mind that we have dozens of men in Somalia right now seeking out sympathetic tribal leaders or warlords with whom we can work. (There is, technically, a government, but its remit extends about three blocks in any direction. It isn't likely to be targeted in the same way the Taliban were.) There are functional breakaway regions in the north -- Somaliland and Puntland -- which have not joined the present government, and would be excellent candidates to co-opt in this fight, since they were left out/boycotted the present government.
posted by dhartung at 9:24 AM on December 21, 2001

The Bush family has unfinished business in Somalia.
posted by electro at 12:00 PM on December 21, 2001

As for Somalia, it's definitely true that "the Mog" was an important event. It was, however, a military success.

I don't know if I'd go that far. The 20 to 1 ratio is not that important given the advances in weaponry, and the importance of American causlties. Obviously, there were failures in execution..the misjudging that helicopters could not be taken down by common RPG's, the failure of trained men who had scaled down ropes to do it right in combat..miscues between Delta Force and Rangers...there were failures of execution there. But Somolia did make a great contribution to the lessons of what not to do.
posted by brucec at 1:39 PM on December 21, 2001

brucec: It was not seen as a failure by the men who were in it. They arrested some of Aidid's top men, and kept them in custody despite the chaos. The relief convoy was arranged under the worst of circumstances but succeeded despite determined efforts to block and trap it as it progressed through the dark city. The fielded forces were surrounded on all sides; though they could not move or evacuate, they held off several waves of fierce attacks with a perimeter about the size of a city block.

There were tactical failures, yes, but given the materials at hand, the troops were incredibly resourceful. In the middle of a larger war this would have been seen as a victory. But the media hadn't been following the story, the mission had changed, the Republicans saw this as another way to score points in Clinton's shaky early days, and it led to a Why are we in Somalia? re-evaluation. That attitude -- that we shouldn't have been there in the first place -- caused us to avoid involvement in Rwanda and to a lesser extent to exercise uncharacteristic caution in the former Yugoslavia. The lessons were not so much in the execution, as in the political aspects of the mission, the resources that should be available, and the use of international alliance structures to execute. The latter, especially, was proven in Kosovo to be an untenable way to fight a war; you can't have 15 different foreign ministers signing off on everything you do.
posted by dhartung at 5:29 PM on December 21, 2001

If anyone is interested in reading or glancing at the REAL basis for the movie "Black Hawk Down", you can find the complete book online here

This is a kosher copy .. put up by the original publishers. It is much more interesting and revealing than the movie.
posted by ssheth at 9:23 PM on December 21, 2001

That's not actually the complete book. It's the complete newspaper series that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer {whose website is all hypertexted up with maps and video}. The book is a greatly expanded version of the articles.
posted by dhartung at 1:50 AM on December 22, 2001

I don't doubt the heroism of the forces involved, some of whom were incredibly young. But their training was diabolical. Military intelligence was, as ever, an oxymoron. The strategic and tactical decisions made by their superiors were criminal. Dhartung, I don't see how anyone in their right mind can not see the Mogadishu operation to be anything but a horrendous military fuck up. The military's elite forces once again commited a series of gaffes that showed they were lacking even the most basic of training.

I don't doubt they had heart. Bowden betrays his genuine respect for the men involved many times in his book. But I'm sure you could put almost any young patriotic American in the president's shoes and they'll show you they've got heart. Just because they're brave doesn't mean they'll do a good job, does it? And blaming it on the Pakastanis, Malaysians and Italians just makes your argument look weak.
posted by dlewis at 3:19 AM on December 22, 2001

Why should the military cooperate with a movie that shows it in a poor light? Why should anyone?

The military cooperates with movies that show it in a good light. The military are not a private organization. That's our tax dollars being spent on p.r. that's often giving a false view of reality and history.
posted by liam at 12:23 PM on December 22, 2001

D&D (lewis and hartung) and brucec. You're all right. Like the TET offensive it was a tactical victory on the ground (despite mistakes by the guys up top) that eventually led to a withdrawal of US troops.

Actually I don't believe it was the number of casualties that resulted in a withdrawal but the graphic images plastered all over television of bodies being dragged through streets.

The Somalis were pretty adept at using CNN against us. The war was lost in American living rooms not on the streets of Mogadishu. It's no surpise that now the Pentagon tries to control information as much as possible.

But to bring it back to the point of the thread maybe cooperating on the production and marketing of movies is actually just a way to become more sophisticated in one of the ways modern wars are fought, in the media.
posted by euphorb at 12:31 PM on December 22, 2001

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