Ah, Red Dawn. It's easy to make fun of a movie about a high school football team led by Patrick Swayze single-handedly defeating the Soviet army. And we have done just that in the past. But what looks ridiculous in 2010 looked like prophecy to millions of teenagers in 1984.
Kids who grew up in the Reagan era did monthly "duck and cover" nuclear war drills in the classroom. A movie about them and their classmates fighting the Russians wasn't science fiction -- it's what they fully expected to be doing in a few years. And Red Dawn embodied Reagan's "we'll kill the commies with our awesomeness" spirit better than any movie except maybe Rocky IV (which is why National Review ranked it among the best conservative films).
Just looking at him makes our sphincters tighten.
That is, as long as you don't think about it too hard. If you dig into the details of this action epic you find a pretty damning indictment of Reagan, the U.S. military and even America itself. In fact, it might be the most anti-American movie made outside of the Middle East.
Let's see how far we get into the movie before things start looking bad for the USA.
This is seriously in the first two minutes.
The opening scene takes place at a high school in Calumet, Colo. Suddenly, Russian troops parachute onto the lawn, in a surprise attack on America ...
... Alright, stop the movie. How the hell did communists make it all the way to Colorado?
Later it's explained that the invasion came from two directions: Mexico (which in the film had recently fallen to communists) where half a million troops had amassed, and from the north, where 60 divisions of Russian troops flooded across Alaska and then down through Canada. Both forces were presumably marching to converge on a small high school in Colorado to knock out America's Swayze capability before it could be mobilized.
You've got to lock that shit down.
So let's start with the north. Keep in mind, a military division is anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 troops. Sixty of those, showing up in Alaska. Excuse me? Have they never played Risk before? How the hell did the U.S. miss the 600,000 troops even back when they were amassing in Kamchatka?
But Kamchatka is totally on the other side of the board!
The U.S. intelligence networks and spy satellites then failed to notice this massive army as it moved south across 3,500 miles of land to reach the USA? And what the hell did we do to piss off Canada, that nobody there bothered to pick up the phone and let us know thousands and thousands of Red Army tanks and jeeps and support vehicles were clanking down the highway?
Mounties aren't as on-the-ball as you'd think.
As for the half a million Latin American troops amassing in Mexico? We have politicians calling for military troops at the Mexican border now, just to stop immigrants from sneaking across and taking landscaping jobs from Americans. In a hypothetical universe where Mexico turned communist and hostile, the moment our spy satellites saw one communist tank rolling northward, every single bomber in the U.S. Air Force would be flying south with the intention of making everything from Texas to the Panama Canal look like the surface of the Moon.
Who in the hell was in command of homeland defense in the Red Dawn universe?
As for the paratroopers on campus, we're told that the invaders used military planes disguised as commercial jets, a strategy that the Russians really did use during the invasion of Afghanistan. We understand this was a pre-9/11 world, but nobody at the FAA noticed hundreds and hundreds of extra flights swarming in from communist countries that day?
Apparently that's what you get when you fire all the air traffic controllers.
OK, let's say the U.S. got caught with its pants down (during the initial invasion we see only one American helicopter flying around Calumet and blowing the shit out of the Soviets -- that's one pilot who had to wonder where the hell his backup was). You would still think that several months later, after the battle lines had solidified, you'd start to see some of that hardware that we bought in the 1980s instead of a health care system.
What a deal.
After all, when Jed (Swayze) interrogates a downed American fighter pilot about how he got shot down, he replies: "It was five to one. I got four." We're supposed to be too amazed at his badassery to stop and wonder how in the hell the U.S. Air Force wound up outnumbered five to one over its own freaking air fields.
Again, this is the freaking Reagan era here. We built over a thousand F-15s alone. When the U.S. fights wars these days, the other side doesn't even bother to scramble its fighters unless it wants to field test its ejection seats. That's why we went so deeply into debt over the last three decades -- so we could make enough fighter aircraft to blot out the sun if we so chose. So, what, in the world of Red Dawn did we sell them all to the Chinese pay off our credit cards?
But even if we were that badly outnumbered, why in the hell would the U.S. Air Force send a single F-15 fighter 40 miles into enemy territory, with no help?
Five Russian MiGs coming. You got my back, right, guys? Guys?
The numbers aren't any better on the ground. When the Wolverines go to view the front, they find themselves trapped in the crossfire of a tank battle -- that is, a single, lonely U.S. tank doing battle against two Soviet tanks.
After taking a few shots, the U.S. tank waits patiently as the Wolverines take heavy machine gun fire from the other Soviet tank. After the second tank is disabled by a Wolverine rocket, one of the Wolverines uses the last of his strength to throw a smoke grenade to signal the U.S. tank. Finally, the U.S. tank realizes that it's a goddamn tank and takes shots to destroy the two already-disabled tanks. What the fuck was it waiting for?
Sorry, didn't want to be rude and interrupt your battle.
Are you seeing a pattern here? America ran into more resistance in Grenada than the Reds met in the middle of the freaking American heartland.
The U.S. is no stranger to guerrilla warfare -- we have Special Forces who are experts in training native fighters how to make life hell for an invading army (see: the Russians and Afghanistan). Yet despite this, the United States doesn't send anyone to help the Wolverines because ... they're waiting for nicer weather.
"We're not ...huge fans of snow, so ..."
We know the United States has agents embedded in the occupied part of America at the time -- the Radio Free America broadcast sends coded messages like "The chair is against the wall" and "John has a long mustache." Apparently there is no code for "Can anyone help those brave but outmatched high schoolers fighting crack commandos in Colorado?"
The code is "The minors need a bottle opener for their Coors."
And it's not like the U.S. government doesn't know about Swayze's crew; when staying one night with a friendly family, the kids learn that they are known about in the free territory as far as California. Jed's reputation as a leader has spread and made him a folk hero. That's where they learn that there are rumors the military may be sending Green Berets!
Once spring gets here.
Really? Spring? Special Forces that swam the gator-infested swamps of Cambodia, marched the mosquito-thick forests of Vietnam and climbed the cold, barren peaks of Afghanistan can't handle a winter in richly forested and supplied Colorado?
Pictured: People tougher than Red Dawn universe Special Forces.
Judging from what the group of teenagers and an Air Force pilot were able to do with no help or training (they get some basic tips from the pilot, but his expertise is in flying a jet, not organizing an insurgency), you'd have to think the town was one small unit of Green Berets away from marching a Fourth of July parade past the smoldering hulks of Soviet military hardware. But it was winter and that 40-mile trek was just too much.
Two centuries prior, Washington was crossing rivers in below-freezing temperatures on Christmas.
The military passes up not only an easy victory, but a major propaganda opportunity as well. Liberate the Wolverines and have them travel across Free America and on TV talking about their amazing success overthrowing the Soviets. Have them speak at morale-boosting rallies and pitch joining the military or buying war bonds. Put them on Radio Free America to encourage other Americans to rise up and resist the Commies.
How's this for irony:
While the United States was taking its sweet time sending Special Forces to help, the Soviets were respecting the power of the Wolverines by sending in their own special forces to fight them.
After the tank battle we mentioned earlier, the Soviets send in Col. Strelnikov, aka "The Hunter," to fight the Wolverines. Strelnikov baits the Wolverines with food to launch a helicopter assault. While Strelnikov would die in the final battle, he succeeds in forcing the Eckert brothers to go on a suicide mission so that Erica and Danny could escape to liberated America. By the end, Strelnikov has defeated the Wolverines.
They rubbed the victory in the townsfolk's faces by going for Happy Meals and not bringing any back.
Meanwhile, Cuban Col. Bella catches up to Matt and Jed and raises his assault rifle to fire. But his disillusionment with war and respect for the boys prevails, and he waves them off, allowing them one final emotional moment together in the park before they die.
This sequence has to be the most damning of the entire film. In the end, the Soviet/Latin American invasion force learns to respect the toughness and tenacity of those all-American kids. The American military, meanwhile, doesn't give two shits about them.
WHERE'S THEIR PARADE?!
Just in case we miss this point, it's driven home in the final scene ...
The films ends with a shot of Partisan Rock and a voice-over by Erica explaining that World War III ended. The flying American flag indicates that the United States won the war, and a memorial to the Wolverines shows that they were remembered.
Except that they aren't being remembered. Erica says, "I come to this place often, but no one else does." That includes Danny, the other surviving Wolverine, presumably. Did he have trouble adjusting and end up in a penitentiary like a veteran in a Bruce Springsteen song?
In fact, the memorial rock doesn't bear the insignia of the U.S. military, U.S. Park Service or any government agency. For all we know, Erica could have paid for the monument herself. Maybe she brings it every time she visits and sets it there before a security guard comes along and kicks it over.
Maybe Danny scared the security guard off?
So even if you launch guerrilla war and give your life so this nation shall not perish from the Earth, and bail out a military that apparently was too drunk to notice there was a war going on, no one will pay much attention. What the hell, Red Dawn? What was the message -- that we should have been more paranoid about the communists? That we should have spent more money on cruise missiles instead of blowing it on Medicare?
According to this scene, it wouldn't have mattered, because at the end of the day, no one gives a shit since in the Red Dawn universe, America is horrible.
My website is PhilipRodneyMoon.com
Now that Red Dawn is successfully castrated, allow David Wong to do the same with Karate Kid, in How 'The Karate Kid' Ruined The Modern World. Or get some good ole 80s fun, in 6 Awesome 80s Movie Montages (That Make No Damn Sense).