Red Dawn

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review originally appeared in the Libertarian
, July-August 1984.

, directed by John Milius.

not only the Supreme Court that follows the election returns.
Hollywood, too, does its bit, and movie theatres have been increasingly
filled with right-wingy patriotism, like the rest of the media
this endless summer. I went to see Red Dawn expecting
a bout of anti-Soviet warmongering, but instead was pleasantly
surprised. This is hardly a great picture, and is indeed flawed.
But Red Dawn is an enjoyable teen-age saga, and, apart
from right-wingy pro-NATO credits at the beginning of the film,
it is not so much pro-war as it is anti-State. The warfare it
celebrates is not interstate strife, but guerrilla conflict
that the great radical libertarian military analyst, General
Charles Lee, labeled "people's war" two centuries
before Mao and Che.

beginning of the picture is exciting, if idiotic. Cuban, Nicaraguan,
Mexican and other Commie Hispanic troops, headed by Soviet advisors,
parachute into and successfully conquer the entire prairie Mid West,
from the Rockies to the Mississippi. In the opening sequence, the
Red paratroops swiftly invade and, for some reason, annihilate a
high school in the mythical town of "Culver City," Colorado,
presumably somewhere in the East Slope foothills of the Rockies.
In a neat touch, gun control has made it easy for the Commie occupiers
to round up all the registered guns in the area. But a half-dozen
high school kids escape and set up a guerrilla camp in the Rockies.
Jed, the older leader and a former school quarterback, whips the
other reluctant lads into shape, and soon the tiny guerrilla band,
using light arms, mobile tactics, and superior knowledge of the
terrain, strike terror into the Red occupying forces while brandishing
the rallying name of "Wolverines." There are some revoltingly
macho touches at the beginning, especially when one of the
young lads receives his mystical baptism into the guerrilla rites
by drinking the blood of his first kill — fortunately a deer rather
than a Commie. These touches subside after a while, although they
are hardly softened by the appearance of two young lady guerrillas
who are fierce and androgynous enough to pose for a Viet Cong or
Algerian guerrilla poster.

of the best parts of the picture is the graphic portrayal of how
the Red response to the Wolverines runs the gamut of the U. S. counter-revolutionary
responses to the Vietnamese. That is, at first the Russian commander
decides to hole up in the cities and military bases, into the "safe
zones," whereupon the Wolverines boldly demonstrate that in
guerrilla war there are no safe zones, and that the "front
is everywhere." At that point, another crackerjack Russian
commander takes over, and replicates the "search and destroy"
counter-guerrilla response of the Green Berets. This is more punishing,
but still does not succeed.

big problem with the picture is that there is no sense that successful
guerrilla war feeds on itself; in real life the ranks of the guerrillas
would start to swell, and this would defeat the search-and-destroy
concept. In Red Dawn, on the other hand, there are only the
same half-dozen teenagers, and the inevitable attrition makes the
struggle seem hopeless when it need not be.

problem is that there is no character development through action,
so that, except for the leader, all the high school kids seem
indistinguishable. As a result, there is no impulse to mourn
as each one falls by the wayside.

whatever flaws the movie has are redeemed by one glorious — and
profoundly libertarian — moment. The Nicaraguan-Cuban insurgent
leader is increasingly unhappy acting as a State occupying force.
He tells the implacable Russian commander: "Once I was an insurgent.
Now I'm a policeman" — the last word spoken with profound contempt.
He writes his wife: "What am I doing in this cold and lonely
spot, so far away from home?" So that, in the climax of the
film, as one people's war guerrilla to another, he saves the hero,
Jed, and allows him to slip out of the Russian net. Ideology, left
and right, gets swallowed up in hands-across-the-sea of people's
guerrillas against their respective States.

all war pictures there is the annoying pacifist nudge,
griping about "how do we differ from them,"
since both are shooting and killing. (The LeFevre-Smith motif.)
Jed's answer is satisfactory enough, even though lacking profound
argumentation: "Because we live here!"

fine touch is that the evil informer who almost does the Wolverines
in is, naturally, the son of the town Mayor, who is identified
by friend and foe alike as "the politician." The Mayor,
who directs the betrayal, cringes fawningly if despairingly
in carrying out the orders of the occupation force.

in all worth seeing — exciting as well as libertarian.


N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School,
founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic officer of
the Mises Institute. He was
also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his literary
executor. See
his books.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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