Just 39 seconds into the trailer the audience witnesses an airborne operation from the ground - menacing and beautiful columns of aircraft with an American flag in the foreground. The slow-moving line of planes is like a distorted World War II propaganda film, or CNN footage of one of our TV wars with the POV reversed. Immediately an accident destroys a suburban home and brings the terror into stark focus. In that one instant the filmmakers thoroughly dismantle the notion that a tactic like "Shock and Awe" could be anything but a strategic disaster, as "collateral damage" poisons the legitimacy of the attacker among the civilian populations. You can't kill a man's family, and then win his heart and mind with a pamphlet, the director seems to be telling us. Why didn't we realize this before?
Characters then talk about the enemy's superior technology:
never came back."
The occupier has an edge. But right away, we know that such a weapon can be stolen or defeated. And so the filmmakers explain how a vicious, determined insurgency rises out of the wreckage of a defeated country and destroys its conquerors.
The group coalesces around an off-duty Marine, who trains them in combat tactics and marksmanship:
"I can't. Yes, you can. Just relax... and squeeze."
The makers of Red Dawn are reminding us of the disastrous decision of the Coalition Provisional Authority to disband the Iraqi army, creating a large class of unemployed and angry people who could organize into a potent threat. At the same time they know that bringing security forces into our orbit does not necessarily solve the problem. Local military and law enforcement always have the potential to connect with hostile elements and betray the occupying army from within. In a few spare words of dialogue this movie is presenting us with the most deadly paradox any victorious military faces if it wants to seize a country and recreate it in its own image.
The rebel leader tells us why they are so effective in the clip: "We're the Wolverines. And we create chaos." An occupying army has to rebuild infrastructure, provide services, and demonstrate its power without brutalizing the people. The rebels just have to topple whatever was painstakingly built in a single, violent moment. And it is always easier, much easier, to destroy than create. We have to relearn this lesson every time we invade a country and attempt to win its people over, Red Dawn reminds us. When will we stop forgetting it?
But it's the personal story of the insurgent commander and his brother that has the most revealing, and depressing, message for US policymakers. As a military officer kills their father, he tells his boys to avenge his death:
"Boys, I love you both. But I want you to do what I would do. Kill this piece of -" He never finishes his sentence. But he doesn't have to.
But it's the meta-narrative of Red Dawn that transcends the medium, and delivers a powerful and vital message to people who haven't even seen the movie. The film's creators originally portrayed the Chinese army as the primary villains, but studio heads forced them to change the antagonists to North Koreans in post-production, according to media reports like this LA Times article.
It's obvious that the makers of this film have created a brilliant piece of Andy Kaufman-style performance art around the production of Red Dawn. As the movie is a commentary about the foolishness of fighting multiple insurgencies around the globe, the media chatter surrounding it focuses our attention on how our military expenditures drain our economy of resources while the Chinese government - the villain who must not be identified - uses economic leverage to change the behavior of some of the largest and most powerful American companies.
"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill," according to Sun Tzu. "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." The creators of Red Dawn have drawn our attention to this strategic fact without directly stating it.
The tone and execution of the film are very similar to this bit of journalistic theater. Red Dawn, an artful takedown of American militarism, is so similar to the kind of ignorant, simplistic movies that celebrate this militarism, that some may question whether it is pitch-perfect satire at all. Some might even believe it is praising exactly what it condemns. But this is impossible. For the people who made Red Dawn to expect us to take it as a straightforward blockbuster, they'd have to believe this country has learned absolutely nothing from the awful ordeals of its recent past which have killed thousands of its bravest, most idealistic young people and devastated their families. It would have to be a film produced by a nation of contemptible idiots, for a nation of contemptible idiots.
That simply can not be true.