am 16. Juni 2003
My experience in military is somewhat limited to a 15 month period in the german army. And even this was not completely by choice either. Nevertheless I really like to read books with a military background. As Mark Bowden puts it:
"The story of combat is timeless. It is about the same thing whether in Troy or Gettysburg, Normandy or the Ia Drang. It is about soldiers, most of them young, trapped in a fight to the death. The extreme and terrible nature of war touches something essential about being human, [...]."
"Black Hawk Down" is a really good example of a military book. Rightly it reached a much bigger audience than most and has been turned into a major motion picture. Mark Bowden is a journalist and he did a great deal of research for the book. Opposed to a lot of American journalists turning authors he does not simply sort the content of his notebook in chapters, and voila here we have a book:
"My contribution would be to capture in word the experience of combat through the eyes and emotion of the soldiers involved, blending their urgent, human perspective with a military and political overview of their predicament. [...] I wanted to combine the authority of a historical narrative with the emotion of the memoir, and write a story that read like fiction but was true."
The book is about the battle of October 3rd 1993 taking place in Mogadischu after American Rangers and Delta operators capture leading members of the clan of Somalian warlord Aidid. This story got significant press coverage with video footage of dead soldiers, one of them being drawn through the streets behind an APC. As a consequence of this battle both the UN and the USA basically stopped their attempt to try to ensure peace in Somalia.
What should have been a quick operation turned into a daylong firefight resulting in hundreds of Somalians and 18 Americans dead. The major cause for this carnage was the downing of two helicopters shot down in the city with RPGs. The Americans thought about them as basically invulnerable to the small arms available to Somalians. Two more were damaged but able to land on safe ground.
Instead of going back to base after the work was done the task force tried to secure the crash sites and extract the soldiers on board the helicopters. Doing this was opposed by a steadily growing force of armed people. Mogadischu had been through a year long civil war so there were a lot of arms around.
The book describes the ensuing tragedy in very graphic detail. Amazingly it also to a certain amount takes into account the views of some Somalians. It is written like a novel, but firmly based on detailed research carried out by the author. Compared to a real novel it has too many characters, so it is more difficult to get attached to the persons. The dramatic situation nevertheless keeps the reader glued to the book.
For everybody interested in military books this is a must read, no doubt about it. It gives a detailed picture of American special forces, specifically Rangers and Delta Force in action. But even people normally reading action thrillers should get something out of it. This experience in Somalia has been very important for US foreign politics in recent years. The massive use of force in Serbia or Iraq as opposed to a limited operation like the one described in the book is a visible result. So if you don't mind a certain amount of gore and are interested in one the topics mentioned above go out and buy this book. I for sure was positively surprised.
am 16. Mai 2000
This is an excellent piece of modern American history. Black Hawk Down is also a wake up call to any policy makers who have taken the Gulf War as proof positive that Military intervention will always work in the new century.
Mark Bowden manages to give the reader a good impression of the overall situation in Somalia in addition to the electrifying events of that ill fated mission in October. This is a very good aspect of the book, because it is here that the general reader and future policy maker will gain the most insight. Technological superiority does not insure an easy military success. Gunships and night vision goggles do not equal victory.
As the battle rages through the streets of Somalia, you will find yourself having to take some time off, in order to catch your breath. Bowden's writing is as telling as Spielburg's directing in Saving Private Ryan. Not only is there an honest and smooth account of combat, but the humor that manifests itself in these terrible situations is also brought out with ease.
I did find myself fliping to the index when a name came back that I recognized but could not remember exactly- that is one of the few shortfalls Bowden's tale posesses: an amazing quantity of characters. They are hard to keep track of. I needed to remind myself that I was reading history, and not an adventure novel. It shamed me to think that I could read like that, but you might find yourself falling into the same trap that Bowden's prose led me. All in all, I am glad that Bowden has give us the story the way he has, with as few as possible ommitted details and in a way that is so easy to access.
am 30. April 2003
Mit "Blackhawk Down" dürfte Mark Bowden eine der besten und realistischsten Beschreibungen eines echten Kampfeinsatzes nach dem Vietnamkrieg gelungen sein. Das Buch ist an historischer Genauigkeit kaum zu übertreffen (Zum großen Teil läßt Bowden die Charaktere ihre Originalsätze während des Kampfes sprechen - der ganze Kampf und der Funkverkehr wurde ja komplett auf Video und Tonband aufgezeichnet). Man meint beim Lesen die Hitze, den Staub, das Vorbeipfeifen der Kugeln und die Explosionen der Panzerfäuste zu hören. Die ganze Geschichte des fehlgeschlagenen Einsatzes in der Gluthitze von Mogadischu wird bis ins allerkleinste Detail erzählt und analysiert, aber immer mit größtem stilistischen Geschick; nie wirkt die Geschichte trocken oder wie eine bloße Chronologie der Ereignisse.Es wird dem Leser ein faszinierender Einblick in Ausbildung, Struktur, Fähigkeiten und Mentalität von Einheiten wie den Rangers und der Delta Force vermittelt. Der amerikanische Autor (ein professioneller Journalist) gleitet aber nie in plumpen Nationalismus ab sondern bleibt stets kritisch. Eigentlich hatte er erwartet, daß das Militär ihn für dieses Buch hassen würde, aber nein: Präsident Clinton, der Generalstabschef der USA und der Oberkommandant des US Marinekorps haben ihn begeistert zu diesem Buch beglückwünscht, in West Point wurde das Buch zur Pflichtlektüre für alle Kadetten erklärt ! Mein Tip: wer sich für Geschichten über und Erzählungen aus dem Krieg interessiert, für den ist dieses Buch ein Muß !
am 21. Juli 2000
I knew these people, they were my, colleagues, my friends, my 'Ranger Buddies'. I was stationed with the 3d Ranger Bn. for four years from 1996 to 2000. I learned a lot about the actions of my buds, from stories here and there, but none so comprehensive as this. When you talk to individuals you get small pieces of the pie, and the command structure, was never really willing to talk about it too much, either, except for certain tactical applications. I learned more about the silent heroes that worked around me everyday through this book than I would have known.
This book was extremely well written, fast paced, and graphic. It will provide the reader with an unstoppable thrill ride of action and fact.
Funny how things are, but this book which is the most accurate account of Mogadishu, was never encouraged to be read by our leaders, mainly because it did point out some of the faults of the past leadership.
Overall one of the best books I've ever read.
am 20. Juli 2000
"Black Hawk Down" is one of the best examples of investigative journalism I have ever read. I picked up the book in a bookstore and read the first few pages while I stood there. I then grabbed a chair and read the first three chapters. That was it. I was hooked. I bought the book and took it home.
The author tells as complete a story about war as I have ever read. He tells of many events from two, three, or more perspectives. One might assume that such a tactic might wear thin, but each perspective is so unique and offers a more complete image of the entire battle. I never tired of the multiple POVs, and in fact, I was disappointed when alternative POVs were not offered for a scene.
I was completely hooked on this book, reading it in the morning before work, during my lunch break, and at night before bed. It is that engrossing. Many times, I found myself saying "wow, that happened?", or pumping my fist in the air and saying "Yeah!", or shaking my head and saying "boy, that had to hurt". It was all so realistically captured, I felt I was there with the soldiers. More than once, I was brought to tears as I read.
Bowden would have been remiss to omit the Somalians' POV, and I would be remiss to omit the fact that he handled that task masterfully. He didn't devote nearly the amount of time to the Somalian point of view, but I commend him for giving me a clearer understanding of the factors that compelled them to civil war, and battle with American troops.
This is the best book I've read this year. It's going to be hard to top this one on my best of the year list.
am 14. März 2004
Black Hawk Down ist eines der besten "Kriegsbeschreibungen" die ich je gelesen habe. Es ist unheimlich fesselnd und auch erschütternd, wenn man bedenkt, daß die Ereignisse tatsächlich so geschehen sind. Mark Bowden hat einen wirklich guten Job gemacht beide Seiten des Konfliktes zu beschreiben. Ich würde jedem, der den Film gesehen hat, empfehlen auch das Buch zu lesen, da der Film nur einen Teil der Geschichte erzählt und auch einige (meiner Meinung nach wichtigen) Entwicklungen, die zu den hohen Verlusten auf amerikanischer Seite geführt haben nicht wiedergibt. Ich habe erst das Buch gelesen und dann den Film gesehen und vermisste einige Ereignisse, die meiner Meinung nach wichtig für das Verstehen der ganzen Entwicklungen sind und die Schwierigkeiten bei solchen Einsätzen verdeutlichen.
Die Mission war ERFOLGREICH.. im Gegensatz zu dem, was viele über diesen Einsatz sagen. Die Soldaten verhafteten die Männer, die sie verhaften sollten; was korrekt ist, der Preis, den sie bezahlen mußten war erheblich höher, als sie erwartet hatten. Aber aus rein militärischer Sichtweise war der Einsatz erfolgreich ausgeführt. They accomplished the mission.
Was mir an der Arbeit von Mark Bowden sehr gut gefällt, er hebt sich kritische Worte für das Nachwort auf.
am 14. April 2000
First of all, it is important to understand what this book is, and what it is not. It is a good oral history of what the soldiers of TF Ranger felt like during what was for most of them, their first taste of combat. It is a very accurate portrayal of young men at war which, is why I gave it three stars. However, I was looking for a little more than that from this book. I was hoping for an accurate military history of the firefight of Oct. 3rd and 4th which, it is not. 99% of this book is about the pinned down SOF which, was really only half the battle. The other half was the rescue attempt by the QRF and UN allies which, is totally ignored in this book. The Malaysian soldier who died was no less brave than any American soldier who died. In fact, he should be eulogized more, because he died trying to save the soldiers of another country whom he had no obligation to. I realize the soldiers who fought in Mogadishu consider this book to be their "monument," but that shouldn't blind us to the inescapable truth of what really happened that day. Although the veterans claim that they were up against "thousands of Somalis," this statement has to be qualified. In a Congressional Review, US Army officers have said that there were only 300 trained SNA soldiers in that part of the city. The rest of the Somalis were an untrained and undisciplined mob of men, women and children. This mob was largely unarmed and had to wait for one of their own to get killed, so they could then pick up the weapon and fire wildly in the direction of US soldiers. Their lack of accuracy can be imagined, as the low death toll of US soldiers attests to. If the Somalis had been in any way tactically competent, they would have caused many more casualties then they did. Let's face it, the US Army wasn't exactly up against the quality of the Waffen SS here. Obviously, the firefight was not as one sided as it has been claimed. Although the Spec Ops were a little outnumbered in men, that was made up for in air power. TF 160 and QRF gun-ships simply hosed down all moving targets in the city. If it wasn't American, it was dead. The majority of the killing was done by the gun-ships. This book tries to make Oct. 3rd sound like it wasn't a total US defeat by using the "Vietnam yard-stick of victory" which, is the body count. Playing the numbers game does not make this a victory. The truth is that a few hundred pathetic Somalis managed to shoot down five helicopters from our best aviation unit, kill 19 soldiers from our best combat units and wound almost a hundred more. In 15 hours, the Somalis rendered TF Ranger and the QRF "combat ineffective." Immediate replacements for TF 160, Delta, Rangers and 10th Mtn. were brought in-country to make up for the loss. This battle was a tactical and strategic defeat for America, as we had to depart from Somalia with our tail between our legs just like we did in a similar situation in Beirut ten years before. I got the impression that the author was trying to turn this humiliating defeat into an American Dunkirk, when in fact, it as more of an American Isandlwana. And of course, whenever the US Army fails, it starts throwing medals around like they were going out of style. Napoleon was right about baubles. My critique of this book was meant in no way to take anything away from the individual soldiers who saw action that day. You guys are the real thing. Although, I wasn't in Mogadishu myself on October 3rd, I did spend a few months on QRF in that hellhole and so have an inkling of what it was like. Overall, a good book...but the truth of Oct 3rd has still yet to be written.
am 22. Januar 2000
Every year the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars on defense, money that is spent to ensure that books like "Black Hawk Down" never have to be written. This book tells about the Battle of Mogadishu, a battle that degenerated into a fight for survival for a small group of American soldiers sent on a fools errand. All the advantages our military typically enjoys-- overwhelming firepower, technological supremacy, superior training and leadership-- were made moot by thousands of Somalis carrying easily obtained automatic weapons and RPG's.
The descriptions of the battle are terrifying and almost beyond comprehension. In one scene, an American soldier sees a man shooting a rifle at him through the legs of a woman sitting in front of him. Small children sat on the shooter's back, giving him added protection. At first the Americans only fire at Somalis carrying guns, but as the situation deteriorates and casualties mount, anything that moves is fair game. It is difficult hearing American soldiers admit that they killed women and children, and Bowden does an excellent job showing how, under the circumstances, this was the only "sane" course of action. Surrounded, under constant fire, and faced with an enemy using unarmed civilians as guides, scouts, and shields, the only chance the American soldiers had was to shoot at everyone and everything. Confusion reigned and the most powerful military force in the world was unable to help their comrades in need.
If I recall correctly 18 U.S. soldiers were killed and 73 wounded. An estimated 500 Somalis were killed and perhaps twice that many wounded. These appalling losses came as the result of an operation that was pointless from the start and poorly thought out and executed. This book shows that, for all our firepower and advanced technology, a small group of irregular fighters can inflict unacceptable casualties on American forces. Automatic rifles are easier to buy than Levis and U.S. soldiers are not immune from bullets. The battle of Mogadishu no doubt affected the decision not to use ground forces in Kosovo, and will probably be a deterrent from using ground forces in the years to come. The question as the 21st century dawns is, can the American public accept casualties in ground combat? Will there be any lessons learned from the terrible fighting in Somalia, and will that lesson be "keep the soldiers out of the firing line"? I hope that the U.S. military learns more from the suffering of the soldiers in "Black Hawk Down" than future despots and warlords looking to skirmish with the U.S. Army.
am 15. Oktober 1999
This book should be read by every citizen of a democratic country with a volunteer military force.
Mark Bowden presents an impressively researched and gripping account of the "Battle of the Black Sea" in October 1993. Bowden wastes no time, placing you in the assault choppers leading the mission from page 1 and then proceeds to describe the ferocious combat that took place over the next 15 hours. Bowden handles his sources well, treating these men with the respect that they deserve while still portaying them as human beings. In fact their humanity is the most heroic thing about them. People interested in the thoughts of soldiers on the ground would do well to read this book rather than watch the ridiculous "Thin Red Line". He handles the multiple view points deftly and suceeds in portaying the confusion and friction of combat. Although he does not cover the higher echelon decision making, that is entirely appropriate within the context and aims of this book.
The only improvemnts to the book would be a table of organisation with the names of the soldiers to help you keep track; and scales on the maps (a map without a scale is a picture).
The key factor in the success of this book are his references to Somali sources. While the American sources describe what happens in the fighting and provides the dramatic drive for the narrative, the Somalis' provide the context and reason why the battle is occuring in the first place. This is essentially Colonial Warfare transferred to the late 20th century. The parallels in US attitude and that of the British in the 19th century are striking in that while they thought that they were bringing peace and democracy to the "natives", they only succeeded in alienating them. In this way, the US could be seen as a unifying force in that they provided a common enemy to the people of Somalia. Mogadishu is as definitive a colonial era battle as Isandhlwana, Khartoum or Lucknow.
Ultimately the US humiliation in Somalia was the result of colonial era US arrogance, ignorance and racism coming up against a people who would not roll over and whose neo absolutist doctrines meant that death and humiliation of the enemy was the most important goal.
am 17. November 1999
The book provides incredible detail; however I think the book lacks in two key areas:
First, a lop-sided opinion of the soldiers involved. Specifically Paul Howe's assessment of the Ranger's abilities. The prevading theme I got was the Rangers were lucky to be alive, much less able to accomplish the mission. It seemed that parts of the book became a platform to bash the Rangers.
Second, I think he (Bowden) slighted the efforts of the 10th Mountain Division QRF Relief Column. 2-14 Infantry did an OUTSTANDING job getting a multi-national relief column moving on such short notice. Again, the tone of the book suggests that 2-14 Infantry were a bunch of stooges not worthy of such operations.
Due to the budget cuts, every combat arms unit in the Army is an 'elite' unit. What I mean is we don't have excess resources; therefore every unit has a specific task to perform without any overhead. The National leadership made a bad call by not allowing armor into Somalia; instead the UNOSOM forces got a Light Infantry Batallion with a good commander at its helm.
I served in Somalia for 9 months with an Army Special Forces unit attached to UNOSOM; so if I'm arm-chair quarterbacking, it's from the front edge of the chair.