Black Hawk Down, Pete Blaber, Not Waving But Drowning

A Ferocious Battle

 I just finished reading Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden. It is the most gripping account of any battle I have ever read.

In 1992 a Somali warlord attacked and killed U.N. peacekeeping forces. As a result, the US put a $25,000 bounty on his head and attempted to arrest and try him for war crimes. On October 3, 1993, by the order of President Bill Clinton, a force of United States Army Rangers and Delta Force operators, the Army’s most elite warriors, set out to capture several lieutenants of the warlord’s militia in an area of the Somali capital city of Mogadishu that was controlled by the warlord.

The force of about a hundred U.S. soldiers helicoptered in during broad daylight. They roped down to the streets surrounding the target building. It was supposed to take them no more than an hour. They would bag the warlord’s lieutenants, put them on a convoy of Army trucks that had barreled into the city and were waiting right around the corner, and get out.

But the citizenry, loyal to the warlord, weren’t going to take it lying down. They began to swarm with guns and rocket propelled grenades. They attacked, almost heedless of the danger. One Somali with an AK-47 rode a cow out in a strange charge, a number of other Somali’s taking cover behind (yeah, he and the cow died). But the Americans were overconfident of their Black Hawk helicopters. They didn’t think the types of weapons the Somalis had could bring them down.

One chopper was hit and crashed. Then another. A third and then a fourth were damaged and barely made it back to safety before they crash landed. As for the Rangers and D-boys, they were in for the fight of their life.

The book tells the story of their courage, but it also brings in the point of view of a number of actual Somalis who fought and were injured. In the process, we get a view of the battle that is both thrilling and poignant.

Bowden did an excellent job researching and writing this. I could not put it down. It does include some military grade profanity, but it wasn’t there to titillate or shock. I’ve talked to those who saw the movie based on this book, and I could tell the book is, per usual, better than the movie. If you’re at all interested in the military and the military operations we conduct overseas, let me recommend that you read this book. 

Delta Force Commander Shares Insights

Delta Force is the world’s most elite counterterrorist fighting force. Pete Blaber was a Delta Force operator that worked his way up to become a Delta Force commander and took part in some of the most dangerous, controversial, and significant military and political events of our time.

During his time in uniform, he learned a number of lessons about life, about how we make decisions and act on them. In The Mission, The Men, and Me, Blaber writes about a number of the missions he conducted and the lessons he learned from them.

The missions were conducted in Montana, Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. One featured a commander stupidly ordering Blaber to take his men into sure destruction. Another featured some of the first plans to capture Osama Bin Laden, before 9/11. Another included a man in a gorilla suit.

The lessons Blaber draws from these experiences are fascinating and apply to more than military operations. For example, the lesson he drew from the operation featuring the gorilla suit is something I use every day with my writing. Anyone who leads or manages or works in groups will find other critical lessons. This was another book I couldn’t put down. Anyone interested in special forces will love this book.

Not Waving But Drowning

“Not Waving but Drowning” is a poem by female British poet Stevie Smith. It was published in 1957 as part of a collection with the same title. The work is her most famous poem and describes a man whose distressed thrashing in the sea causes onlookers to believe that he is waving to them, not drowning

I hadn’t thought about this poem since I was a student at BYU. Then a local poet read it as part of his remarks at a conference I recently attended. The image and message lingered with me for hours. I thought about it off and on over the following weeks. This is, for me, an incredibly powerful poem. It needs to be read aloud, I think, to be appreciated. Not in some silly way, but with the appropriate feeling. I’m going to record a reading for my website, but you can read it aloud for yourself. Or have someone else do it for you. Then read it again.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

How often does this happen? Those onlookers, caring only superficially, thinking it was too cold, thinking he was funning. But it wasn’t too cold. And his heart didn’t give out. He was struggling for his life, and they were too preoccupied to see it.

Too preoccupied to really see. 

I wonder. Is there someone around me, that if I just looked, just paused from my rush, I’d see they were much too far out, and not waving, but drowning.

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