Geoffrey Gray's unsympathetic account of the recent protests against Black Hawk Down ["Black Hawk Damned," February 12] might have offered a more balanced view of the film (and its opponents) if he'd researched what happened in the months before and after the battle of October 3, 1993. He might have recounted the American hijacking of the original UN humanitarian mission, the U.S. relegation of relief efforts and escalation of military operations, the American refusal either to engage in serious political dialogue or to alert the UN of its intentions in Somalia, the numerous intimidating and botched raids by American units on Mogadishu in the summer of 1993 (including one in which U.S. Special Forces wrongly arrested eight UN employees), and the Clinton administration's disgraceful efforts after October 3 to blame the mess it had created on the United Nations.

Gray might then have identified the real scandal following the Black Hawk Down battle: the U.S. refusal either to prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda or to allow any other nation to intervene to stop the killing. Historians and even Clinton administration officials have conceded that this failure of will, which cost more than 500,000 lives in a preventable mass killing, was a result of Somalia Syndrome. Gray notes approvingly that Black Hawk Down "doesn't answer questions, and doesn't ask them." Given the consequences of the U.S. mission to Somalia—more than 1000 killed on October 3, and half a million slaughtered just six months later—it's hard to see the movie's silence on these issues as a virtue.

Nicholas Guyatt
Princeton, New Jersey


I was impressed by the objectivity of Geoffrey Gray's examination of Black Hawk Down's mixed reception, but I think that it is important to emphasize that the film's extended and "accurate" focus on combat does work as propaganda for the military's current objective. My Webster's dictionary defines propaganda as information or ideas methodically spread to promote or injure a cause, movement, nation, etc. And this film, nationally advertised and screened, promotes the tools and mentality of combat with its 100-plus minutes of combat action.

I also found author Mark Bowden's quote—"People respond to images more than words. They convey an impression, and some people can take it wrongly"—extremely edifying. Film is one of the most potent forms of propaganda for those very reasons. Not only do images say more than words, they impress emotions and ideas in us without asking us to analyze them at all.

But unlike the protesters, I don't think we should ban any film, no matter how it depicts war or any other issue. Rather, we should look into ourselves and examine how we interpret the images presented to us on the big screen. Usually the bad, propagandizing films teach us the most about who we are and where we are headed.

Jay Dunbar


Reading "Keepers of the Flame" [February 5] by Esther Kaplan, I suddenly felt like the guy in the television series Quantum Leap, who travels back in time. It took me to 1970, when I was reading Charles Reich's The Greening of America, which had the same breathless description of and infatuation with a counterculture. The kids Kaplan describes are the product of a wealthy society and can, as Ms. Kaplan said, live off the "leavings" of capitalist America. Can you go dumpster-diving or steal plastic forks from fast-food restaurants in Afghanistan? There I don't think people have the time to posture (e.g., name themselves Warcry), get pierced, or dye their hair—they're more worried about trying to feed themselves.

Let's put this article in a time capsule and open it 30 years from now when the featured activists are in their forties and fifties with kids in college. I think we'll see the same phenomenon that happened to many former Symbionese Liberation Army members who were going to destroy the "fascist insect" back in the '70s. They became part of the system.

Ed Ardery
Washington, D.C.


I would like to commend Esther Kaplan for her article on the "new" anarchists ["Keepers of the Flame"]. As a person whose beliefs coincide largely with those of traditional or historical anarchists—and so I suppose I am an anarchist—I applaud Kaplan for being one of the few writers in the mass media to seriously and fairly address the resurgence of anarchist activity in the last few years. Her accurate portrayal of the diversity, seriousness, and creativity of the new movement is welcome—and unfortunately all too rare amidst the barrage of distortions and vilifications found in other quarters.

Joshua Jackson
Amherst, Massachusetts


I was heartened to read of the passion for social justice among the young anarchists described in Esther Kaplan's article. However, as a "market anarchist" myself, I was appalled that these activists could embrace any form of socialism after it has led to crushing poverty and oppression in so many countries. The government is the enemy, not capitalism. After all, it is capitalism that provides the "supermarket throwaways" on which the groups mentioned in the article depend.

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