Too many innocent people are getting killed. People are angry because they see civilians getting killed. I don't think anyone who doesn't live here can understand what is going wrong here. Americans mean well. We did try to help. Things have gone wrong.
Michael Durant, captured U.S. soldier, Somalia, October 8, 1993 (in Bowden 321).
MONDAY, OCTOBER 4, 1993. The major news media in America focused on Boris Yeltsin. The Russian President faced the most significant political struggle of his career, an attempted coup. Yet, later in the day, American citizens, and their president, would be shocked when CNN broadcast the images of dead American soldiers being dragged in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, surrounded by angry, chanting Mogadishu citizens. This was the tip of the iceberg. Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, pilot of the Black Hawk helicopter "Super Six Four," was in the care of his captors. He was injured, fearing torture and death. (1) Ambitious Mogadishu residents had harried off Durant once his Black Hawk crashed in the middle of the city. A commodity in the city torn by civil war, he was purchased immediately by Mohamed Farrah Aideed, leader of the Habr Gidr clan, otherwise known as the Somalia National Alliance (SNA). Abdullahi Hassan, the Propaganda Minister for Aideed, would spend the next ten days with Durant. They would develop a cordial, almost compassionate understanding of each other. Hassan used some of the time to explain why the Somali people resisted so violently the American military maneuvers in Mogadishu. He reminded the pilot that hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people had been killed during the American-led "hunt" for Aideed, a man he described as "an important and brilliant leader in his country, not someone the UN or the Americans could just label an outlaw and carry off" (319). Durant's statement, although a break in the soldier's protocol he regretted, presumably informed by interactions with his captor, demands that our attention be directed to the rhetoric of this post-Cold War conflict.
Rhetorical studies has offered few analyses attending to the rhetoric of post-Cold War American foreign policy and presidential war rhetoric. The rhetoric used by George H.W. Bush during the Gulf War received some attention, but for the most part this work concentrates on the continuity of containment rhetoric. (2) As the smoke cleared from the skies of the Middle East, though, the effect of the shift in geopolitical dynamics necessarily gave way to new dilemmas. This new foreign threat came in the form of the "civil war," as countries that once enjoyed a fragile stability were upset by the breakdown of Soviet power. (Lancaster 90) "Peacekeeping" became a process of protecting populations against the behavior of their own people, as factions battled for political authority over resources long denied to them. The first such conflict of the new era involved the nation of Somalia, located at the mouth of the Red Sea, standing between Ethiopia and the Indian Ocean. U.S. intervention in Somalia began during the Bush Administration, in what was to some an extreme response to growing concern over a country "of little if any strategic importance to the U.S. in the post-cold war era" (Schraeder 340).
It was clear before Bill Clinton assumed the presidency that Somalia provided no person to blame. Referring to the "warlords controlling the ports," during a campaign question and answer session, President Bush spoke of the "difficulty separating these warlords one from the other" ("Question" 2084). The crisis in Somalia was caused by a civil war, unlike the Persian Gull which had America defending a helpless nation against aggressive invasion. The Somalia "tragedy," according to then Press Secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, involved "vast numbers of people ... suffering and dying from famine caused by a senseless civil war." The perpetrators of the "manmade famine" were "armed bands" who were "stealing and hoarding food as well as attacking international relief workers" ("Statement ... on Additional" 1360). The result was anarchy, a condition that made peacekeepers the only existing force of law and order.
This essay examines the presidential rhetoric devoted to Somalia, concentrating mainly on President Clinton's discourse. The central argument advanced is that this rhetoric should be seen as a recurrence of a rhetorical form that differs from the rhetoric of the Cold War. The presidential rhetoric of Somalia reveals an "image" of savagery, to borrow Robert Ivie's language, that re-articulates an historical form more commonly associated with a turn of the century "primitive" savage. Understanding the difference requires a return to the time of formal American empire, in order to develop an understanding of how this rhetorical form derived from its particular historical context. The analysis proceeds in four stages. First, the critical perspective employed--the exploration of rhetorical continuities--is explained. Next, the rhetoric responding to the exigency of Somalia is considered. Third, the heritage of rhetoric pertaining to Somalia is situated in relation to the historical milieu of the 1890s. Finally, the practical implications of this comparative study of war rhetoric are examined.
Continuities in Rhetorical Form
Evaluation of the rhetoric regarding Somalia is an effort to demonstrate that the enemy other is sometimes the people and their culture, not just their leaders. This difference is captured in President Clinton's re-articulation of the image of an imperial savage, a primitive society, or culture. This rhetorical form can be contrasted with the image of a modern savage, so often the construct reserved for American adversaries. This is not to suggest that the form is new to the 20th Century, or that it replaces Cold War rhetorical characters. The imperial image of savagery (people as savage) co-exists throughout U.S. history with the modern image of savagery (leader as savage). The contention here is that the rhetorical response to the Somalia crisis is a touchstone that represents one manner in which rhetorical forms are re-articulated in different historical contexts.
This kind of analysis extends the work of others who believe there is value in examining prior rhetoric for clues about the meaning and significance of present-day war rhetoric (Andrews; Ivie, "Presidential"; Ivie, "A New"; Ivie, "Tragic"; Hinds and Windt; McGee; Pollock; Stuckey, "Remembering"; Stuckey, "Competing", Windt). These studies have in common a respect for the lives of rhetorical forms, that is, a concern for both textual and contextual dynamics, rather than the rules of generic studies whereby the historical context becomes secondary to a kind of grammatical distinction. (3) The imperial savage of the turn of the century is a rhetorical form, held together by an internal structure, sharing a similar quality each time it is used. The term rhetorical continuities, makes clear an interest in the life of the form, its re-articulation at specific times, as opposed to its pattern of recurrence throughout a set of similarly situated speeches.
Rhetorical continuities, then, are moments of re-articulation when an outline of a form can be observed in discursive responses of two different time periods. Rhetorical critics interested in continuities direct their attention to the existence of similar rhetorical structures so as to encourage inquiry into both textual and contextual situations of one or both time period(s). It is an observation intended to refocus scholarly attention on the similarities of the rhetoric so that a larger examination of history and culture might be encouraged, one that might go further than the rhetorical, to address continuities in social, political, religious, economic, and intellectual worlds. This view of rhetorical forms shares with Jim Kuypers a desire to discard "a conception of the rhetorical situation as presupposing a fixed nature ... for a more fluid understanding of situational constraints" (18). Kuypers, Young, and Launer contend that there are times when "rhetorical situations may begin with no stable means for interpreting the discursive surroundings and ... one of the purposes of the text is the creation of a stable conceptual frame" (296). The rhetoric of the Somalia crisis is "stabilized" when Clinton's discourse interacts with context and antecedent texts (see Young) associated with imperial motives common to the turn of the century. This thesis necessitates an understanding of both rhetorical situations; and since little has been done to isolate the characteristics of the American imperialism argument, examination of the antecedent case must be thorough enough to illustrate the similarities. Most of this analysis, however, is devoted to the post-Cold War rhetorical situation, from which the continuity emerges naturally from a textual analysis informed by America's imperial past.
Refocusing scholarly attention in this way, the study of rhetorical continuities also advances certain intellectual endeavors that are especially important to the study of international relations in the post-Cold War era. Such historical work advances Raka Shome's call for research that "challenges the colonizing and imperialist tendencies manifest in discursive practices of `first world' countries in their constructions and representations of the subjects of `third world' countries and/or racially oppressed peoples of the world" (42). Postcolonial study has been proffered in attention to popular culture texts, such as Jeff D. Bass' recent study of three popular documentary accounts of emerging lethal viral strains. Bass investigates how "nineteenth-century understanding of contamination has been adapted to appeal to the sensibilities of contemporary audiences for whom the existence of formal empire is not an established fact of life" ("Hearts" 432). Yet, to date, the discipline of rhetorical studies has failed to use America's imperial past as a resource to examine critically the discourses that construct foreign adversaries as uncivilized, immoral and "devilish" (Shome 50-51)--work that could generate important traditions in a field that has been "disturbingly silent about its own disciplinary position in relation to issues of race and neocolonialism" (49). The field has not been silent on the issue of war rhetoric in the post-Cold War era (Ivie, "A New"; Ivie, "Tragic"; Kane; Jones; Kuypers; Mitchell; Olson; Pollock; Stuckey, "Remembering"; Stuckey, "Competing"), but more is required if we are to consider the development of "a post-Cold War rhetoric" beyond the Persian Gulf War, one that "will by necessity be developed with a new vocabulary, not necessarily superior to the one replaced, but with important implications for the contemporary world" (Kane 80). This essay attempts such an investigation.
The Civil War in Somalia
The U.S./U.N. mission in Somalia was a particular brand of "peacekeeping" that presented the U.S. with a …