Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 19, 2003
WAR: Red Dawn
Last entry for today, I promise. After Tim Noah and others complained about the US military naming the operation that captured Saddam Hussein after the cheesy 80s movie "Red Dawn" (about a ragtag band of Americans resisting a Soviet invasion), Eugene Volokh observed that the title probably was just picked by some soldiers who liked the movie without thought for the wider propaganda value, and Eugene and Sasha Volokh marshalled the evidence on the film's popularity with soldiers.
Let me add my own experience. Each summer, the US Military Academy at West Point offers an "Invitational Academic Workshop." You spend a week at the Point, get an overview of what the school has to offer academically and militarily, and generally get to see the life of the cadets up close but without too many of the hard parts. At the time, at least, I believe the main criteria for attending was a high PSAT score, which wasn't really a great predictor of interest in a career in the military, but the workshop was good propaganda for West Point (an important consideration for any public institution, especially with a population of academic high achievers who could go on to other influential positions in life), and it was a good recruiting tool for those who were so inclined. (The program still exists today, although it looks like they've changed the criteria a little).
Anyway, I attended in a brutally hot week in June 1988, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was a fun week, we had a little taste of the 'gung ho' with being roused from bed around 6am with a loudspeaker blaring, in succession, the opening monologue from Patton and the song "Danger Zone" from Top Gun. We didn't get to do too many of the outdoor activities - it was 104 degrees out, and they wouldn't even let the cadets exercise - which was fine by me, since I was about 5'9" and 110 pounds at the time and almost as nearsighted as I am today.
Getting at long last to the point here, one highlight of the week was a showing of Red Dawn. Remember, this is 1988, the last summer before the Soviet bloc unraveled, and the cadets were mostly kids who chose a military career during the Reagan years. Let me tell you: you have not seen Red Dawn until you've seen it with an audience of West Point cadets during the Cold War. There was much rejoicing at numerous points in the film when the Rooskies got their comeuppance and the homeland was defended. And who knows? Probably a few of those cadets are officers in Iraq now, probably a good ways up the chain of command by this point.