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Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down
A Story of Modern Warfare
I chose to do a review of Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden. He doesn’t set out to deliver some dissertation on battle or combat leadership. He set out to tell a story, a true story about men who wanted nothing more than to serve their country and if they could help it, make it home alive while looking out for their buddy. Bowden is the only one that covered the Battle of the Black Sea, or Ma-alinti Rangers (The Day of the Rangers) as the Somalis call it. Rather than attempt to talk about things that he knows nothing about like many authors do, Bowden simply recounts the events that unfolded on October 3, 1993. After much digging and red tape that would have kept him from learning anything, a tip off from Jim Smith, Vietnam Veteran and father of Corporal Jamie Smith, put Bowden in touch with a number of the Rangers from the battle at a memorial ceremony. From there his network of primary sources grew as many of them had phone numbers and addresses of other Rangers who had since ended their contracts and separated from service. As he began to dig deeper, he found much of the events from that day were unclassified (he’d expected the opposite) he was granted access to videos and tape recordings of radio transmissions as well as hard transcripts detailing every transmission that came across the units frequencies in the heat of battle.
Bowden starts at the most anxious part of the mission, those first few minutes at the beginning of a mission where it still hasn’t sunken in that it’s really happening and the next few that pass before you know what you’re getting into. He opens with a bang and sustains it through the entire book keeping the reader charged from start to finish. His use of extremely descriptive language puts the reader right there behind the sights of every soldier allowing them to experience things so vividly that any more detail may cause post traumatic stress disorder.
All too often, American citizens in the rear don’t realize that every trigger puller and bullet sponge isn’t just a pair of boots on the sand. Even the standard G.I. Joe Blow and Johnny American from Yourtown, USA don’t do the men and women who serve our country justice. Every character, or more accurately every person in this book has a story and Bowden makes sure you know it. He uses flashbacks and memories to show the different paths that brought these men together and how they were before everything happened.
Many times the enemy is a faceless opponent that serves only as an entity to be defeated by the story’s hero. In the book, the reader gains an intimate knowledge of the enemy and his motivation. As hard as it is to admit, he is also a person and has feelings too. Like that hero, he’s fighting for his cause and he truly believes in it.
There are no heroes in Black Hawk Down, only regular men performing heroic acts without thinking anything of it. They didn’t want any awards or medals or any special recognition. They did what they needed to do to accomplish their mission and take care of the man to their left and their right. The Bible says in John 15:13, 15, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Nineteen soldiers made this sacrifice for their brothers in arms and Bowden ensures that the reader knows each one of them.
With strong imagery and personification, Bowden recounts every single thought at critical moments, every kind word, and every humorous exchange between the troops. He takes the reader to Mogadishu with the Rangers and augments him to the chalk. When the soldier gets shot at, it’s difficult not to duck as one vicariously experiences such an intense event.
Having started with an explosive bang, the concussion that really hits the reader is the dealing with the deaths of those brave men after all the shooting is over. The bullets have stopped flying but that’s when they all hit you. Nineteen rounds are fired directly to the reader’s chest cavity; one for each man who lost his life. These people aren’t just statistics; they had families, friends, little girls and girlfriends. Rather than ending at mission success, Bowden shows the reader that success is measured by what was given up to achieve it. In this case, success cost America nineteen of its finest servicemen.
Many are critical of the battle saying that logistics weren’t handled properly, or that General Garrison ordered the assault in pursuit of his next star at the expense of his men. There is no political agenda behind the writing of this book, only a personal endeavor to tell the story of an event that most Americans would sooner forget. He wrote this book to acknowledge that something really did happen and real people were involved, real men, not faceless statistics, died for a cause. He wrote this book lest we, as a nation, forget.
Bowden, Mark. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War . New York: Grove Press , 2010.
A true story about men who wanted nothing more than to serve their country and if they could help it, make it home alive while looking out for their buddy.