Sunday, October 08, 2006

# Posted 11:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE ANNALS OF ACADEMIA: Prof. Payne of U. Louisville (KY) has instructed his students to watch Red Dawn as part of their effort to better understand the dilemmas of counterinsurgency. The good professor observes:
Those who have seen it know that "Red Dawn" is not an especially good movie. So why did I select it? Well, I wanted a film that highlights the great difficulty of counterinsurgency warfare -- and I wanted a movie that would make students sympathize with the insurgents. Obviously, "The Battle of Algiers" is a better movie with similar themes and plotlines.

In recent weeks, the class has been viewing films about liberal idealism and humanitarian intervention, all from the point-of-view of the great power(s) or their proxies involved in the situations. Though the protagonists in "Red Dawn" are American, they are the victims. The Soviet Union and its Cuban allies have attacked and a small Colorado hometown is under occuption (as part of a larger war). The film focuses on the nationalist impulses that motivate the high school student insurgency.
A good choice for the curriculum, Prof. Payne. Let me add one thing. Red Dawn is really a film about Vietnam. It is a fantasy in which Americans play the victorious insurgents instead of the much-resented intervention force. The defining film in this genre is Rambo.

Although Red Dawn does emphasize the difficulty of counterinsurgency, it radically underestimates the difficulties of insurgency. Unsurprisingly, only a handful of the good guys get killed in Red Dawn, while Soviet and Cubans get picked off like sitting ducks.

But successful insurgents must be ready to suffer horrific casualties. This is no less true in Iraq than it was in Vietnam. Since Vietnam taught us not to use body counts as a measure of progress, coverage of the war in Iraq almost completely ignores the question of how many insurgents are getting killed. But reporting from battle suggests that we are killing many, many Iraqis for every GI lost.

It may not do us any good in the end, but in case any of Prof. Payne's students are thinking about starting insurgencies of their own, they should remember that Red Dawn makes it look much easier than it really is.
(9) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wasn't Red Dawn produced by Jack Abramoff?
Nope, that was Red Scorpion.
The premise here is still that we are fighting a home-grown group of Iraqi insurgents. The "freedom fighter" theory.

First, most of the al Qaeda forces are not home-grown. Al Qaeda admits to losing 4,000 "foreign fighters" in the war. Those aren't "insurgents."

The second thing is that many of the casualties in Iraq now are from Iraqi sectarian violence, i.e. Iraqis killing each other. That isn't part of a real insurgency either, unless "Red Dawn" has a subplot where Colorado Catholics start shooting up the Protestants.

Third place where the film analogy breaks down is that the Soviet motivations were considerably different than those of the U.S. and coalition. I don't think the Red Army was invading to depose an American dictator.
Valid points, Tom, but I wouldn't read too much into Rodger's choice of the film. It is about the difficulties of counterinsurgency.

And even though the US intervened to depose a dictator, and even though Sunnis and Shi'ites are fighting each other viciously, conducting an effective counterinsurgency in Iraq is very, very rough.
Don't worry, David, the class did discuss the film's obvious references to both Vietnam and Afghanistan (c. 1984).

As for the "foreign fighters," most estimates suggest that the total number of insurgents is 20 to 30,000 -- and around 5 to 10% are foreign. The class discussed this data.

We also addressed the prospects for sectarian violence in Iraq exploding into civil war. Some of the readings addressed this issue explicitly.

In any case, as David says, most of the discussion centered around the strategy (and difficulty) of counterinsurgency.
I've gotten tired of recommending "The Battle of Algiers" to my colleagues. According to the Wikipedia, it was shown at the Pentagon in 2003.

A flyer for the screening read:

How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.

Someone at the Pentagon has a brain.
Well- I hate to defend Red Dawn since it just about the silliest action movie from the '80's. But- RD does have all the main characters getting killed- kinda rare for Hollywood ( I think Jennifer Grey lives, but she has very few lines)

Sure they kill a lot more soldiers than they would have in reality- but you kinda have to to keep the movie going for 2 hours.

The Battle for Algiers is far superior- the amazing thing about that movie is that is was commisioned by the Algerian government and it still has a pretty balanced viewpoint.
Lea Thompson was the survivor. The rest of the group was killed.
It appears that pretending "The Battle of Algiers" is rarely shown is done to punch up the supposed impact of the movie on the brain-dead, thick-necked knuckle-draggers in uniform.
When I was at Ft. Bragg in 1970, studying hearts&minds (Military Advisory and Training Assistance), the moview was in the syllabus, class after class after class.
A good flick.
Whether French tactics in Algiers lost the war, or French politics lost the war, or the savagery of the resistance--they killed at least 100,000 Muslim Algeriens--beat the French in influencing the population the outcome is a matter of discussion and, I submit, the movie's implication that it was the French meanies in Algiers solely to blame is a flaw.
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