A scene from the 2001 movie ‘Black Hawk Down’ depicting the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters during a battle in Mogadishu between US special forces and Somali militia
Slightly Bemused writes:
Demons. We all have them. And they are different for us all, although some carry similar faces.
Reading my journal I am reminded that a few years ago one of our neighbours organised a block party where she invited all of the residents of our apartment complex to a ‘brunch’ where we could all get together. It was really enjoyable, with free-flowing conversations and wonderful food, from fresh cooked focaccia to pancakes and fruit salad, to pizza and Chinese dumplings. A couple of bottles of wine, beer, and spiced rum also helped the convivial conversation flow. It was truly a pleasant time.
Then I went back to my apartment, and a certain film was on the television. This film portrayed events that occurred during my first mission as a humanitarian actor, albeit wrongly and inaccurately (the film, not my actions). The film also fails to show the efforts, sadly both futile and fatal, of other actors to help those the movie depicts as heroes. In its climax, it uses actual media footage that includes colleagues of mine in a manner I find appalling, implying they were implicit in the events depicted.
That film is Black Hawk Down (2001).
That film depicts events in 1993 when US special forces tried to capture one of the main supporters of the warlord Muhammed Aidid. While the book is very accurate, and outlines what happened well, the film is ‘Holywood takes on terrorists’ and downplays many mistakes of the US forces, and impugns the other UN-led countries there. It is inaccurate and wrong.
How do I know? I was there. I watched the initial helicopter attacks from the flat roof of the accommodation I was staying in, and was the first person of my organisation to send the alert. There is much I cannot say (I am bound by confidentiality agreements ) but much is in the media. Most wrong.
This started late of an afternoon: the next day, my car (being from the organisation I then worked for) was the only one moving in Mogadishu until I could get clearance for the others. I was shadowed by two US military attack helicopters the whole time (Cobras, in case anyone is curious). Based on my organisations mandate, we arranged for medical support for those affected, and over the following days repatriation of the bodies of the fallen. Everyone else stayed in their accommodation or compounds – and I do not in any way criticise them. This was what we, and no one else, did.
What has this to do with our block party? Well, it came into focus for several reason, but one being an attendee did not know about the events of Black Hawk Down: he had not been born at the time. Others were too young, and did not remember, while one told me she had learned about it in her studying.
It made me realise that I am old, not necessarily in years but in experience. People now study in university what I and others lived through in real life. When I started to do this, there were no courses: now you can get a Masters out of school without ever setting foot in a humanitarian response. Are my mistakes now essential reading for the next generation of humanitarians?
We learn by mistakes, but this just seemed a little extreme. Are universities around the world examining my failures? Will they be looking at our work, and judging in the cold light of classroom projectors?
What will their judgement be?
Slightly Bemused’s column appears here every Wednesday.