I was going through some papers in my office the other day and found the following, which I pulled from the Afterward of the book Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, which I read many years ago. I remember this section surprising me at the time; now it seems profound in its truth , a very clear elucidation of the human condition with respect to volition and something worth recalling and reflecting on from time to time:
“It was a watershed,” says one State Department official . . . “The idea used to be that terrible countries were terrible because good, decent, innocent people were being oppressed by evil, thuggish leaders. Somalia changed that. Here you have a country where just about everybody is caught up in hatred and fighting. You stop an old lady on the street and ask her if she wants peace, and she’ll say, yes, of course, I pray for it daily. All the things you’d expect her to say. Then ask her if she would be willing for her clan to share power with another in order to have that peace, and she’ll say, ‘With those murderers and thieves? I’d die first.’ People in these countries — Bosnia is a more recent example — don’t want peace. They want victory. They want power. Men, women, old and young. Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and the killing continues because they want it to. Or because they don’t want peace enough to stop it.” (pg 334-335)
And then a little later, this from p 345:
“Every battle is a drama played out apart from broader issues. Soldiers cannot concern themselves with the forces that bring them to a fight, or its aftermath. They trust their leaders not to risk their lives for too little. Once the battle is joined, they fight to survive as much as to win, to kill before they are killed. The story of combat is timeless. It is about the same things whether in Troy or Gettysburg, Normandy or the Ia Drang. It is about soldiers, most of them young, trapped in a fight to the death. The extreme and terrible nature of war touches something essential about being human, and soldiers do not always like what they learn. For those who survive, the victors and the defeated, the battle lives on in their memories and nightmares and in the dull ache of old wounds. It survives as hundreds of searing private memories of loss and triumph, shame and pride, struggles each veteran must refight every day of his life.
“Many of the young Americans who fought in the Battle of Mogadishu are civilians again . . . They are creatures of pop culture . . . Their experience of battle, unlike that of any other generation of American soldiers was colored by a lifetime of watching the vivid gore of Hollywood action movies. In my interviews with those who were in the thick of the battle, they remarked again and again how much they felt like they were in a movie, and had to remind themselves that this horror, the blood, the deaths, was real. They describe feeling weirdly out of place, as though they did not belong here, fighting feelings of disbelief, anger, and ill-defined betrayal. This cannot be real . . . To look at them today, few show any outward sign that one day not too long ago, they risked their lives in an ancient African city, killed for their country, took a bullet or saw their best friend shot dead. They returned to a country that didn’t care or remember. Their fight was neither triumph nor defeat; it just didn’t matter. It’s as thought their firefight was a bizarre two-day adventure, like some extreme Outward Bound experience where things got out of hand and some of the guys got killed.
I wrote this book for them. “