Charlie Sheen as Matt Eckert in the 1984 action classic Red Dawn. Screenshot from Red Dawn.
As Ukrainian military members and civilians defend their homeland against a full-scale Russian invasion, we can’t help but draw parallels to John Milius’ 1984 classic Red Dawn. A ragtag group of teenagers and 20-somethings waging a guerrilla war against an invading Russian coalition is exactly the type of scenario Ukrainians (of all ages) are now facing.
With that in mind, we revisited the “hatey ’80s” action flick about righteously slaughtering communist invaders in the name of liberty and justice for all. So here are eight (not so serious) guerrilla warfare takeaways from Red Dawn.
Remember the history teacher who thought it would be cool to go outside and say hey to the group of armed Russian paratroopers that just landed outside his classroom? Probably not because that guy died in the first five minutes of the film. History teachers have zero survival instinct. Do not include them in your outfit.
“Those who know their history are destined to get shot like 15 times point-blank with an AK-47.” — American proverb
During the Wolverines’ initial hasty escape to the mountains, the radiator in Jed Eckert’s (Patrick Swayze) truck overheats, and the group is left exposed and out in the open. Thinking quickly, Jed’s younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) suggests “pissin’ in it,” which is the wrong answer to most questions but, in this case, just so happened to be the right thing to do.
The ability to think fast and on the fly is critical for survival in a combat environment. Guerrillas naturally operate at a disadvantage, and the Wolverines succeed in the film thanks to sharp wit, ingenuity, and — on occasion — a full bladder.
For being a bunch of kids with minimal adult supervision, the Wolverines kicked a lot of ass. Granted. But in reality kids are idiots and only one step above history teachers when it comes to warfare. Also consider that the film took place in 1984 and that teenagers back then were built differently. They actually went outside, engaged in physical activity, and socialized in person. Try to replicate Red Dawn in 2022, and most of your force will end up stepping on a land mine while scrolling through Snapchat or getting #SnipedbySergei mid TikTok dance.
During a deer hunt, Robert Morris (C. Thomas Howell) manages to fatally wound a deer with his rifle. Upon realizing the deer is still breathing, Robert attempts to fire a second shot to finish the deer off before he is abruptly stopped by Jed, who informs him that “If you shoot twice, they’ll be able to find you.”
This advice is rock solid and underscores the necessity of stealth and the reality of their situation. They’re not actually the hunters; they’re the hunted. Their very survival depends on their ability to evade the enemy. Guerrillas aren’t soldiers and can’t afford to fight and think like one. That door-kicking hoorah-get-some mentality you picked up in the military doesn’t work in this situation. Your ability to blend in with your environment and avoid detection is the single most important factor to your survivability. Stealth wins.
Speaking of that hunting scene: Did anyone notice how the one person who drank deer blood in the film completely lost his shit? Robert drank the blood of the deer he killed and immediately began to decline into insanity. Our guess is he picked up a parasite or harmful pathogen that messed with his brain.
The film models his descent as a response to his environment, but frankly that’s bullshit. Post-traumatic stress doesn’t make you a disconnected killing machine; it makes you no fun at barbecues and a pain in the ass to drive with. In a guerrilla warfare scenario, advanced medical care isn’t an option. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Stick with Gatorade; you can use the bottle to store much-needed piss for later on.
The US military needs to heed this advice. Many US Army units have less than intimidating nicknames and symbols. For example, their illustrious history of ass-kicking aside, the 42nd Infantry Division’s logo is a rainbow, and their nickname is, you guessed it, Rainbow.
“Oh shit, it’s the Rainbows, run!” said no bad guy ever.
Guerrilla warfare is a psyop. The Wolverines knew that, which is why they picked their high school mascot, the Wolverine, as a unit logo; it serves as both a means of intimidation to their enemies and symbol of solidarity for the local population. Plus it sounds cool when you shout it.
Despite a rocky start, the Wolverines eventually become masters of the ambush. This is the discerning guerrilla’s bread and butter and partly why the Wolverines were as effective as they were. If you think for one second that you’re going to be able to waltz into your occupied hometown and take it back via an open, pitched OK Corral-style gunfight, you’ve been sippin’ a little too much deer blood. Don’t fight like a history teacher. Be smart! Hit-and-run tactics are the order of the day for guerrillas and resistance fighters. Shoot and scoot. Hit ’em hard; hit ’em fast. Shout your motto from a highly exposed but very cinematic position and get the hell out.
This one isn’t a lesson per se as much an observation; Lt. Col. Andrew Tanner (Powers Boothe) was the f*cking coolest. How awesome was that guy? The man shot down four enemy pilots in a five-on-one dogfight, gets shot down himself, hits the ground, and almost immediately starts kicking ass. Lea Thompson’s character Erica Mason falls in love with him, which is kind of suspect considering the age difference, but everyone looks past that since the dude sacrificed himself to knock out a tank and save the group. The guy was an absolute hero and a badass and no pilot is that cool in real life.
Okay, Nolan Peterson is pretty cool, but that’s it. And maybe George H.W. Bush. You know what? That pilot who landed the plane on the Hudson and saved all those people was pretty cool too. I think his name was Sully. Okay, pilots are pretty cool.
Eric Miller is a former Army Combat Medic from Parkersburg, West Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and has worked with homeless populations and veteran services throughout the state. He is an avid outdoorsman and has recently become interested in woodworking.
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