August 2011 has seen some of the grimmest news in years out of Somalia, a country that has become shorthand for despair. Since a famine began sweeping the war-torn country in July, tens of thousands of Somalis have died of starvation, and many more have sought refuge elsewhere. On Aug. 8, the U.S. government announced that it was pledging another $105 million to alleviating hunger in the Horn of Africa, bringing total U.S. support during the famine crisis to more than $500 million.
But one thing no one in the United States is talking about is repeating the country’s actions 20 years ago, when the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre’s 21-year military rule and the ensuing civil war prompted a similarly dire famine crisis in southern Somalia. U.S. troops were dispatched to smooth the way for aid delivery, and the effort to alleviate the famine is mostly remembered in the United States today for how it ended: a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade over Mogadishu and the body of a U.S. Army soldier* aboard dragged through the city’s streets.