The following is the proposal which was approved for me to begin the research in which I have requested your participation. I have modified the research design slightly since I wrote this by enhancing the anonymity and confidentiality options and by using Survey Monkey to handle the interview, which offers SSL encryption to secure your responses. In addition, Professor Kien suggested that I focus on collecting narratives for now and refrain from the comparison. Note however that I am also planning on using this research for my thesis, for which a proposal has not yet been approved. Thank you very much for you assistance.
January 27, 2008
Missing Voices: Narratives of Veterans in Comparison to Popular Accounts
of Somalia Peacekeeping Operations, 1992-1994
US involvement in Somalia began with an airlift in August 1992 in response to UN Secretary General Boutros-Gali’s criticism of western powers for their focus on Bosnia while rampant theft interfered with relief efforts in a famine in Somalia. The first Bush administration offered a massive escalation of 28,000 troops in November 1992—after Bill Clinton had been elected president—and newspaper editorials supported the decision. When peace negotiations among the fifteen armed factions failed, the peacekeeping force adopted increasingly aggressive tactics that increased casualties and undermined US public support, then in a strategy intended to pick off warlords one by one, singled out General Mohammed Farah Aidid for demonization, and sought Aidid’s arrest. The resulting conflict led to “explosive images on CNN of the body of an American Ranger being dragged down the streets of Magadishu and the pained face of the captured American airman, [that] provoked a strong public and congressional outcry” that purportedly led to a US withdrawal and a humiliation comparable to Lebanon in 1983, the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, and Vietnam. General Colin Powell wrote of the operation, “We had been drawn to this place by television images; now we were being repelled by them.” The US subsequently withdrew, so camera-shy as to seriously constrain a subsequent mission in Rwanda.
Powell had his say. CNN and other news media had their say. Waltraud Morales employs the story to exemplify the possible pursuit of national interest—geostrategically in the Horn of Africa at a chokepoint between the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, and economically in a promise of oil both in Somalia and in Ethiopia—under the guise of humanitarian intervention. Mark Bowden, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote the story as a series of articles, which were later published in book form and finally made into a “pro-soldier anti-war” movie that “feels more like a memorial for fallen heroes than a mourning of wasted lives and an indictment of U.S. military policy. ”
But this media vignette on a US humiliation obscures at least as much as it reveals. David Segal, Mady Segal, and Dana Eyre observe that “successful . . . operations seem to be neither newsworthy nor noteworthy.” Lina Holguin suggested “that for Western television news positive news (e.g. stories on redevelopment) is not news and that bad news (massacres, dead soldiers and the like) is not news until it offers good visual material” and criticizes an apparent media apathy. For instance, the UN peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights in Syria has been there since 1973 but is largely “unpublicized because it does its job so well.” A continuing mission in the Sinai also attracts little notice. But the fiasco in Somalia can appear to vindicate those, for example, in the US military Central Command who opposed the operation from the beginning, who argued against “attempting to disarm the clans, or ‘do nation-building and that sort of thing,’” the very sort of thing that many scholars and others consider essential, even when problematic. And indeed this vignette even obscures the previous successes in Somalia leading up to the fiasco, in which peacekeepers brought food to people who desperately needed it. Richard Stewart argues that “while the sheriff and his watchful deputies are in town, the local criminals put up their guns and keep out of sight. By limiting the mission in Somalia to establish temporary order, the U.S. got just that,” a temporary order that not only did not resolve the conflict but which threatened through disintegration to recreate the very rationale for intervention in the first place.
Bowden offered a gripping adventure narrative of soldiers in a firefight in which they are badly defeated, but he does not acknowledge that this is his story of soldiers as objects in a subject-object dichotomy. The soldier’s stories—their experiences—not only of an operation gone disastrously wrong but of their reactions to the stories that have been disseminated in the popular media are absent. Indeed, while so many others tell “their” story, the soldiers themselves are silent, or as Linda Alcoff might suggest, they have been silenced.
But it is soldiers’ lives and indeed their sanity, as the battle in Mogadishu of October 3, 1993, so graphically illustrates, which were at stake, whether for specific geostrategic interests or against, as then-President Clinton warned, an outcome that “our own credibility with friends and allies would be severely damaged. Our leadership in world affairs would be undermined.” More recently, then-President Bush invoked the deaths of soldiers who must be honored to help rationalize a continued commitment to another seemingly futile war. Even as soldiers may face “ambiguous, inconsistent, or unacceptable rules of engagement; lack of clarity about the goals of the mission itself; a civilian population of combatants; and inherently contradictory experiences of the mission as both humanitarian and dangerous,” public discourse on peacekeeping glorifies the crime of war under the guise of peacekeeping, “valoriz[es] the actions of soldiers even when the war they fight is violent and practically purposeless ,” asserts US hegemony, and protects corporate interests, while devaluing anything soldiers might have to say.
This proposal advocates a phenomenological study of Somalia peacekeeping operation veterans to learn their experience of the public narratives surrounding an experience that they lived. What meanings did they bring away from Somalia? How did these meanings compare to the meanings that domestic audiences had acquired through media coverage and what was it like to discuss their experiences with people who relied on supposedly authoritative media accounts? How do they experience the continuing use of their story? And in what contexts do they still experience their story?
I propose to ask these questions in an open-ended format of veterans I am able to locate through personal contacts, veterans’ organizations, and on line forums, electronically as much as possible. This will be a convenience sample. My role will be to pose the questions and to elicit answers in conversations that address the research questions. My analysis will seek to synthesize these conversations into a coherent composite textural description from an understanding of each participant’s experiences. As an anarchist, I will be sensitive to issues of hierarchy, both in participants’ narratives, and in my research and reporting, most closely approximating an ethnic interpretive paradigm.
I anticipate no ethical issues. I intend to make this proposal publicly available while I recruit participants and I will omit details from my report that would individually identify them. They will already know both from this proposal and from an informed consent procedure (see appendix A) what information I am seeking to elicit. Their participation will be entirely voluntary; my only inducement will be an opportunity for them to tell their stories. They can easily decline to participate by simply not responding to my inquiries, or by discontinuing the conversations if they find them uncomfortable. I hope that this study will contribute to a wider conversation about peacekeeping experiences that will inform future media and policy discourse.
I am David Benfell, a graduate student at California State University, East Bay. I am studying the effect of a difference between a soldier’s experience of a peacekeeping operation and the images of that operation held by the general public that he or she encounters upon return to the United States. To purpose is to increase the sensitivity of the media and of policymakers to the perspectives of those who have been placed in harm’s way. You can read the full proposal for this research at http://benfell.livejournal.com/ in the entry for [date].
To this end, I will be asking you questions that you are to free to answer at some length. I do not seek to categorize your answers but rather to understand your experience. I may ask follow-up questions. In face-to-face interviews, I estimate the time you will spend to be anywhere from about twenty to about forty-five minutes. For logistical reasons, however, I am encouraging electronic communication (email), and the time you spend will then depend largely on the time it takes you to compose responses to these questions. I do not foresee any risk to you.
Remember that you are free to limit your participation. I am encouraging you to tell your story, but if at any point the process becomes uncomfortable enough that you would prefer to stop, there is absolutely no penalty for doing so. As a matter of course, and in any event, I will keep your identity confidential, so you may speak with complete freedom. In my report on this research I will omit identifying information on all participants, including information that could be used to identify specific locations or associations where I find you.
It is important to me that no harm come to you as a consequence of your participation. I operate under the auspices of the Department of Communication at California State University, East Bay. You may contact me at (510) 931-6550 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Professor Grant Kien at (510) 885-3122 or email@example.com, should any problems or questions arise now or in the future about this research. You may also use this contact information for any questions about your rights as a participant in this study. This study is unfunded; you participate at your own risk, but I will do everything I know to minimize or eliminate that risk. You should not hesitate to ask about any risks you foresee or encounter.
Teaching Associate and Graduate Student
If we are meeting face-to-face, please indicate your consent to participate by signing one copy of this letter and returning it to me. The other copy is yours to keep. If we are meeting via email or through other electronic communication, please indicate to me that you have read this and that you agree. Thank you!
I have read this letter and agree to participate.
Signature: ________________________________________ Date: ________________________
Ibid., 87-89; Stephen Chan, “And What Do Peacekeeping Troops Do Apart From Burying the Dead, Then?” International Relations 13, no. 5 (1997), 31.
Frank G. Hoffman, “One Decade Later – Debacle in Somalia,” Proceedings, January 2004, http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,NI_Somalia_0104,00.html (accessed January 26, 2008).
Hoffman, “One Decade Later.”
Alcoff, “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” 99.