In the movie, Black Hawk Down, actor Tom Sizemore plays the role of real-life U.S. Army Ranger Lt. Col. (today retired Col.) Danny R. McKnight, the hard-bitten convoy commander whose inspirational leadership literally kept his men alive during the near-disastrous Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993.
Sizemore portrayed McKnight as an outspoken combat commander, who in action could be seen by his troops as being everywhere at the same time, fighting, directing the fight, and encouraging his men in the most desperate stages of the fight.
An accurate portrayal according to those who served with McKnight.
Today, nearly 17 years after one the bloodiest urban slugfests in contemporary military history, McKnight discusses what America is doing right in the global war on terror, what we are doing wrong, how the enemy perceives weakness in our desire to negotiate, and how political correctness is a fast-track to military disaster.
W. Thomas Smith Jr.: What are we doing right in the war on terrorism?
COL. DANNY R. McKNIGHT: Primarily, we are not quitting, and I hope we never quit. We committed to this fight when they brought it to us on Sept. 11, 2001. I’m personally proud that our president – at that time – took the approach that we will fight this thing called terrorism. But what everyone needs to understand is that terrorism did not start for us on 9/11. I hear a lot of people say, ‘terrorism began for us in 2001.’ That’s wrong. I wish it were that new to us, because then the enemy would be easier to take out. The FBI has it well-documented that terrorist attacks against us began at least as far back as 1980. What happened in 2001 was just the last straw. It was when we said, ‘This has to stop.’ Again to your question, what are we doing right? We haven’t quit fighting. We cannot let up. If we do, they [the Jihadists] will absolutely take over.
Smith: What are we doing wrong?
McKNIGHT: First, you must understand, I am not a supporter of the current administration.
Second, we are trying to be too kind and gentle in our approach, suggesting to the world – friends and enemies – that we don’t need to use our military might to defend ourselves and our interests. We are trying to rely too much on negotiating and compromising and trying to convince the world that we are not the preeminent military force in the world to be reckoned with.
You don’t win wars by making people feel that we are not going to press the fight.
Political correctness, which drives me up the wall, can be the death of the greatest country on earth. We have to get away from PC. I mean simple things like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ have become politically charged pieces of the broader military agenda, and this reexamining ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is not supported by the four chiefs of staff. The chairman and the weak secretary of Defense have decided to go with president on this, and they have attached an amendment to the 2011 Defense Spending Bill so they can push it through without the concurrence of the chiefs? What are we doing? We are caving to the forces of PC. That’s what we are doing wrong.
Smith: Do you see the Battle of Mogadishu as something of a microcosm of the broader war we are fighting against Jihad?
McKNIGHT: I most certainly do, though I don’t think anyone thought that in 1993. I also believe if there is one thing we should have done then, it was let us finish that mission. As hard as it would have been, the right thing for us to have done – the ‘hard right’ as I call it – would have been to let us finish. We did not finish. We did not capture [Somali warlord] Mohamed Farrah Aidid, because there were negotiations that took place between us and Aidid and his people for us to get [captured American helicopter pilot] Mike Durant back.
Now, Tom, with your background, you know we were never going to leave without Mike Durant. That would not have happened. We were ready at any moment to go get him. But we couldn’t because we were told we couldn’t go outside the compound again until negotiations were done.
So at the end of the negotiations, in order for us to get Mike Durant back, we had to leave.
Mike would tell you, you don’t negotiate with bad people because they will never be good people.
And your word, ‘microcosm,’ is a good way to describe it because we showed [political] weakness. And Osama bin Laden has used that against us ever since. He said, ‘Look at the Americans in Somalia. Kill them and drag them through the streets, and they will run because they are weak.’ So Somalia was a catalyst or an instigator of 9/11. It should have changed us in our approach to terrorism. Instead, it benefited the bad guys.
Smith: What about Somalia today?
McKNIGHT: The piracy we see off Somalia today is all Al Qaeda connected. It’s not so much the clan fighting there now today as it is the dominating Muslim militia. There are trying to control that country and maintain it as a safe haven for terrorists. Somalia is a key piece of ground. Look at where it sits on the Horn of Africa.
Smith: So how does the militia benefit from the piracy?
McKNIGHT: Money. You know you get a four-million-dollar ransom for a boat. The Somalis that take control of that money are cohorts of the feared militia. As long as the militia and their friends control Somalia, piracy will continue, and that money finances terrorists.
Had we stood fast in 1993, and shown them that if you mess we us we are going to kick you in the teeth, they would view us differently today.
Smith: How true to character was actor Tom Sizemore in his portrayal of you in the movie, Black Hawk Down?
McKNIGHT: You have to understand, I had zero to do with the writing of the book, Black Hawk Down. Second, my input into the movie was not much more than that.
They did have good advisors, and so the book and the movie were done well.
But my input with Tom Sizemore was pretty much two phone calls. He later told me that much of what he did was based on what he learned from other [U.S. Army] Rangers, and regarding me specifically was what he learned from Rangers who served with me. He said their general comments were, ‘Whatever you do, remember Col. McKnight was right there in the streets beside us, on our left, on our right, behind us and in front of us. He was fighting but he was leading more than anything else.’
Sizemore is bigger than I am, much bigger. I’m only 5’9.” A lot of times when I go places, people say, ‘We thought you’d be much bigger.’ I always say, ‘Sorry, this is all there is.’ Also, in the movie, he smokes. I do not smoke. Never dated Hiedi Fleiss either.
Smith: I understand you have a forthcoming book?
McKNIGHT: Yes. There is so much more associated with Black Hawk Down than just Black Hawk Down. Mark Bowden did a fabulous job, but his focus truly was the events associated with Oct. 3-4, 1993. And there’s more to the story.
I have written a book [release date to be determined] that focuses on leadership, which is one of the primary things that got us through that day.
The fight; Yes, I was privileged to be fighting alongside the greatest Americans that you could ever have between Rangers, Delta Force operators, a few Navy SEALs, and having Task Force 160 above us. We fought probably better than people could imagine, because when you are outnumbered – probably five to one – you have to fight pretty hard. But leadership was key. So I start the book with that.
Leadership, I think is the key to the success of our country – past, present, and future – and that’s the reason I’m concerned today, because I don’t see the right kind of leadership.
Smith: What else?
McKNIGHT: Decisions that were made. There were a lot of decisions made that people know nothing about. My book will really, clearly reveal those decisions.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The conversation continued with McKnight who detailed much more about his book, how truth will be told, fingers will be pointed, and Americans will learn just how much broader the 1993 Somali operation was. “Many people think the only mission we did there was the Oct. 3-4 mission,” says McKnight. “That was number seven. There has not been enough said about the other six.”]