Red, White, and Blue Dawn

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Striking
parallels
between the current US occupation of Iraq and events depicted in
the movie The Battle of Algiers have been widely discussed. The
1965 classic, a dramatization of anticolonial struggle, was even
shown at the Pentagon back in 2003,
apparently as an instructional film.

But, as a few
commentators have noted, there is another movie from the past which,
if held up to an ideological mirror, provides insights on the Iraq
catastrophe. Red
Dawn
, released – appropriately enough – in 1984,
was rotten cinema; however,
as an example of Cold War paranoia it was a masterpiece. Depicting
a near-future Soviet invasion of the United States, the film followed
the struggle of a group of young Coloradans against the forces of
occupation.

At the time
of its release, denunciations of Red Dawn focused on the
absurdity of the movie’s premise – a successful land invasion
by Soviet forces – and its potential to feed anticommunist
hysteria. But I don’t remember anyone criticizing its portrayal
of ordinary Americans’ determination to resist an invasion, should
one occur.

Finding in
my hands a copy of Red Dawn’s original shooting script (screenplay
by Kevin Reynolds), I’ll use it to illustrate how, beneath the Hollywood
hokum, the film made two important points: (1) whatever the odds,
people will inevitably fight back against an invading army and (2)
military occupation triggers a downward spiral of brutality on both
sides.

First, two short excerpts:

[An encounter
with invading troops at an abandoned drive-in theater]

The SOLDIERS
barely have time to react. A murderous BARRAGE cuts into them.
Some dive for weapons.

Sandy puts
an RPG ROUND into a truck. It blows up.

A few bleeding
soldiers take cover behind the movie screen, wild with fright.
Robert shoots them.

Jed: Robert?
Is that all of them?

Robert (offscreen):
Yes.

A beat

Andy: You
don’t take prisoners?

Jed: We don’t
take chances.

Closeup –
Jed

Burning phosphorus
has landed around him. Tremendous NOISE OF HEAT SHELLS ripping
into the earth with their shaped charges. A shrieking WAIL as
an anti-tank missile glances off the T2′s turret without detonating.

Jed looks
at Robert – Daryl – Tony; they all look at him. He leaps
to his feet, running. They are right behind him. Shells streak
in, the Russian GUN FIRES. They bolt, gasping air in headlong
flight.

Moviegoers
who two decades ago might have cheered on the boys of Red Dawn
are likely to see the Iraqi resistance very differently, viewing
it as a movement dominated by non-Iraqi jihadists bent on killing
civilians. That is certainly the impression one gets from watching
news on the small screen.

The Pentagon’s
claim
that most suicide bombers are foreigners appears to be true. But
the wider resistance – 30,000 or so strong – is overwhelmingly
Iraqi. A November 17 Washington Post article cited
estimates
by analyst Anthony Cordesman and others that foreigners
make up between 4 and 10 percent of all guerrillas currently in
Iraq. According to Cordesman, "Both Iraqis and coalition people
often exaggerate the role of foreign infiltrators and downplay the
role of Iraqi resentment in the insurgency."

Violence committed
by the homegrown Iraqi resistance against Americans and their supporters
must be condemned (just as we condemn the violence committed by
the occupying army), but it also must be understood as the absolutely
predictable reaction of a people under the thumb of a foreign superpower.
It doesn’t matter if the foreigner’s flag is red or if it’s red,
white, and blue.

The young rebels
in Red Dawn also did not shrink from cruel behavior: executing
prisoners, scalping Mexican members of the Soviet-led "coalition,"
and engaging in torture. To its credit, the script takes a dim view
of such behavior; the young heroes who committed the acts appeared
not to enjoy them, but to regard them as a grim necessity under
the circumstances.

Another excerpt:

Exterior
of the camp – pre-dawn.

The Commando
sits crosslegged and stoic in the dirt, his elbows tied behind
him. He’s nineteen.

Sandy and
Matt question him – nervously. Half-dressed kids madly grab belongings
in the background…

Sandy: Habla
ingles?

Robert: Shoot
him.

Matt holds
the compass device up to the Commando’s face.

Matt: What
is this?

No answer.
Sandy slaps the prisoner. Robert holds up a cigarette.

Robert: Rub
a butt on him!

Sandy is
scared, so she does. The Commando yells, flails in pain.

Commando:
Suck at you! Goddam for your mother!

Jed runs
over and grabs him by his sweaty shirt.

Jed: How
did you find us?

Commando
(is scared, but he has been trained): You fock, Yankee!

Jed slugs
him.

Jed: If you
wanna live, talk.

Sandy: We
better go.

The prisoner
locks his face.

Commando:
Gorsky, Stepan Yevgeny … Lieutenant –

Robert kicks
him in the stomach as hard as he can.

Robert: Nobody
cares who you are, asshole.

He kicks
him again … and again … and again …

Invasion and
occupation can be successfully opposed by nonviolent means, but
that depends on the citizens of the invading nation. (Even Gandhi
admitted that his followers’ nonviolent independence movement may
not have succeeded against another colonial power less accommodating
than postwar Britain). The violent Iraqi resistance to US occupation
continues because we in this country have so far been thwarted in
our attempts to force an end to the war or the occupation through
peaceful dissent.

If, in America,
the tide really is beginning to turn in favor of an end to the occupation,
many lives will be saved …but too late for thousands of Americans
and tens of thousands of Iraqis. If leading Democratic lawmakers
continue to resist the will of a solid majority of citizens and
allow the occupation to continue, it will be too late for thousands
more.

Two more scenes.
This time, I have changed the names of the young American fighters
to names that could be those of young Iraqis. And I have given American
names and designations to the Russians (Try doing the same with
the scenes above as well):

Salim: War’s
different up close.

No response

Salim: You
get used to it after a while.

Bashir: I
can see that.

Salim fumes
quietly.

Salim: It
must be something to kill a man from ten miles away. To sit warm
in your plane and see that little flash in the distance. No body,
no blood, no screams.

Sgt. Strickland:
Put a medal on the boy… shot dead and he still got us down.

The troops
drag two torn rag dolls into a pile – Ghalib, Bashir. Their weapons
are stacked beside them.

A soldier
with a movie camera films the spectacle from various angles, then
turns the camera on Strickland.

POV – CAMERA

The picture
is reframed to avoid the dead pilot in background.

Pentagon
official: I would estimate preliminary enemy body count to 12
K.I.A., wouldn’t you, Sergeant?

Strickland:
I see two.

Pentagon
official: But they carry off their dead.

Using his
boot, Strickland lifts Ghalib’s head for a closeup. There is a
distant, dull explosion.

If
these exchanges make sense when relocated from Colorado to Iraq,
it’s because as a cycle of violence progresses, the actions of one
side become harder and harder to distinguish from those of the other.
The original motivations of the invader and the natural desire of
the invaded to defend their home territory both get lost in the
chaos.

Inexplicably,
the Pentagon assigned the code name "Red Dawn" to the
operation that captured Saddam Hussein in December, 2003. Clearly,
no one involved in selecting that name was familiar with the movie
– or maybe they had a keen sense of humor. And the irony of the
choice, at a time when a heavily armed United States was playing
the role of an invader battling a ragtag army of locals, was overlooked
by all but a few in the press.

But more than
20 years after it first landed in theaters, the much-maligned Red
Dawn may finally have found a useful role in society, by prompting
us to put ourselves in the shoes of Iraqis – or Palestinians,
or any other people – who are living under occupation.

November
28, 2005

Stan
Cox [send him mail] is a plant
breeder and writer in Salina, Kansas.

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