In This Review

Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down
By Mark Bowden
Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999, 320 pp

The death of 18 U.S. Rangers in Somalia in 1993 shocked the American public -- not so much because of the magnitude of the loss as the surprise that a band of ill-fed tribesmen could maul elite American troops. Bowden, a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a series on the raid that received prominent play both in the paper and on the Inquirer's Web site. He provides a good journalistic account of the Rangers but is weaker on the political background, the high-command decisions, and the conflicts that led to the ambush. For example, he only briefly touches on the withdrawal of the most valuable weapon system from Somalia, the ac-130 fixed-wing gunship, not tanks, as commonly thought. The book also unnecessarily obscures the internal workings of the Pentagon and in particular the roles of senior civilian and military leaders. And Bowden uncritically endorses the blame placed on the late Les Aspin, then secretary of defense, for the administration's ill-omened Somalia policy. Still, a compelling and disturbing read.