Enduring Black Hawk Down

You don’t watch a movie like Black Hawk Down. You endure it.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it’s the story of the 19 U.S. soldiers killed in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. Civil war caused a famine and soon 300,000 were dead. The world took notice and the U.N. sent in peacekeepers and food. The U.S. Marines joined the effort. The warlords waited until the Marines pulled out they took over. U.S. Special Forces were conducting operations to bring down the warlords and stabilize the region. It was during one of those operations that everything went wrong. A man fell while trying to rappel from a Black Hawk helicopter. Then a Black Hawk was shot down. Then another. In the ensuing melee armed Somali gunmen swarmed the city and U.S. troops were pinned down throughout the city. A one hour mission turned into 18 hours, and a column of U.N. and Pakistani armored tanks and vehicles had to come in to extract the soldiers. When the smoke cleared 19 were dead and one was taken prisoner. He was released after 11 days of captivity. The U.S. Special Forces were pulled out two weeks after the incident.

As soon as the shooting starts in the movie, it never really ends. The blood and the dust fly, and some how the soldiers keep fighting and you keep watching.

It is not a glamorization of war. It’s simply reality, the telling of a story. The movie centers on the code of the Special Forces, never leave a man behind. The stirring concept pulls the film together and helps you understand how the soldiers endure. But it doesn’t leave you with much when the movie is over.

The Somalis were completely vilified in the movie. They are treated like any other military enemy — the Germans, the Japanese, the Vietnamese. Despite one soldier’s respect for the Somalis and his desire to help rather than stand by and “watch it on CNN” (for which he is ridiculed and called an idealist), you get no feeling of right and wrong. You never come close to understanding the Somalis and their civil war. They become an angry mob with guns, and the truth of the story is not served with such broad strokes.

I keep wanting to find value in the experience of this movie. But if anything, it’s yet another movie that shows us that war is hell. Furthermore, it shows us the near hopelessness of modern man to rise above his depravity and find peace.

Yesterday I mentioned the sucky movies I’ve seen lately. Black Hawk Down is certainly not one of those. But it’s also a movie I’ll never watch again.

A few months ago I wanted to write a war story. I wanted to tell the tale of a young man who went to fought for his country, who saw action, and came back a changed man. I wanted to show the horror of modern combat and dispel the myths that U.S. military action is always good and right and true. Innocent people die, and it’s never pretty. I wasn’t even thinking of focusing on the combat portion of the story, just enough to motivate the character. The vast majority of the tale would be told at home, in peace. But now I question even wanting to go there. War is an experience that leaves you sick. There are no winners. Not even in the Revolutionary War, World War II, or the Star Wars Trilogy — despite what Bart Simpson says.

You can say all you want about standing up to evil in the world, and I understand that. But bullets and bombs are a depraved solution in a lost world. I wonder how the kingdom of heaven exists in the hearts of men and women who shoot to kill. I suppose God gives grace where he will, because Christians have fought in wars. I guess I’d rather see it be the exception than the rule. It’s not a position I want to defend when Jesus Christ says do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Forgive those who curse you, bless those who persecute you. If a man strikes you, turn to him the other cheek that he may strike you again. If a man asks for your coat, give him your shirt as well. Give when a man begs of you.

The life of Christian is death to self. Dying to self involves dying to everything of this world. Dying to your country, your family, your hopes, your dreams, and everything you could ever want. The Christian life is not about you, it’s about your death. That death seems poorly served in the bringing of death to others.

I ramble as I wonder. Sometimes the only way to watch a movie is to let the credits roll and let the music pour over you. That’s why that have music for the end credits. Then, when the movie is over, you take up your pen and write, you sit with a friend and talk, you reflect, you digest, you learn. Every now and then you come across a movie that doesn’t make you feel too smart for movies. It may not be a perfect movie, but it does the job, and you have no choice but to mull it over. Sleep will not come otherwise.

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