WHO SHOT BLACK HAWK DOWN? By Frida Berrigan and THE ENRON SCANDAL AND PRIVATIZING DEFENSE By Bill Hartung
Black Hawk Down was produced to repackage an event perceived as an
American tragedy into a story of American heroism. Unfortunately a film
to honor the American dead during U.S. intervention in Somalia is
instead a film that dangerously distorts the historical reality of U.S.
presence in Somalia. The film is essentially a reenactment of a 15-hour
battle between Somali militia and American troops during the 1993
intervention in Somalia. After a U.S. Delta Force raid on a meeting
with senior officers loyal Mohammed Aidid, a powerful clan leader widely
believed by the U.S. to be responsible for the destabilization of the
Mogadishu, Somali militia shot down two U.S. Black Hawk Helicopters.
The ensuing battle claimed 18 American lives and over 1,000 Somali
By concentrating the bulk of the film on a 15-hour battle, the
directors make little effort to portray the complexity of the U.S.-
Somali intervention. Instead simplistically defining Somali and American
realities as good versus evil. In essence, we know who to cheer for. The
overarching message of the film is the reinforcement of two themes,
American valor and Somali brutality.
The film opens with a short background explaining U.S. presence in
Somalia. From this introduction the audience is told that years of
warfare between rival clans caused over 300,000 deaths. Mohamed Aidid
is the leader of a vicious clan that rules Mogadishu. Aidid and his
clan members have used hunger as a weapon for power as they seize
shipments of humanitarian food aid, leaving their fellow Somalis to
starve, creating a massive famine. U.S. troops are sent into Somalia to
remove Aidid and restore peace and to end what one U.S. military
official in the film calls "genocide."
There is very little effort to contextualize the clash between Somalis
and Americans within a larger historical perspective. The limited
interaction between Somalis and Americans in the film results in a
"primative" portrayal of Somalis who are ignorant of the logic of
democracy and live by the rules of eternal warfare. This approach
obfuscates the historic reality of the incident.
THE REAL STORY
The historical reality is that the civil war between rival clans was a
tragic outgrowth of the Somali struggle for freedom from colonialism and
dictatorship. The freedom movement originated as a struggle based upon
democratic ideology. As is typical of African colonial/post-colonial
societies, rules of ethnicity and clan membership were manipulated by
the European tactic of divide and conquer, leaving a brutal legacy of
exploitation by puppet regimes during the Cold War. Postcolonial Somali
dictator Siad Barre took full advantage of this relationship with the
blessings of the Soviets and then the Americans, pitting traditional
clans against each other in order to maintain power. At the end of the
Cold War, these clans collaborated to successfully overthrow the Barre
regime with a clear vision of creating a democratic society.
Intellectuals who debated democratic structure and development heavily
influenced these movements.
Barre's scorched earth campaign against peasants in the countryside as
a last resort to stay in power created famine-like conditions, which
forced its victims to migrate to Mogadishu. At the same time rival
movements began a power struggle as Barre retreated. This power
struggle soon developed into a civil war. All sides were heavily armed
from the billions of dollars in arms transfers from Soviets, American
and Italians. The Somali population soon became engulfed by famine as a
result of international neglect, widespread poverty, an economy of arms
dominated by fighters raised by warfare, and a brutal power struggle
The U.S. intervened to "mop up" some of the damage done by years of
Cold War posturing. The U.S. humanitarian intervention soon developed
into a manhunt for Mohammed Aidid, a powerful clan leader perceived to
be an obstacle to peace. A majority of Somalis initially supported U.S.
intervention until the manhunt turned bloody and Americans began to
massacre Somali civilians in a blind attempt to capture and kill Aidid.
There are several incidents, which set the stage for the battle of
Black Hawk Down. In July 1993, war weary Somali elders organized a
peace conference to negotiate an end to the inter-clan fighting. This
meeting was widely publicized in Somali newspapers and was to be
celebrated event. From the American perspective the meeting was a
collaboration of Somali combatants. The U.S. planned to eliminate the
enemy by deploying troops under "Operation Michigan" to raid the
meeting. The horrific result was "Bloody Monday." Cobra attack
helicopters dropped 16 TOW missiles and 2,020 rounds of 20mm cannon fire
on the peace gathering. According to an account of a Somali survivor of
Bloody Monday who suffered the result of 20mm rounds that tore off his
right arm at the stump and shredded his right thigh - minutes after the
initial attack, "American ground troops stormed in and began finishing
off the survivors"- a charge US commanders deny. "They were using their
pistols, to come upon survivors who were screaming, and shot them in the
The survivor went on to say, "[The Americans] always talk about human
rights and democracy, so this really surprised me. I could not believe
that US could do that. They lied, you know? They came to Somalia for
relief - Operation Restore Hope - but they changed it to another thing,
a war which had never been seen before." Hostility between Somalis and
Americans grew in the weeks leading up to the downing of the American
Black Hawks, as American troops were responsible for mounting civilian
deaths. American troops used the least accurate weapons for infantry -
blasting rounds indiscriminately into Mogadishu from the UN compound in
daylight just days before the last Task Force Ranger raid which led up
to the downing of the Black Hawks. One of these shells killed a family
of eight. Others wounded 34 people in a hospital. Somalis were so angry
about American attacks that when the Black Hawks were shot down, gunmen
from rival clans came from all over Mogadishu to attack the American
It was American training transferred from Afghani mujahideen to Somali
militia that helped bring the Black Hawks down. According to the book
Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowen, American trained mujahideen who were
taught to shoot down Soviet helicopters with RPG missiles in turn taught
Somalis to do the same to American helicopters. Somalis were taught how
to avoid the dangerous backblast from the RPGs by digging holes in the
ground to absorb the kickback. They were also taught to direct their
hit to the rear of the helicopter for the most effective shot, as well
as how to equip the RPG with a timing device to ensure maximum
effectiveness without a direct hit.
BLACK HAWK DOWN: WAR TIME PROPAGANDA?
It is well known that there was a close collaboration between the U.S.
military and the filmmakers to produce Black Hawk Down. The question of
whether this film is being used to justify U.S. intervention against
"terror networks" in Somalia is debatable. American audiences are most
likely left with feelings of sadness and sympathy for the U.S. troops
killed in action rather than feelings of revenge. But it is the
interpretation of historical accuracy that is most problematic.
According to this film, the importance of historical accuracy lies in
the precise documentation of troop movement during 15 hours of fighting
not in the documentation of historical relationship between Somalia and
the U.S. or in documenting the causes and consequences of that pitched
battle. According to one scholar, "Not only did the operation [Restore
Hope] fail to restore any lasting peace, seriously disarm the factions
or bring any decisive reconciliation or institution building, it also
most disastrously fostered the conditions for lasting conflict by
consolidating the clan-based factions."
This film reflects the selective historical memory of Americans in
general. From Rambo in Vietnam and Afghanistan to Arnold Schwarzenegger
in Columbia (in the new film Collateral Damage), Americans continue to
learn about war and foreign policy from Hollywood, feeding into our
distorted sense of reality and our willingness to believe the myth of a
world divided between good and evil - the US is always representing
Me Against My Brother - At War in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda, by Scott
Peterson. Published by Routledge 2000.
"Somali Armed Movements," by Daniel Compagnon, in African Guerrillas,
ed. Christopher Clapham, Oxford, 1998.
Black Hawk Down, the official movie site,
Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, by Mark Bowden, the book on
which the movie is based. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999.
"'Black Hawk' Damned: Activists Protest No. 1 Movie," Village Voice,
Week of February 6 - 12, 2002 by Geoffrey Gray.
World Policy Institute
66 Fifth Ave., 9th Floor
New York, NY 10011
ph 212.229.5808 x112
THE ENRON SCANDAL AND PRIVATIZING DEFENSE BY Bill Hartung
Last spring, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld raised eyebrows by appointing corporate executives to serve as Secretaries of all three armed services. Thomas White, former Vice-Chairman of Enron Energy Services, was appointed Secretary of Army, James Roche, former Northrop Grumman Vice President, for the Air Force, and former General Dynamics executive Gordon England for the Navy. In the past, the service secretaries had often served as little more than cheerleaders for their respective branches of the military, going up to Capitol Hill to seek more money as needed. But Rumsfeld elevated the importance of these positions by making the service chiefs part of his new executive committee to centralize budgetary and management decision making within the Pentagon.
Shortly after assuming his post as Secretary of the Army in June of last year, Thomas White began pushing for an acceleration of utility services privatization at Army installations around the country. While at Enron, White was responsible for securing a ten-year, $25 million contract to run all the utilities at Fort Hamilton, NY, and the company was looking to expand its business in this area. White sold $25 million worth of Enron stock before taking his new post. A new report by Public Citizen points out the conflict-of-interest involved in White's conduct (which he denies, of course).
The Enron/Pentagon connection raises a larger question: given the dangers of insider dealing and corporate power politics revealed in the Enron case, is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's campaign to bring corporate business practices to the Pentagon in the country's best interests?
The theory behind Rumsfeld's reliance on former corporate executives was that they would be more willing to cut costs and try new approaches than the average Pentagon bureaucrat. The underlying assumption was that corporations -- even weapons contractors -- are by definition run more efficiently than government agencies. As White put it shortly after taking office, "I spent 11 years in corporate America at Enron Corporation* It is very, very clear to me that there is enormous potential to improve the basic business practices of this department."
Nonetheless, the Bush administration's $396 billion military budget painfully shows that Rumsfeld and his advisors made only one decision: fund everything!
The QDR released last fall - the new blueprint for the Pentagon - did not call for the cancellation of a single major weapons program. To date, the only weapons system to get axed was the Navy Area Missile Defense system. This is hardly military reform, considering there are about 10 other missile defense programs being tested and developed. And the war on terrorism has made it easier for weapons contractors and their allies on the Hill and in the military services to preserve expensive Cold War legacy systems.
While the public, policy makers, and the media scrutinize Cheney's Energy Task Force, those same interested parties should take a fresh look at the commissions Rumsfeld chaired before his appointment to Defense Secretary. Both of those commissions - one on the ballistic missile threat facing the U.S. and the other on national security space management - have heavily influenced the Bush administration's defense policy, and both were filled with defense executives who stand to make a profit.
The Pentagon won't collapse like Enron, but without a renewed effort to cut unnecessary programs it will waste hundreds of billions of dollars of our tax money on insider deals that have little or nothing to do with protecting us from terrorists.
Public Citizen has a special Enron Information Center:
"Enron's Web of Influence: The Political Players"
B. ENRON VERSUS THE BIG FOUR DEFENSE CONTRACTORS
Enron's political donations have put the spotlight on the need for campaign finance reform, yet Enron's contributions are actually less than Lockheed Martin's, the No. 1 U.S. defense contractor. Additionally, a report on corporate ties in the Bush administration from the Public-I shows that 14 executives branch officials in the Bush administration owned Enron stock while more than 25 Bush officials held stock in defense corporations.
· Enron contributed more than $2.4 million in individual, PAC, and soft money contributions to federal candidates and parties, ranking it among the top 50 organizational donors in the 1999-2000 election cycle. The company's contribution total for the 2000 elections more than doubled its political donations in each of the two previous election cycles. 72% of Enron's political giving went to Republican candidates.
· Lockheed Martin contributed more than $2.7 million in individual, PAC, and soft money contributions to federal candidates and parties, ranking it among the top 25 organizational donors in the 1999-2000 election cycle. 61% of Lockheed's political giving went to Republican candidates.
PAC (1999-2000 election): $280,043
Soft $ (1999-2000 election): $1,671,555
Lobbying (1999): $1.9 million
Soft $: $1,152,350
Soft $: $828,498
Lobbying: $8.2 million
Soft $: $324,140
Lobbying: $3.6 million
Soft $: $193,125
Lobbying: $1.1 million
The Bush-Cheney 2001 Inauguration committee took in a record $40 million. Of that amount Enron (and executives at Enron) gave a total of $300,000. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon gave a total of $425,000. These figures could increase as some of the donations have not been disclosed.
All contribution data is compiled from the Center for Responsive Politics website: www.opensecrets.org
Our friend Alice Slater, President of Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE), wrote a letter to the editor comparing Enron's giving to Lockheed Martin's.
Read her letter online at www.gracelinks.org/nuke/index.html
Public- I, the investigative wing of the Center for Responsive Politics, examined the finances and professional affiliations of more than 100 members of the Bush administration. Read what they found out at www.public-i.org/story_01_011402.htm
Search their database of the Bush 100's financial records to uncover the professional and economic interests of the Bush Administration:
William D. Hartung
World Policy Institute
66 Fifth Ave. Suite 901
New York, NY 10011
(212)-229-5808, ext. 106
Wednesday, February 13, 2002