View Full Version : At War

04-20-04, 12:56 PM
Ladies and Gentlemen, this has not been run thorugh the filters. I offer this only as something to be read and take away from it what you will.

The Lesson of Mogadishu

America must answer last week's barbarity in Fallujah.

Monday, April 5, 2004 12:01 a.m.

The picture is haunting. The bodies of the dead dangle overhead, twisted and grotesque, while the living frolic beneath them, posing for the camera. The joy and laughter on the faces of the celebrants is unmistakably genuine. These are people exulting in hate, glorying in their own cruelty.

It was taken on Aug. 7, 1930, and it shows the bodies of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, two black men falsely accused of rape who were beaten, tortured, mutilated and then strung up by a mob in Marion, Indiana. The picture is remarkably similar to the ones we saw last week from Fallujah, or those we saw nearly 11 years ago from Mogadishu. Mobs reduce human nature to its lowest common denominator, whether American, Iraqi or Somali. They are savage and ugly, but they are not irrational.

On Oct. 4, 1993, mobs of outraged Somalis dragged the bodies of American soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu, mutilating and dismembering them. The initial U.N. intervention nine months earlier had been welcomed by most in the war-torn, starving city, but the subsequent efforts at nation-building had gradually worn out the mission's welcome. Efforts by the U.S. to target the most belligerent local warlord, Mohammed Farah Aidid, had prompted several bloody incursions into the city, and had transformed the humanitarian intervention into outright war. In the battle that had just ended that morning, many hundreds of Somalis had been killed or wounded. The dead American soldiers were dragged from the site of a downed Black Hawk helicopter in neighborhoods sympathetic to Aidid.

In Fallujah, reports indicate that four American private security men, all former military men who had accepted dangerous work in Iraq, were ambushed when they tried to drive down a street in that city. Unlike most of Iraq, Fallujah remains defiant of the U.S. occupation and efforts to build a free and democratic society there, and it has been the focus of many violent U.S. incursions searching for resistance cells and Saddam loyalists. The four Americans were reportedly shot, doused with gasoline and set afire before the mob engaged in its repellent horseplay with their bodies.

Lynching is deliberate. It is opportunistic rather than purely spontaneous, and it has a clear intent: to insult, to challenge and to frighten the enemy, and to excite and enlist allies. The mutilation and public display of bodies follows a distinct pattern. The victims are members of a despised Other, who are held in such contempt that they are considered less than human. Respectful treatment of the dead is the norm in all societies, and a tenet of all religions. Publicly flouting such basic dignities is a communal expression of hatred designed to insult and frighten. Display of the mutilated remains must be as public as possible. In Fallujah they were strung high from a bridge. In Mogadishu, where there were no central squares or bridges, the bodies were dragged through the streets for hours. The crowd, no matter how enraged, welcomes the camera--Paul Watson, a white Canadian journalist, moved unharmed with his through the angry mobs in Mogadishu on Oct. 4, 1993. The idea is to spread the image. Cameras guarantee the insult will be heard, seen and felt. The insult and fear are spread across continents.

The other message at a lynching isn't as obvious. It is also an appeal. It is a demonstration of potency designed to sway and embolden those who are sympathetic but fearful. It says, Look what we can get away with! Look what we can do! The sheer horror asserts the determination of the rebel faction, and underlines the seriousness of the choice it demands from its own community. It draws a line in the sand; it is a particularly graphic way of saying, You are either for us or against us. With the potential for further such atrocities afoot, critics of the rebels are frightened into silence and acquiescence.

It is a mistake to conclude that those committing such acts represent a majority of the community. Just the opposite is true. Lynching is most often an effort to frighten and sway a more sensible, decent mainstream. In Marion it was the Ku Klux Klan, in Mogadishu it was Aidid loyalists, in Fallujah it is either diehard Saddamites or Islamo-fascists.

The worst answer the U.S. can make to such a message--which is precisely what we did in Mogadishu--is back down. By most indications, Aidid's supporters were decimated and demoralized the day after the Battle of Mogadishu. Some, appalled by the indecency of their countrymen, were certain the U.S. would violently respond to such an insult and challenge. They contacted U.N. authorities offering to negotiate, or simply packed their things and fled. These are the ones who miscalculated. Instead the U.S. did nothing, effectively abandoning the field to Aidid and his henchmen. Somalia today remains a nation struggling in anarchy, and the America-haters around the world learned what they thought was a essential truth about the United States: Kill a few Americans and the most powerful nation on Earth will run away. This, in a nutshell, is the strategy of Osama bin Laden.

Many Americans despise the effort under way in Iraq. They opposed overthrowing Saddam Hussein by force, and disbelieved the rationale offered by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. There may well be a heavy political price to pay for the mistakes and exaggerations; President Bush faces a referendum in just seven months. But however that election turns out, and however imperfectly we have arrived at this point, the facts on the ground in Iraq remain. Saddam is gone and Iraq, thanks to U.S. intervention, is struggling toward a new kind of future. Its successful transformation into a peaceful, democratic state is in everyone's interest except Saddam's extended family and the Islamo-fascists. It's time for opponents of the war to get real. Pictures like those we saw from Fallujah last week should horrify us, but they should also anger us and strengthen our resolve. The response should not be to back away from the task, but to redouble our efforts.

Which means recognizing that the gory carnival on the streets of Fallujah is not evidence of the mission's futility, nor is it something to chalk up to foreign barbarity. It was deliberate and it must be answered deliberately. The lynching of African-Americans would have ended decades earlier if authorities had rounded up and punished those participating in crimes like the one in Marion. Somalia would be a vastly different place today if the U.S. and U.N. had not backed away in horror from the shocking display in Mogadishu.

The rebels in Iraq who ambushed those American security workers in Fallujah ought to be hunted down and brought to justice, but they are not the only ones responsible. The public celebration that followed was licensed and encouraged by whatever leadership exists in Fallujah. Whether religious or secular, its insult, warning, and challenge has been broadcast around the world. It must be answered. The photographic evidence should be used to help round up those who committed these atrocities, and those who tacitly or overtly encouraged it. A suitable punishment might be some weeks of unearthing the victims of Saddam Hussein's mass graves.

Mr. Bowden, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, is the author of "Black Hawk Down" (Penguin, 2000).

04-20-04, 02:19 PM
Bravo, Cap'n.

Glad you posted Mark Bowden's words. They are still true. The killings at the WTC were also celebrated in many cities and towns around the world, by those who would see all Americans dead. I recall video on the evening news, from places like Jordan, Syria, and Gaza, which showed smiling happy faces of all ages and gender, as the celebrants danced at our tragedy.

We didn't start this war, the terrorists did many years ago. Mogadishu has been reported to have been a "Bin Laden" operation. He is supposed to have helped in its planning. It was just a matter of placing lookouts to alert the gunmen intermingled amongst the population. Once mobilized, they waited like an octopus for a crab to pass within reach. When the Army stepped into their nest, the trap sprang shut, and the rest is history.

Semper Fi!

04-20-04, 03:42 PM
Semper Fi Namgrunt! Thanks!