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Josh Hartnett, 2001 on War – Out of the Archives

The journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press first interviewed promising young actor Josh Hartnett in May 2001 when he acted with Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor, directed by Michael Bay: they met him again in December 2001 to talk about Black Hawk Down, directed by Ridley Scott, the story of a 1993 US military raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. Hartnett gave his thoughts on war and the question of military intervention in other countries – a theme certainly relevant today in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 
Harnett can currently be seen appearing with Jason Statham and Hugh Grant in Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (2023) directed by Guy Ritchie.
Hartnett said he felt a responsibility towards the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack while portraying a US Army Air Corps pilot in Pearl Harbor: “Before I did this movie, I had never considered myself very patriotic or heroic in that sense, and while doing this film, it wasn’t a question of being a patriot, it was about being an actor and finding the character of Danny, who is not necessarily ready to go back to war. What really helped was talking to the survivors and watching them after sixty years still cry about what happened when they were only a quarter of their (current) age. They stayed with us throughout the whole shooting, so we kept going out to dinner with them, and when they talked about the emotions and the feelings that they had about this event, they had this intense, almost mythical depth in their eyes, so you feel a certain amount of responsibility because of that. I hope that my generation learns about the past and we don’t have to repeat something like this.”
The actor had also been shooting Black Hawk Down in Morocco, directed by Ridley Scott, and compared the experiences of working with two different directors: “Michael Bay and Ridley Scott have their own special attributes, but they are both extremely brilliant visualists. Ridley is a master of his craft, which is inspiring to be around, and his movie is completely as far from Pearl Harbor as possible, if you want to even consider it in the same genre. Yes, there’s a lot of war type stuff happening in it, but Black Hawk Down is about how in Somalia in the early 90s there was starvation all over the place. Americans and the UN went in at first to give food and to try to maintain some sort of order. It was a noble attempt, but the clans considered themselves in power, they had a stranglehold on the public and they didn’t want this other powerful entity to come in, so they fought back, they retaliated, and it became all-out war. Then our film became a modern morality tale, basically an educational story for people to get a glimpse of ground warfare and think a little harder about sending people over there to kill and be killed, to see the terrible stuff that can happen and get a clearer view of the inhumanity of it. It makes you wonder about the free world, the rich world with all the food and the money, where do we get off going into these places and trying to change the government and all that? Where do we start and where do we finish that sort of endeavor? You can’t necessarily say that we should or should not go in there, because every situation’s different, but this is one where everything went wrong.  Hopefully, right now the world, we’ll figure out a way to have it be peaceful.”
When the HFPA journalists were shown the completed film Black Hawk Dawn in December 2001, it was after the US Army had invaded Afghanistan in October to capture Bin Laden and fight Al Qaeda in response to the attack on New York of 9/11. At that time, Hartnett commented: “In the case of Afghanistan as of Somalia, it’s all about telling the truth, everyone involved in the conflict on all sides deserves the story to be told truthfully.  It’s a tough situation that is hard to look at, because it’s so close to us in time and the people that were actually in Somalia were there on the set with us, so the telling of the story is close to the way it happened, and that will make them feel vindicated. I think that everybody involved, including the Somalian side and all the UN, will benefit from this story being told, because this is an honest account of how things can go very, very wrong, and the ignorance we all have on these subjects is so apparent in the film like this, and in the book by Mark Bowden, that you’re stunned by the information you receive in a short amount of time. Hopefully, from seeing this movie, people should want to learn more about what’s going on in the world and that will ultimately pay the most respect to the people that died on both sides and everybody who was involved.”
The actor elaborated on what he had learned while shooting on location in Morocco, which was standing in for Somalia: “Being there, in a tough area where people are starving and there’s 65% unemployment, you really had a feel of what it must be like to be in Mogadishu or someplace that is war-torn and to be fighting. That for me took away a lot of the ‘rah rah’ kind of feeling that you would get from seeing the war on CNN, because you were put in the middle of it, and you saw how depraved and horrible this situation can be on all sides, so you don’t want to take it lightly. The experience did change me quite a bit, because the US Rangers involved with the filming that surrounded us on the outskirts of the set watching us shoot were actually in the battle. It was such a wild time, and I felt pretty blessed to have been able to go there for five months before all this stuff went down over in Afghanistan, which is probably going to continue for a while, and as white Americans, we aren’t going to be able to spend a lot of time in those Muslim nations.”
Hartnett revealed that he was not encouraged to play war games as a child: “When I was younger, we’d go out and play guns every once in a while, but it wasn’t something my parents liked me to do. They tried to teach me that war was horrific and death is something that you shouldn’t fool around with, that you shouldn’t pretend to kill somebody, because that won’t be good to your development as a human being.”
When asked whether he would agree to go fight in a war if he were drafted, the actor replied: “I wouldn’t want anybody to go to war, so that’s a tough question to answer, but I don’t know how I would react if I was called to go to war. Hopefully I won’t get drafted and have to state my beliefs to some guy behind a table who’ll say, ‘You’re a conscientious objector.’ Or maybe I’ll go, because my friends will get drafted too and I wouldn’t want them to die, and that’s a lot of what Black Hawk Down is about. You fight for your friends more than you’re fighting for the cause – once you get in there, you want your friends to survive. I feel bad for people on both sides that have been chosen to be at the front shooting at each other as the enemy to be killed. I don’t know what I would do, to tell you the truth. I guess I would have to really believe in what’s going on with the conflict, but right now there’s so much of a grey area in what’s going on over there that it worries me.”
Hartnett expressed some worries about the continuing conflict in Israel, and concluded with a plea for peaceful solutions to other conflicts around the world: “You don’t want this to become a war against Islam, but if it continues to blow up in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, it very well could be, and if we support Israel in that respect too vehemently, when they are not trying to find terrorists but want to obliterate the Palestinians, then it will become a war of us against them. It could become a Third World War, and nobody wants to see that happen, I don’t believe in that. People are too smart and we’re all too close right now to have that be our focus, because killing the other person is not going to solve anything.  We can’t very well hide ourselves from all that’s happening and we can’t say that this half of the world is evil and this half is good, because we’re all just going to obliterate ourselves, so we got to somehow come up with some sort of peaceful solution. I mean, we’re smart people, we’re all intelligent, so we got to do that.”