When I first joined the Army, I was mentored by a sergeant in my reserve unit. He taught me how to shine boots and who to salute. One drill, I noticed that he had a patch on his sleeve with two crossing swords and a tab that said "Mountain." I asked, "So does that mean your a mountaineer or something?" He laughed and responded that it was a combat patch that he had received for being overseas with the 10th Mountain Division. He had served in Mogadishu with the U.N. Forces when the events of Black Hawk Down occured. He told me that nineteen Army Rangers had died in a one night fight with somalis who lost over a thousand. I was impressed that our guys could be such skilled fighters.
But like many Americans, I was actually unaware that there had even been a fight in Somalia. I remember an SNL sketch where President Clinton kept eating people's food to help illustrate what Somali warlords were doing with U.N. Food shipments. It seems that after the battle of Mogadishu, politicians tried hard to help people forget that we were ever there.
Until Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down was published, many people had never heard about, or had forgetten about the conflict. The book was so gripping and powerful that Ridley Scott soon made a film adaptation of it. There has also been at least one video game produced because of the story.
I could not put this book down. It puts you into the minds of the men who fought there. In some ways, its like War and Peace, developing a host of characters with their own backgrounds and personalities. It describes how their attitudes were towards each other: delta with rangers, rangers with Air force parajumpers, and how the men connected individually. The book is also a rollercoaster of emotion: it made me laugh sometimes, it made me eager to hear what happened next, and sometimes, I admit, it choked me up.
The book is so good because it acurrately reflects what happened there. It does not glorify war or the people who fought there by any means. There are things in the book, like the "squared away" expert deltas and rangers not taking basic equipment out with them, that reflect poorly on them. Even so, it honors them because their story is amazing. It was very interesting to hear about the Delta guys because they are kept so secret, I had never really believed they existed. It was also very interesting to get the perspective of men who fought on the other side. This is unique, as it helps capture the whole situation. So often, these kind of stories are turned into "bad guys" and "good guys." It is incredible to be able to understand the feelings and motivation of people on the other side.
The book is very well researched and documented because the author interviewed both sides, as I mentioned. Bowden spoke with many Rangers individually, but he was careful to include only first hand accounts to avoid any exageration. He was also allowed into official government records about the conflict.
The film of Black Hawk Down was also very good. It captures the feel of the action and the personalities of the men also. It was filmed in Morrocco, to acurrately capture the feel of a coastal African city. The action, like fast roping in from real Black Hawks, was done by real soldiers. The actors were put through a short "boot camp" by real Army Rangers to help them better get into character. I believe the actors in "Saving Private Ryan" did something similar. The special effects are also phenomenal.
It is pretty loyal to the book, with the exception of the two main characters, Josh Hartnett's SSgt Eversmann and Eric Bana's Sfc "Hoot" Hooten. Hoot is a composite of about three Delta guys, and Eversmann actually went back to the base early on in the battle. Like many films based on historical events, these main characters were given a more prominent role so that the audience could have somebody to relate to. These two also provide a moral to the story: "it's about the guy next to you." For some reason, screen writers also changed the last name of Ewan McGregor's character from Stebbins to Grimes. I guess "Stebby" wasn't sexy enough for American audiences. Other than that, the film is an excellent portrayal of the book and the actual event.
The film is an excellent piece of work, but the book conveys a greater understanding of the situation. I actually think that having read the book enhanced my viewing of the film. If you own the film "Black Hawk Down," reading the book is a must. The same goes if you want to really understand why people fight wars in modern times. Either way, this book is an important insight into the lives of soldiers and a fitting eulogy for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
If you haven't seen the movie, you need to. Even my wife, who is not a war-movie buff by any means, said this was a great movie. She just won't ever watch it with me. If it still doesn't seem like your cup of tea, I'm sure you can find something down at blockbuster that will suit your fancy.