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Somali people still defiant

BLACK HAWK DOWN: Pentagon war propaganda

By Johnnie Stevens

Hollywood produces bad movies all the time. But "Black Hawk Down" is more than bad. It is a conspiracy by the Pentagon and Hollywood to distort history and demonize the Somali people, right when the administration is considering another invasion of that battered and impoverished African country.

The Pentagon commended director Ridley Scott for rushing the film's release after 9/11. The Motion Picture Association of America arranged a private screening for senior White House advisors. Vice President Dick Cheney attended. So did Contragate criminal Col. Oliver North, as well as a group of U.S. Army Rangers.

"Black Hawk Down" pretends to tell the story of what happened on Oct. 3, 1993, when tens of thousands of Somali people, most of them civilians, fought off an attack by U.S. Rangers and Delta Force commandos in the center of the capital city, Mogadishu.

The heavily armed U.S. troops had come in Humvees and Black Hawk helicopters to try and kidnap Mohamed Farrah Aidid and two of his lieutenants. They intended to take them to a ship anchored off the coast. Aidid was the Somali leader most resistant to U.S. efforts to establish military and economic domination in the area, under the pretext of providing food aid.

The arrogant and racist presence of 28,000 U.S. troops was hated by the Somali people. Sent there originally by George Bush Sr. in December 1992, they had opened machine gun fire on unarmed protesters and flown their helicopters so low over the city that the downdraft pulled the tin roofs off people's houses.

When one of the helicopters sent to capture Aidid crashed near a crowded market and reinforcements were sent in with guns blazing, the Somali people responded in a massive uprising against them.

'Shooting at anyone
and anything'

The 16-hour battle ended in hundreds of Somali deaths--helicopter gunships fired indiscriminately on the people in the streets and market. Mark Bowden, in his book on which this film claims to be based, wrote: "The Task Force Ranger commander, Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison, testifying before the Senate, said that if his men had put any more ammunition into the city 'we would have sunk it.' Most soldiers interviewed said that through most of the fight they fired on crowds and eventually at anyone and anything they saw."

U.S. forces with their sophisticated weapons have wreaked death and destruction on many oppressed peoples--most recently in Afghanistan. What made this battle different was that it ended in the deaths of 18 elite U.S. Army Rangers, the Pentagon's biggest battle loss since the Vietnam War. This led to a hasty U.S. withdrawal from the country.

The Somalis were jubilant at having defeated these flying death machines. "Black Hawk Down" was really a Somali people's victory over what had been considered the invincible Rangers and Delta Force.

But the film, in the words of New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell, "converts the Somalis into a pack of snarling dark-skinned beasts ... it reeks of glumly staged racism." (Dec. 28, 2001)

That's what the Pentagon wants U.S. audiences to get out of the film. Racism and fear of Third World peoples are being whipped up here as the Bush administration moves to spread its war of domination in Afghanistan to other Third World countries.

But the reaction the film is getting elsewhere in the world is far different.

Somalis still defiant

CNN reported on Jan. 22 that hundreds of Somalis crowded into an outdoor playground just a mile from the battle site to watch one of the first copies of "Black Hawk Down" to reach their country. "Audience members seemed to take delight in scenes of U.S. defeat. Each time an American chopper went down in the film, the audience cheered. Every time an American serviceman was killed, the audience cheered some more."

Afterward, some of the Somalis criticized the accuracy of the film. But they were proud of the resistance it showed. "As you can see, Somalis are brave fighters," one man said. "If the Americans come back to fight us, we shall defeat them again."

This film was released soon after the Bush administration in November shut down the overseas branches of the Somali-owned Al-Barakaat banking and telecommunications firm, which Somalis living abroad had used to send money home. It was a cruel blow aimed at destroying the Somali economy and bringing the people to their knees in the face of starvation. But two months later, the Somali people have refused to be broken--as their reaction to the film showed.

Several groups in the U.S. are calling for a boycott of this film and see it as evidence of the Pentagon's continuing desire to reinvade Somalia, under the pretext this time of fighting "terrorism."

Larry Holmes of the International Action Center points out that the film "is being linked to new war moves against Somalia, a poor country believed to have unexplored oil reserves."

Activists are particularly angry at the decision to hold the film's Washington, D.C., premiere on Jan. 15--the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Dr. King was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. How dare they hold a gala showing of this racist film on the 73rd anniversary of his birth," said Sarah Sloan, a youth organizer for the IAC. The group plans to protest the film and leaflet filmgoers with educational material on what really happened in 1993.

The Somali Justice Advocacy Center in Minneapolis has also called for a boycott of the film. Its executive director, Omar Jamal, was visited by the FBI after the group criticized U.S. policy on Somalia and the shutting down of money transfer facilities here.

Reprinted from the Jan. 31, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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