The dawn of an insurgency

Film audiences yearning to understand the insurgency in occupied Iraq need not look to the art house imports. In 1984, fueled by cold war paranoia, United Artists released “Red Dawn,” a testosterone-fueled fantasy about a communist invasion of the United States and its effects on teenagers in a rural mountain town. While generally viewed as a toss-off, B-grade action film, “Red Dawn” casts a humanistic eye on the roots of insurgency and can help give U.S. viewers the opportunity to find a new empathy for occupied Iraqis.

It’s not a great movie, but it shows the plight of average people who feel forced to take up arms against foreign soldiers. The characters are not ex-military who re-militarize themselves, but teenagers whose biggest concerns are school and sports – that is, until their country is invaded. The sudden presence of hostile soldiers turns them into rebel fighters.

As Jed (Patrick Swayze) manages to get a handful of boys into his truck, they take off for the secluded Rocky Mountains. A month later they go into town to find out what has happened, and their little Colorado home is completely occupied by Russian and Cuban troops. Any citizens who could conceivably give the troops any trouble (gun owners, patriots, etc.) have been herded into the local drive in, which is now a “re-education camp.”

Interrogations, beatings and rapes have become commonplace. Those left to live in the town walk with their eyes downcast and do their best to stay unnoticed.

It becomes too much for the hidden teenagers, who decide to resist those occupying their soil. They progressively become a better and more sophisticated guerilla team, taking on the name of “Wolverines” after their high school mascot.

Although watching battle tactics on U.S. soil is striking, the film has an interesting concept that unfortunately never really delivers the punch you expect it to. By itself the movie gives some poignancy to life and death, and to the struggle of a leader. But it does not spend nearly enough time waxing philosophic about its main concept: war.

In 1984, when it was released, this gap was easily felt, and noted by the reviewers. But watching the film 20 years later bridges that gap, because we have now become an occupying power elsewhere.

All it takes is one unjust killing, and suddenly there is an enraged child ready to become a cold-blooded killer. C. Thomas Howell plays Robert Morris, one of the most innocent in the bunch until he found out his dad has been killed for giving them supplies to survive in the mountains. The Communists make an example out of him.

Robert then becomes the most driven, pathological killer of the bunch. When told by an actual U.S. soldier, “Your hatred’s gonna burn you up,” he replies with a smile, “It keeps me warm.”

How many Robert Morris-type transformations have we made in Iraq in the last few years? Some estimate Iraqi civilian casualties to be around 100,000. Every one of those dead civilians had a relative who could snap and become a great threat.

Many bland moments in “Red Dawn” are brought to life as they are compared with the Iraqi insurgency. The total separation the guerilla Wolverines have from society and their continual reliance on food and cunning makes one think about Iraqis in the desert. And while the Soviet commanders had polish and control, many of the infantry soldiers were dumb, horny kids with a uniform. Much like our own soldiers, they cannot be counted on to make the most sociologically beneficial choices when faced with a hostile culture.

We have our own torture chambers in Iraq, and anyone who would dare to deny that a rape has been committed by one of our soldiers has naively ignored the lessons of every single war before this one.

“Red Dawn” shows us the average human response to such actions. What would we do if our sisters were raped, our parents tortured and our daily lives forcibly taken from us? What should we do, as patriots?

There is probably only one thing any red-blooded American would ever do – and the Iraqis are doing the same thing right now. It’s too bad the U.S. can’t understand the sentiments of the occupied at the same time it occupies them. Maybe this is the tragic, inescapable cycle that you plunge yourself into when you engage in war. Demonization, dehumanization and bloodthirst seem to be the only natural consequences.