Black Hawk Down Is 20 Years Old Today

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Black Hawk Down, one of the greatest war movies ever made, is 20 years old today. ‘Leave no man behind.’

On October 3, 1993, US forces were deployed into Mogadishu, Somalia, to seize two high-profile officials close to Mohamed Farrah Aidid. During this time, hundreds of thousands were dying of famine as a result of the increasingly bloody civil war.

From base to base, the whole operation was hoped to last an hour. Initially, it was a success, but the onslaught of Somali militiamen across the city’s streets and rooftops, armed with AK-47s and RPG-7s, brought soldiers to their knees and choppers crashing to the ground. ‘Black Hawk Down.’

Black Hawk Down. (Sony Pictures)

Sony Pictures

Bullets, rockets and grenades flew across the streets for the rest of the day, evolving into a fierce overnight standoff and rescue mission. It took the lives of 19 American soldiers, including six Delta Force operators, and more than 1,000 Somalis, among other casualties. One soldier, Michael Durant, was captured as Aidid’s prisoner and later released after 11 days of captivity.

The fallout of the calamitous mission was significant: images of dead soldiers being dragged through the street sparked outrage; and President Bill Clinton withdrew all forces from Somalia, with many attributing the US’s reluctance to intervene in the subsequent Rwandan genocide to the grave toll during the raid.

Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, based on Mark Bowden’s book, chronicles all of the infamy behind the incident; its bloodshed, accidents, and ultimately, how futile it all was.

It boasts an incredible cast of legends, then-stars and fateful up-and-comers, including Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard and Tom Hardy – in his first feature film role, no less.

‘Only the dead have seen the end of war,’ its opening quote, misattributed to Plato, reads. From the opening frames, the camera drifting across dead Somalis lost to starvation, later showcasing the unforgiving, blink-and-you’re-butchered horrors of warfare, this sentiment becomes unavoidable.

Critically speaking, it’s a technical powerhouse; Scott somehow orchestrates unpredictable, trigger-happy madness with tight editing – later winning an Academy Award – and uncowering direction. Some wandering accents aside, the charisma of the actors has us fearing for them, while still serving the story more than themselves.

The film has been ripped apart for certain alleged inaccuracies: the Somali Justice Advocacy Centre felt it portrayed Somalis as ‘savage beasts shooting each other’; Malaysian forces whose troops assisted US forces in the battle felt side-lined in the movie; and the climactic, nail-biting Mogadishu Mile has been described as ‘sensationalised’ by some.

Even after 20 years though, Black Hawk Down leaves the viewer bruised, battered and despaired; our inhumanity to each other, the preordained fealty to the nation’s fight, and the timeless tragedy of men dying in the arms of their brethren, wishing with every ounce of their being they could go home, but still feeling it was their duty to do so.

‘Tell my parents I fought well today… and tell them that I fought hard.’

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