Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War

Overview

Black Hawk Down is Mark Bowden's account of the longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War. On October 3, 1993, about a hundred elite U.S. soldiers were dropped by helicopters into the teeming market in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission was to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord and return to base. It was supposed to take an hour. Instead they found themselves pinned down through a long and terrible night fighting against thousands of heavily armed Somalis....
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Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War

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Overview

Black Hawk Down is Mark Bowden's account of the longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War. On October 3, 1993, about a hundred elite U.S. soldiers were dropped by helicopters into the teeming market in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission was to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord and return to base. It was supposed to take an hour. Instead they found themselves pinned down through a long and terrible night fighting against thousands of heavily armed Somalis. The following morning, eighteen Americans were dead and more than seventy badly injured.

1999 National Book Award nominee for Nonfiction.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Mark Bowden gives the reader an intense "You Are There" look at the October 1993 attempt by a U.S. Special Forces team to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord in Mogadishu, Somalia -- and shows how the mission turned into a bloodbath that would cost the lives of 18 American soldiers. Ultimately, the incident would lead to the infamous video footage of a soldier's body being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Bowden is careful to present both sides of the conflict, giving the reader all the information they need to fully understand the day's tragic events.
Bob Shacochis
...A descendent of books like The Killer Angels, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the battle of Gettysburg, and We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, a best-selling eyewitness account of the Vietnam-era battle of Ia Drang; like those two, Black Hawk Down ranks among the best books ever written about infantry combat.
New York Observer
Mark Schone

One reason movies about war are so hot right now is that few American males have had to face the real thing. For a man who's never braved enemy fire, who's never been "tested," The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan can seem like parables of character. Would I, the ticket buyer wonders, be willing to die for a nameless hill or an unknown soldier?

But the blood in these filmed battles is spilled for a larger cause, by men of every station. In real time, long after the last Good War, the dying hasn't stopped; now, though, it's done by blue-collar volunteers in morally muddy police actions. Never has the murk been more obscure than it was in Somalia on Oct. 3, 1993, when, in the American military's nastiest firefight since Vietnam, 19 soldiers died in the name of little more than one another. An incident that began with two downed helicopters ended with American casualties being dragged through the streets and American policymakers scrambling for the exit.

Black Hawk Down re-creates, with exacting detail, the gory confusion of that day, when questions of heroism were far from cinematic. Mark Bowden's work ethic inspired him to track down 50 veterans of the conflict and bring back Mogadishu whole. He conveys the sound and the feel of killing — of what it's like to watch your bullets splash through a stranger and of the claustrophobic panic you feel when the strangers you are shooting at begin to close in. He established such trust with his subjects that they told him about everything from the banal ("It felt like a movie") to the brutal (trying to plug a spurting artery with an index finger) to the embarrassing (masturbation in combat). We're reminded that these are young men with excess animal energy that surfaces in both violence and sex, that the flip side of valor is an evil carnal thrill. "That was the secret core of all the hoo-ah ... esprit," Bowden writes. "Permission ... to break the biggest social taboo of all. You killed people."

Mogadishu has already inspired several books and documentaries, with another set for CNN in April. Spy planes and surveillance cameras made it one of history's best-documented battles. Bowden's rendering, however, is the most accurate and extensive, because in addition to first-person accounts he wrangled access to confidential Army action logs. He also moves beyond Soldier of Fortune-style bravado, interviewing dozens of enemy combatants so that we can learn why a thousand angry Somalis threw themselves into the high-tech maw of the Army Rangers, sacrificing their lives just to teach the U.S. government a lesson. Sometimes the book bogs down in this conscientious detail — Bowden wants us to know where every man was at every minute. So much data and so many different dramas and casts are braided into this one engagement that the account becomes confusing; more maps and recaps might've helped keep it straight.

This is the sort of crowded time line that Web sites were invented for. In fact, the Rangers have used Bowden's original Philadelphia Inquirer articles as the core of their own Mogadishu cyber-memorial, linking the text to maps and bios in a shorter, tighter version of events. But if Bowden had also opted for simplicity, imposing a dramatic arc on confusion and paring away supporting characters, he'd have left some men's last hours unremembered. In other words, if he'd made his peerless record of this forgotten war more like a Web site, he'd have been making it more like a war movie. And that will happen soon enough anyway, because Jerry Bruckheimer has already bought the rights to the book.
Salon

Steven Komarow
[Bowden's] details are amazing. Readers will swear he was there, everywhere, watching as bullets tore through flesh. In the novelistic style adopted by some journalists, Bowden weaves a seamless tale, acknowledging gaps and shortcomings only in his notes at the end. USA Today
Jonathan Yardley
A vivid, immediate and unsparing narrative that is filled with blood and noise.... It bears comparison to S.L.A. Marshall's classic account of a battle in Korea, Pork Chop Hill.
Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This is military writing at its breathless best. Bowden (Bringing the Heat) has used his journalistic skills to find and interview key participants on both sides of the October 1993 raid into the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia, a raid that quickly became the most intensive close combat Americans have engaged in since the Vietnam War. But Bowden's gripping narrative of the fighting is only a framework for an examination of the internal dynamics of America's elite forces and a critique of the philosophy of sending such high-tech units into combat with minimal support. He sees the Mogadishu engagement as a portent of a disturbing future. The soldiers' mission was to seize two lieutenants of a powerful Somali warlord. Despite all their preparation and training, the mission unraveled and they found themselves fighting ad hoc battles in ad hoc groups. Eschewing the post facto rationalization that characterizes so much military journalism, Bowden presents snapshots of the chaos at the heart of combat. On page after page, in vignette after vignette, he reminds us that war is about breaking things and killing people. In Mogadishu that day, there was no room for elaborate rules of engagement. In the end, it was a task force of unglamorous "straight-leg" infantry that saved the trapped raiders. Did the U.S. err by creating elite forces that are too small to sustain the attrition of modern combat? That's one of the key questions Bowden raises in a gripping account of combat that merits thoughtful reading by anyone concerned with the future course of the country's military strategy and its relationship to foreign policy.
Library Journal
Black Hawk Down is more than a well-crafted action thriller. Ninety-nine elite fighting men, trapped in a hostile city, are running out of ammunition and medical supplies as night falls. A rescue helicopter crashes, and an armored column loses its way. But this is not fiction; the people are real, and Bowden takes pains to show how a peaceful food-for-starving-Africans mission led to U.S. involvement in the battle of Mogadishu and how it extricated itself. This original work is virtually the sole source on the battle; it has won awards and was made into a movie. One caveat: this accurate portrayal of war contains a lot of gore. Narrator Alan Sklar's dramatization of this gripping tale is compelling. Recommended for all collections.DJames L. Dudley, Westhampton, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Michael Maren
Amazing...One of the most intense, visceral reading experiences imaginable....The individual stories are woven together in such a compelling and expert fashion, the narrative flows so seamlessly, that it's hard to imagine that this is not fiction.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Matthew Heimer
This story of a U.S. military mission gone awry belongs in an elite category: nonfiction that you can't put down....[A] page-turner.
Brill's Content
William Finnegan
What [the book's] demotic, you-are-there prose lacks in literary finesse...it makes up for in pure narrative drive....Bowden has performed an important service by picking out and meticulously dramatizing such a turning point in recent history. Until [the book] came along, this strange and terrible battle was in danger of being forgotten.
The New York Times Book Review
Scott Taylor
A fast-paced factual account that reads like a non-fiction thriller....Black Hawk Down is an engrossing read, a well-told tale of modern combat.
The Globe and Mail Toronto
Benjamin F. Schemmer
I did not 'read' Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down...I devoured it...[It is] honest journalism and understated drama that probably describes the most likely future of war.
Strategic Review
Don Murray
I can't remember having read such good reporting of a combat engagement....Journalistic writing at its best.
Boston Globe
Sean D. Naylor
...[S]uperb....painstakingly recreates each moment of the battle...The book is full of examples of extraordinary heroism in the face of almost overwhelming odds....[A] riveting description of what might be called the first battle of the 21st century...
Washington Monthly
Tom Walker
The quintessential story of men in combat...If Black Hawk Down were fiction, we'd rank it up there with the best war novels, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, or The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien....Bowden captures the essence of combat — the sights and sounds, the terror and the determination, the sheer will to survive. It's an intense and impressive work.
The Denver Post
Jim Haner
One of the finest combat reconstructions in the annals of warfare...The result of Bowden's efforts is a detailed after-action report that stands in a league with Shelby Foote's stirring Civil War diary Shiloh — rare in its completeness, compassion and reverence for the valor of young men cast into extraordinary circumstances.
The Baltimore Sun
Jonathan Yardley
A vivid, immediate and unsparing narrative that is filled with blood and noise.... It bears comparison to S.L.A. Marshall's classic account of a battle in Korea, Pork Chop Hill.
Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871137388
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Pages: 386
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Bowden
Mark Bowden is the award-winning author of Bringing the Heat and Doctor Dealer. He has been a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer for nineteen years. He also writes for Men's Journal, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Parade, and other magazines.
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Table of Contents

The Assault 1
Black Hawk Down 69
Overrun 133
The Alamo 199
N.S.D.Q. 259
Afterword 351
Sources 357
Acknowledgments 381
Index 383
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First Chapter

Chapter One


At liftoff, Matt Eversmann said a Hail Mary. He was curled into a seat between two helicopter crew chiefs, the knees of his long legs up to his shoulders. Before him, jammed on both sides of the Black Hawk helicopter, was his "chalk," twelve young men in flak vests over tan desert camouflage fatigues.

    He knew their faces so well they were like brothers. The older guys on this crew, like Eversmann, a staff sergeant with five years in at age twenty-six, had lived and trained together for years. Some had come up together through basic training, jump school, and Ranger school. They had traveled the world, to Korea, Thailand, Central America ... they knew each other better than most brothers did. They'd been drunk together, gotten into fights, slept on forest floors, jumped out of airplanes, climbed mountains, shot down foaming rivers with their hearts in their throats, baked and frozen and starved together, passed countless bored hours, teased one another endlessly about girlfriends or lack of same, driven out in the middle of the night from Fort Benning to retrieve each other from some diner or strip club out on Victory Drive after getting drunk and falling asleep or pissing off some barkeep. Through all those things, they had been training for a moment like this. It was the first time the lanky sergeant had been put in charge, and he was nervous about it.

    Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death, amen.

    It was midafternoon, October 3, 1993. Eversmann's Chalk Four was part of a force of U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators who were about to drop in uninvited on a gathering of Habr Gidr clan leaders in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. This ragged clan, led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, had picked a fight with the United States of America, and it was, without a doubt, going down. Today's targets were two of Aidid's lieutenants. They would be arrested and imprisoned with a growing number of the belligerent clan's bosses on an island off the southern Somali coast city of Kismayo. Chalk Four's piece of this snatch-and-grab was simple. Each of the four Ranger chalks had a corner of the block around the target house. Eversmann's would rope down to the northwest corner and set up a blocking position. With Rangers on all four corners, no one would enter the zone where Delta was working, and no one would leave.

    They had done this dozens of times without difficulty, in practice and on the task force's six previous missions. The pattern was clear in Eversmann's mind. He knew which way to move when he hit the ground, where his soldiers would be. Those out of the left side of the bird would assemble on the left side of the street. Those out of the right side would assemble right. Then they would peel off in both directions, with the medics and the youngest guys in the middle. Private First Class Todd Blackburn was the baby on Eversmann's bird, a kid fresh out of Florida high school who had not yet even been to Ranger school. He'd need watching. Sergeant Scott Galentine was older but also inexperienced here in Mog. He was a replacement, just in from Benning. The burden of responsibility for these young Rangers weighed heavily on Eversmann. This time out they were his.

    As chalk leader, he was handed headphones when he took his front seat. They were bulky and had a mouthpiece and were connected by a long black cord to a plug on the ceiling. He took his helmet off and settled the phones over his ears.

    One of the crew chiefs tapped his shoulder.

    "Matt, be sure you remember to take those off before you leave," he said, pointing to the cord.

    Then they had stewed on the hot tarmac for what seemed an hour, breathing the pungent diesel fumes and oozing sweat under their body armor and gear, fingering their weapons anxiously, every man figuring this mission would probably be scratched before they got off the ground. That's how it usually went. There were twenty false alarms for every real mission. Back when they'd arrived in Mog five weeks earlier, they were so flush with excitement that cheers went up from Black Hawk to Black Hawk every time they boarded the birds. Now spin-ups like this were routine and usually amounted to nothing.

    Waiting for the code word for launch, which today was "Irene," they were a formidable sum of men and machines. There were four of the amazing AH-6 Little Birds, two-seat bubble-front attack helicopters that could fly just about anywhere. The Little Birds were loaded with rockets this time, a first. Two would make the initial sweep over the target and two more would help with rear security. There were four MH-6 Little Birds with benches mounted on both sides for delivering the spearhead of the assault force, Delta's C Squadron, one of three operational elements in the army's top secret commando unit. Following this strike force were eight of the elongated troop-carrying Black Hawks: two carrying Delta assaulters and their ground command, four for delivering the Rangers (Company B, 3rd Battalion of the army's 75th Infantry, the Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, Georgia), one carrying a crack CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) team, and one to fly the two mission commanders — Lieutenant Colonel Tom Matthews, who was coordinating the pilots of the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky); and Delta Lieutenant Colonel Gary Harrell, who had responsibility for the men on the ground. The ground convoy, which was lined up and idling out by the front gate, consisted of nine wide-body Humvees and three five-ton trucks. The trucks would be used to haul the prisoners and assault forces out. The Humvees were filled with Rangers, Delta operators, and four members of SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) Team Six, part of the navy's special forces branch. Counting the three surveillance birds and the spy plane high overhead, there were nineteen aircraft, twelve vehicles, and about 160 men. It was an eager armada on a taut rope.

    There were signs this one would go. The commander of Task Force Ranger, Major General William F. Garrison, had come out to see them off. He had never done that before. A tall, slender, gray-haired man in desert fatigues with half an unlit cigar jutting from the corner of his mouth, Garrison had walked from chopper to chopper and then stooped down by each Humvee.

    "Be careful," he said in his Texas drawl.

    Then he'd move on to the next man.

    "Good luck."

    Then the next.

    "Be careful."

    The swell of all those revving engines made the earth tremble and their pulses race. It was stirring to be part of it, the cocked fist of America's military might. Woe to whatever stood in their way. Bristling with grenades and ammo, gripping the steel of their automatic weapons, their hearts pounding under their flak vests, they waited with a heady mix of hope and dread. They ran through last-minute mental checklists, saying prayers, triple-checking weapons, rehearsing their precise tactical choreography, performing little rituals ... whatever it was that prepared them for battle. They all knew this mission might get hairy. It was an audacious daylight thrust into the "Black Sea," the very heart of Habr Gidr territory in central Mogadishu and warlord Aidid's stronghold. Their target was a three-story house of whitewashed stone with a flat roof, a modern modular home in one of the city's few remaining clusters of intact large buildings, surrounded by blocks and blocks of tin-roofed dwellings of muddy stone. Hundreds of thousands of clan members lived in this labyrinth of irregular dirt streets and cactus-lined paths. There were no decent maps. Pure Indian country.

    The men had watched the rockets being loaded on the AH-6s. Garrison hadn't done that on any of their earlier missions. It meant they were expecting trouble. The men had girded themselves with extra ammo, stuffing magazines and grenades into every available pocket and pouch of their load-bearing harnesses, leaving behind canteens, bayonets, night-vision goggles, and any other gear they felt would be deadweight on a fast daylight raid. The prospect of getting into a scrape didn't worry them. Not at all. They welcomed it. They were predators, heavy metal avengers, unstoppable, invincible. The feeling was, after six weeks of diddling around they were finally going in to kick some serious Somali ass.

    It was 3:32 P.M. when the chalk leader inside the lead Black Hawk, Super Six Four, heard over the intercom the soft voice of the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant, clearly pleased.

    Durant announced, "Fuckin' Irene."

    And the armada launched, lifting off from the shabby airport by the sea into an embracing blue vista of sky and Indian Ocean. They eased out across a littered strip of white sand and moved low and fast over running breakers that formed faint crests parallel to the shore. In close formation they banked and flew down the coastline southwest. From each bird the booted legs of the eager soldiers dangled from the benches and open doors.

    Unrolling toward a hazy desert horizon, Mogadishu in midafternoon sun was so bright it was as if the aperture on the world's lens was stuck one click wide. From a distance the ancient port city had an auburn hue, with its streets of ocher sand and its rooftops of Spanish tile and rusted tin. The only tall structures still standing after years of civil war were the ornate white towers of mosques — Islam being the only thing all Somalia held sacred. There were many scrub trees, the tallest just over the low rooftops, and between them high stone walls with pale traces of yellow and pink and gray, fading remnants of pre-civil war civility. Set there along the coast, framed to the west by desert and the east by gleaming teal ocean, it might have been some sleepy Mediterranean resort.

    As the helicopter force swept in over it, gliding back in from the ocean and then banking right and sprinting northeast along the city's western edge, Mogadishu spread beneath them in its awful reality, a catastrophe, the world capital of things-gone-completely-to-hell. It was as if the city had been ravaged by some fatal urban disease. The few paved avenues were crumbling and littered with mountains of trash, debris, and the rusted hulks of burned-out vehicles. Those walls and buildings that had not been reduced to heaps of gray rubble were pockmarked with bullet scars. Telephone poles leaned at ominous angles like voodoo totems topped by stiff sprays of dreadlocks — the stubs of their severed wires (long since stripped for sale on the thriving black market). Public spaces displayed the hulking stone platforms that once held statuary from the heroic old days of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, the national memory stripped bare not out of revolutionary fervor, but to sell the bronze and copper for scrap. The few proud old government and university buildings that still stood were inhabited now by refugees. Everything of value had been looted, right down to metal window frames, doorknobs, and hinges. At night, campfires glowed from third- and fourth-story windows of the old Polytechnic Institute. Every open space was clotted with the dense makeshift villages of the disinherited, round stick huts covered with layers of rags and shacks made of scavenged scraps of wood and patches of rusted tin. From above they looked like an advanced stage of some festering urban rot.

    In his bird, Super Six Seven, Eversmann rehearsed the plan in his mind. By the time they reached the street, the D-boys would already be taking down the target house, rounding up Somali prisoners and shooting anyone foolish enough to fight back. Word was there were two big boys in this house, men whom the task force had identified as "Tier One Personalities," Aidid's top men. As the D-boys did their work and the Rangers kept the curious at bay, the ground convoy of trucks and Humvees would roll in through the city, right up to the target house. The prisoners would be herded into the trucks. The assault team and blocking force would jump in behind them and they would all drive back to finish out a nice Sunday afternoon on the beach. It would take about an hour.

    To make room for the Rangers in the Black Hawks, the seats in back had been removed. The men who were not in the doorways were squatting on ammo cans or seated on the flak-proof Kevlar panels laid out on the floor. They all wore desert camouflage fatigues, with Kevlar vests and helmets and about fifty pounds of equipment and ammo strapped to their load-bearing harnesses, which fit on over the vests. All had goggles and thick leather gloves. Those layers of gear made even the slightest of them look bulky, robotic, and intimidating. Stripped down to their dirt-brown T-shirts and shorts, which is how they spent most of their time in the hangar, most looked like the pimply teenagers they were (average age nineteen). They were immensely proud of their Ranger status. It spared them most of the numbing noncombat-related routine that drove many an army enlistee nuts. The Rangers trained for war full-time. They were fitter, faster, and first — "Rangers lead the way!" was their motto. Each had volunteered at least three times to get where they were, for the army, for airborne, and for the Rangers. They were the cream, the most highly motivated young soldiers of their generation, selected to fit the army's ideal — they were all male and, revealingly, nearly all white (there were only two blacks among the 140-man company). Some were professional soldiers, like Lieutenant Larry Perino, a 1990 West Point graduate. Some were overachievers in search of a different challenge, like Specialist John Waddell on Chalk Two, who had enlisted after finishing high school in Natchez, Mississippi, with a 4.0 GPA. Some were daredevils in search of a physical challenge. Others were self-improvers, young men who had found themselves adrift after high school, or in trouble with drugs, booze, the law, or all three. They were harder-edged than most young men of their generation who, on this Sunday in early autumn, were weeks into their fall college semester. Most of these Rangers had been kicked around some, had tasted failure. But there were no goof-offs. Every man had worked to be here, probably harder than he'd ever worked in his life. Those with troubled pasts had taken harsh measure of themselves. Beneath their best hard-ass act, most were achingly earnest, patriotic, and idealistic. They had literally taken the army up on its offer to "Be All You Can Be."

    They held themselves to a higher standard than normal soldiers. With their buff bodies, distinct crew cuts — sides and back of the head completely shaved — and their grunted Hoo-ah greeting, they saw themselves as the army at its gung ho best. Many, if they could make it, aspired to join Special Forces, maybe even get picked to try out for Delta, the hale, secret supersoldiers now leading this force in. Only the very best of them would be invited to try out, and only one of every ten invited would make it through selection. In this ancient male hierarchy, the Rangers were a few steps up the ladder, but the D-boys owned the uppermost rung.

    Rangers knew the surest path to that height was combat experience. So far, Mog had been mostly a tease. War was always about to happen. About to happen. Even the missions, exciting as they'd been, had fallen short. The Somalis — whom they called "Skinnies" or "Sammies" — had taken a few wild shots at them, enough to get the Rangers' blood up and unleash a hellish torrent of return fire, but nothing that qualified as a genuine balls-out firefight.

    Which is what they wanted. All of these guys. If there were any hesitant thoughts, they were buttoned tight. A lot of these men had started as afraid of war as anyone, but the fear had been drummed out. Especially in Ranger training. About a fourth of those who volunteered washed out, enough so that those who emerged with their Ranger tab at the end were riding the headiest wave of accomplishment in their young lives. The weak had been weeded out. The strong had stepped up. Then came weeks, months, years of constant training. The Hoo-ahs couldn't wait to go to war. They were an all-star football team that had endured bruising, exhausting, dangerous practice sessions twelve hours a day, seven days a week — for years — without ever getting to play a game.

    They yearned for battle. They passed around the dog-eared paperback memoirs of soldiers from past conflicts, many written by former Rangers, and savored the affectionate, comradely tone of their stories, feeling bad for the poor suckers who bought it or got crippled or maimed but identifying with the righteous men who survived the experience whole. They studied the old photos, which were the same from every war, young men looking dirty and tired, half dressed in army combat fatigues, dogtags hanging around their skinny necks, posing with arms draped over each other's shoulders in exotic lands. They could see themselves in those snapshots, surrounded by their buddies, fighting their war. It was THE test, the only one that counted.

    Sergeant Mike Goodale had tried to explain this to his mother one time, on leave in Illinois. His mom was a nurse, incredulous at his bravado.

    "Why would anybody want to go to war?" she asked.

    Goodale told her it would be like, as a nurse, after all her training, never getting the chance to work in a hospital. It would be like that.

    "You want to find out if you can really do the job," he explained.

    Like those guys in books. They'd been tested and proven. It was another generation of Rangers' turn now. Their turn.

    It didn't matter that none of the men in these helicopters knew enough to write a high school paper about Somalia. They took the army's line without hesitation. Warlords had so ravaged the nation battling among themselves that their people were starving to death. When the world sent food, the evil warlords hoarded it and killed those who tried to stop them. So the civilized world had decided to lower the hammer, invite the baddest boys on the planet over to clean things up. 'Nuff said. Little the Rangers had seen since arriving at the end of August had altered that perception. Mogadishu was like the postapocalyptic world of Mel Gibson's Mad Max movies, a world ruled by roving gangs of armed thugs. They were here to rout the worst of the warlords and restore sanity and civilization.

    Eversmann had always just enjoyed being a Ranger. He wasn't sure how he felt about being in charge, even if it was just temporary. He'd won the distinction by default. His platoon sergeant had been summoned home by an illness in his family, and then the guy who replaced him had keeled over with an epileptic seizure. He, too, had been sent home. Eversmann was the senior man in line. He accepted the task hesitantly. That morning at Mass in the mess he'd prayed about it.

    Airborne now at last, Eversmann swelled with energy and pride as he looked out over the full armada. It was a state-of-the-art military force. Already circling high above the target was the slickest intelligence support America had to offer, including satellites, a high-flying P3 Orion spy plane, and three OH-58 observation helicopters, which looked like the bubble-front Little Bird choppers with a five-foot bulbous polyp growing out of the top. The observation birds were equipped with video cameras and radio equipment that would relay the action live to General Garrison and the other senior officers in the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the beach. Moviemakers and popular authors might strain to imagine the peak capabilities of the U.S. military, but here was the real thing about to strike. It was a well-oiled, fully equipped, late-twentieth-century fighting machine. America's best were going to war, and Sergeant Matt Eversmann was among them.

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Interviews & Essays

Before the live bn.com chat, Mark Bowden agreed to answer some of our questions.

Q:  Did you face much or any resistance to telling the truth while researching this book and tracking down 50 veterans of this conflict? Also, what was the biggest surprise about modern American military philosophy that you encountered while writing Black Hawk Down?

A:  Truthfulness was not a problem. Access was difficult at first, but once I'd tracked down my first dozen or so Rangers (initially through the help of Jim Smith, whose Ranger son, Jamie, died in the fight), it was like the dam burst. The Army would not allow interviews with Delta Force operators but did set up my interview with Black Hawk pilot Mike Durant and other members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which was extremely helpful. The soldiers themselves were extraordinarily candid and seemed grateful for the chance to tell their story in detail.

There were so many things I didn't know about the military before I started writing this that it's hard to answer the second question. I think the thing that most surprised me was the professionalism and overall quality of the soldiers. These were very impressive young men, absolutely committed to their service and trying very hard to live up to admirable ideals. I was also surprised to learn how busy these elite soldiers are, how many missions they are called upon to perform around the world during a peacetime period.

Q:  How were you able to gain access to confidential Army action logs?

A:  The official Army records, documents, video, and audiotapes were shared with me by military officers who were determined that the story of what happened in Mogadishu be told accurately. There has been much misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding this very important incident, and I think they saw Black Hawk Down as a chance to get the real story out. I was impressed by the fact that no one who provided me with official information placed any conditions on me. In every instance, I was told, "We're not worried about what you write; we just want you to know the truth."

Q:  Are you at all surprised that two of the movies up for Best Picture at the Oscars are war movies? Also, do either "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Thin Red Line" get your vote for best picture?

A:  I am surprised that war movies seem to have made a comeback. It was not something I foresaw. I have read that one reason we are seeing a sudden resurgence in interest in war is that so few young Americans have ever experienced it, so perhaps I was drawn to write about the Battle of Mogadishu for some of the same reasons Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick were drawn to World War II. My goal when I set out to write Black Hawk Down was to capture the experience of combat through the eyes of foot soldiers. I wanted to write about both sides of a fight with more energy, realism, and depth than I had ever seen attempted. I was finished with the book when I saw "Saving Private Ryan" for the first time, and I was struck by how similar a feel the wrenching beach-landing scene had to the chapters in my book where the lost convoy is wandering through Mogadishu streets getting cut to ribbons. It didn't surprise me. As I wrote in the epilogue to Black Hawk Down, the story of combat is timeless. It is about the same things whether in Troy or Gettysburg, Normandy or the Ia Drang. I liked both films for different reasons, but "Saving Private Ryan" had more emotional resonance for me and is, I think, the more powerful.

Q:  Please recommend three books that you've read and enjoyed recently.

A:  Three recent books I enjoyed very much are The Great Bridge by David McCullough, Purple America by Rick Moody, and Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz.

Q:  This is a very broad question, but generally speaking, what sort of future do you foresee for the United States Armed Forces?

A:  The U.S. Armed Forces are at a crossroads. The end of the cold war has completely changed the role of America in the world, and I think Black Hawk Down illustrates the dangers of proceeding with a poorly defined one. Our military today is experiencing serious manpower shortages at the same time our leaders keep finding new ways to employ it. Over the next ten years I hope we will better adapt the military to cope with unconventional threats worldwide, and we will do a better job of clearly defining when, where, and how that force will be applied. These are very hard questions to answer, and I have heard no one in politics clearly articulate a policy. One of the lessons of Black Hawk Down is that we need leadership that rigorously thinks through the consequences before any military intervention. Either the mission is worth American lives or it is not.

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2004

    Black Hawk Down

    I found Black Hawk Down to be a captivating and thrilling look into the real-life experiances of American soldiers. The amount of detail and graphic descriptions held my attention until the very end. Bowden's research for this amazing book was very thorough and I applaud his work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2004

    Black Hawk Down

    Black Hawk Down is a captivating thriller. Its real life tales lured me into reading this book non-stop. Its vivid explanations of what really happened in Somalia is heartbreaking to know what those soldiers had to go through. It would be incredibly hard on the soldiers to witness such a tragedy. I recommend this book to any one who is interested in the military or in joining the military.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2002

    A Shocking Reality

    "Pilla was shot as they turned onto National Road. He was killed instantly. The bullet entered his forehead and the exit wound blew out the back of his skull. His body flopped over into the lap of Moynihan, who cried out in horror, covered with his friend's blood and brains." This quote is a mild example of the brutal and realistic writing that Mark Bowden mastered in order to create his award winning book, Black Hawk Down. It was the longest sustained firefight since the Vietnam War. By the end of the day, 18 American families would be frozen in heartbreak and bitter sadness. A few families would even bear the grief of viewing their loved ones dragged through the streets of Mogadishu Somalia. Yet, Black Hawk Down is the first and only written out account of this incident. Perhaps many would rather forget October 3rd 1993. Bowden's style of writing is simply remarkable, one moment the reader will be laughing hysterically at a soldier's joke or lifestyle, and then on the next page will be teary eyed and sad for one of these honorable soldiers. The incident begins when the UN decided to send a contingent of the 75th Ranger regiment and Delta operators to Somalia, to disable the Hirdi Girdi clan, based in Mogadishu. One mission that was supposed to be a lightning fast strike suddenly turned into an entire day and night of non-stop combat. It was a battle that raged for 20 hours, and claimed the lives of 15 plus Americans, and thousand of Somali lives. One great aspect of Black Hawk Down, was that Bowden consulted with many of the soldiers that participated in this event, even some Somalis. The only downside of the book is that it is not for the faint of heart. This novel contained many grim and horible aspects of war. Injuries are described with great realism and gory details. After reading this book, the reader feels almost as if they knew these soldiers, this adds greatly to the sadness and emotional feelings when a particular soldiers dies. Bowden even includes couple's last conversations before they went along with the mission. These families will never be the same again, all Stephanie Shughart can do is look at her husband's Medal of Honor, and pray to see him another day. Black Hawk Down has broadened my perspective of the world. This book could very easily make anyone a smarter and more humble person. It is a fast and brilliant read, especially for anyone with a taste for military history. Perhaps this is why Kirk Spitzer of USA Today writes,"One of the most gripping and authoritative accounts of combat ever written."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2002

    COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN

    This may be the best book I have ever read! Extremely well written and gives very good characterizations of the individuals involved in this event. Anyone who doubts that America is still very much alive and well has not read this book. These young men did us proud!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2002

    Best by far

    It was very Intense, Better than the movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2002

    Best Book Ever!

    Black Hawk Down is the best book I've ever read. It was so realistic and I couldnt put the book down. Even after the first few pages I knew this book was gonna be an intense thriller. Everyone has to read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2002

    One of the best military/combat books I've read

    Little did I know about this operation in Mogadishu before Bowden's book was released. The events could have been on the danger of being forgotten. Very intense, fast-paced, great detail. I think as the other fellow reviewers that the book is better than the movie, which I would think for many reasons some of the details and/or events have been omitted. Even if you are not a combat/war book fan, I do recommend this book to practically everyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2002

    This is the battle that changed the world

    And it is depicted perfectly here, not only does it show us the full war, but the soldiers lives in the hangar and at home. And I cried, I'm a dude too, at the end when a wife learns her husband is dead and then recieves a letter from her husband sent before the fight that he would come home and become a better man, and grow old with her, and have kids. Simply flawless.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2001

    Lessons to use in the future...

    As an officer in the Army, I can only hope that my fellow soldiers read this book and take a few of the lessons learned to heart. I would like to see this book as required reading for every new recruit and newly commissioned officer. This is modern war, folks, and it's brutal.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2001

    Best book I ever Read

    A very indepth look at one of the most fierce firefights the U.S. has ever encountered. Very detailed, A book you won't be able to put down

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2001

    They Never Asked Why -

    They simply did their jobs, and paid the ultimate price. This book was outstanding in every respect. Drove home the point that soldiers will do thier job no matter what the circumstances. From a tactical standpoint - shows everything NOT to do in a mission. No matter what the politicos think - not all 'humanitarian missions' are totally humanitarian or accepted by the local populace. This book shows what can happen when expatriots don't see eye to eye with the US

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2001

    Black Hawk Down is outstanding...

    When I was shown a few books in school by a teacher and she said these are some really good books you should get used to reading and she pointed to a table with a couple of books, I saw a book by the name of Black Hawk Down. I read the first lines and thought wow it sounds pretty exciting, now I can't get enough of it! I recommend this to people who love action and espionage titles.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2000

    The Army Way

    Out of the blue I decided to pick up a book that I heard about on TV. Once I picked up Black Hawk Down, the only problem I had with it was putting it down. The extensive details that Bowden put in the book made the reader really appericiate what soldiers go through in battle. It gave a vivid look into the thoughts of each man and walked you through ever minute of the battle.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2000

    The tragic results of President Clinton's mission gone wrong

    A fantastic journalistic adventure into the mean streets of a country with no government, populated by those whose lives have no purpose. This story recounts the failed Task Force Ranger mission and the lives lost in the President's bizarre plan to impose peace on a warlike people. The descriptive writing and personal testimonials lead you to believe that you're holed up in a building in the middle of the firefight, with thousands of Somali gunmen taking aim at you. The remarkable resilience and adherence to duty displayed by the Rangers and Delta soldiers is well worth the reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2000

    Intense story: often an agony to keep reading

    This is an intense story of troops caught in a difficult combat situation. From the author's careful reconstruction of events, we can see how their problems were compounded sometimes by miscommunication, and other times by poor cooperation. In any case, these men were courageous. The author describes many of them at a personal level. They were outnumbered by a hostile, well-armed population. The lesson I draw from this story is that America must consider very carefully which battles to fight.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2000

    VERY GRAPHIC TAIL OF WAR FOUGHT BY OUR BRAVE SOLDIERS OF THIS GREAT COUNTRY.

    THIS BOOK WAS VERY DETAILED AND MADE YOU VISUALIZE WHAT THE RANGER WERE GOING THROUGH.I WISH I COULD ONLY SEE THE DOCUMENTARY.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2000

    RANGERS LEAD THE WAY

    this book was very insightful as to what our guys actually do when its go time. the battle sequence is written with detail that i have not read before. this book should be read by anybody that has never had a family member/close friend in combat or serve in the armed forces. it will truly give them an appreciation for what these guys do. hats off to mark bowden for writing an excellent book and thank you to the men of Task Force Ranger that gutted out one hell of a fight. your courage and efforts under fire was extraordinary. god bless you all and especially those that made the ultimate sacrifice in Mog.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 1999

    Dans Review

    This was a great book. It was Action packed and filled with details. The book was all the more important and gruesome because this actually happened. A must read of everyone.

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