World War III Pop Culture: Red Dawn Part III


Right in the beginning of Red Dawn, even before the intro credits appear, a short prologue describing the events that have led up to the Soviet bloc invasion of the US is shown. The prologue is brief, running just about thirty seconds, and paints the picture of a strategically isolated United States. Since the movie begins in September, 1989 circumstances in the prologue would’ve taken place between late 1983 and the summer of ’89 in the Red Dawn universe:

-Soviet Union suffers worst wheat harvest in 55 years

– Labor and food riots in Poland. Soviet troops invade

– Cuba and Nicaragua reach troop strength goals of 500,000. El Salvador and Honduras fall

-Greens Party gains control of West German Parliament. Demands withdrawal of nuclear weapons from European soil

-Mexico plunged into revolution

-NATO dissolves. United States stands alone.

Short but powerful, and soaked with enough background information to make the story relatively believable for most viewers.

The scenario was quite realistic given the tone of the times. The events on the list above are centered on potential real world flashpoints from the early ‘80s. The Soviets appeared ready to invade Poland at a moment’s notice, Central America was leaning red, and the US decision to station a new generation of nuclear weapons in Western Europe had touched off major demonstrations that threatened to alter the domestic political balance in West Germany. In short, the time period of 83-89 in the Red Dawn universe is a time when the Soviets and their allies expand their sphere of influence while Western Europe becomes realigned and NATO dissolves.

From a contemporary vantage point, this doesn’t seem like a logical, or authentic backstory. However, back when Red Dawn was being written, and filmed, it did. The early ‘80s were a scary, unpredictable time. Former Secretary of State and Supreme Allied Commander Europe Alexander Haig played a large role in the development of Red Dawn. He was on the board of MGM at the time. When the script was being rewritten, Haig took director John Milius to the Hudson Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington DC to create a realistic backstory. Milius was skeptical when he read the final draft of the scenario but pushed forward with development of the film anyhow.

Sadly, the backstory has not aged as well as the film. As the world of alternate history fiction has become more popular in the past decade, there are now legions of chefs in the kitchen adding a host of new opinions, and opening up new discussions. Some have been helpful, most have not. A few years ago, some colleagues of mine started talking Red Dawn one day at work. The discussion turned to the backstory, and we attempted to fill in the blanks in the pre-invasion timeline to make it more sensible.  The timeline we created took a handful of liberties which we agreed were necessary, however, it did not push the timeline into an alien space bat sort of alternative universe where dinosaurs still roam, and Ireland is a superpower. I’m attaching it below, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Also, on one final note, I intend to write one or two more entries in the Red Dawn series. But I’m planning to wait until around Christmas to post them. I want to jump into D+10 and maybe tie up some loose ends in other places before the holidays arrive.


Red Dawn Pre-War Timeline



For health reasons, Ronald Reagan does not enter the GOP Primaries. With the withdrawal of the odds-on favorite, the primaries become a contest between Bob Dole and George H W Bush. After a close, contentious primary season, Dole emerges victorious. A Dole/Bush ticket materializes to challenge the incumbent Jimmy Carter. In the general election, Carter narrowly defeats Dole and claims a second term.


January– In his second inaugural address, Carter echoes his campaign promises to increase the defense budget and modernize America’s conventional forces, but stops short on a decision regarding the future of the MX missile and the resumption of the B-1 bomber program. He goes on to assure a nervous electorate that the United States will ‘challenge any new Soviet attempts at expansion anywhere in the world.’

June– Tension in Eastern Europe increases. The Solidarity movement in Poland has challenged the Soviet-backed government of that nation. Moscow is becoming impatient with Jaruzelski’s timid responses and quietly encourages Warsaw to adopt a harder stance.

November– Following a summit in Geneva between the Carter and himself, Soviet General Secretary Leonoid Brezhnev is not impressed. He decides to test the newly found resolve of the US President. One weeks later, the Polish government declares martial law and attempts to crackdown on the Solidarity movement.

December– Exasperated by the lack of progress made by Polish authorities, Brezhnev orders Soviet forces to intervene. In a move similar to Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, Soviet forces cross the border in force and begin moving to restore order after a brutal crackdown. The US and its allies express collective outrage at the Soviet action, yet limit their responses to economic sanctions and vocal condemnation.



January– In his State of the Union speech, President Carter announces another increase to the defense budget and the addition of more new weapons programs to the moderate American military build-up then underway. The B-1 program is reinstated. He calls upon NATO countries to begin seriously considering the deployment of the Pershing II and Ground Launched Cruise Missile systems in Western Europe to counter the growing threat posed by the Soviet SS-20.

June– Western Europe becomes the epicenter of the nuclear debate. Large protests take place daily in Paris, London, Bonn and a host of other capitals against US plans to base a new generation of nuclear-capable missiles in Europe.

September– The Soviet Union announces expansive military and economic aid packages for Nicaragua and Cuba.


April– Civil war erupts in Honduras.

November– Leftist political parties in West Germany and Belgium make gains in parliamentary elections. The US and Soviet Union engage in nuclear reduction talks but make little headway.


November– 1984 was a relatively quiet year. No decision on the Pershing II/GLCM has been reached, but a temporary thaw in the Cold War appeared to have arrived. The American electorate rewards the Democrats for this by electing Walter Mondale. He defeats (albeit narrowly) George H. W. Bush and promises to initiate a new era in US-Soviet relations.


February– Less than four weeks after his inauguration, Mondale announces large cuts in defense spending, a moratorium on the deployment of new nuclear forces in Europe and considers a steep reduction in the number of US forces in Europe. He presents this as an example of the Soviets to follow, which they do not.

May– Leftist forces secure control of Honduras. El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica erupt in civil war as leftist guerillas begin offensives.

September– Mondale announces the reduction of US military forces in Panama

October– Leftist parties secure overwhelming majorities in West Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

December– The West German Bundestag calls for the removal of all US forces from Germany by 1990.


February– Mondale agrees to a West German timeline for the withdrawal of US forces from that nation. Denmark withdraws from NATO, followed a week later by Norway.

June– The NATO alliance is unceremoniously disbanded. US forces begin withdrawing from the continent shortly thereafter

August– Nicaraguan and Cuban backed governments take power in El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. Communist insurgencies flare up in Panama and Mexico.


October– Fighting continues in Panama. The Mexican revolution ends as communist-supported forces occupy Mexico City and a transition of power begins.

December– One by one, the nations of Western Europe sign the Copenhagen Treaty, a document declaring neutrality in the continuing Cold War between the superpowers. Only Great Britain abstains.


November– George H W Bush is elected president in a landslide. He promises to restore American power and prestige after the ‘disastrous four years of Mondale.’ Nicaragua and Cuban military power has increased dramatically.  Central America, he declares, will be communist free within five years and the United States will repair the severed ties with its European allies soon.


February– Bush calls for a large increase in defense spending. The House and Senate pass the bill through almost unanimously.

May– US forces enter Panama ostensibly to secure the Panama Canal, which is accomplished swiftly. Simultaneously, US forces engage communist guerillas and work to end the insurgency.

July– Talks begin in Brussels aimed at restoring the North Atlantic treaty.

August– In the Kremlin, Soviet leadership panics. The national economy is on the verge of collapse and there is much internal unrest. A reinvigorated United States is something the Soviet Union can ill afford to match. Meetings are held, decisions made, and plans meticulously come together…….


19 Replies to “World War III Pop Culture: Red Dawn Part III”

  1. I like this. Given the overall outlook of Poles towards the Soviets, could the Soviets not also be embroiled in a rather disastrous “Polish Vietnam”, needing to have a division or four tied down there? Rogue Polish military units (maybe even with some covert US military assistance, deliveries of the new “Tankbreaker” nee Javelin missile…) fighting an insurgency?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the whole point of Special Forces, so I could see some A Teams in Poland teaching rogue Polish troops how to use TOWs and Stingers.


  2. Mike, do you plan on reading the Red Dawn +20 material over at the HPCA or alt. hist.? There’s a ton of material for the EU that some folks (including yours truly) have put together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Matt. I read it in the past and am hoping to sit down again and spend a weekend going through it again soon. I love the aircraft sketches. B-52s with Soviet markings and the British B-1. That section of alt.history should be turned into a book! Or a game 🙂


      1. Mike, I’d love to have it as a book. But with so many shout-outs to characters from many a book or movie, it’s very unlikely. I do have a friend who does miniature wargames, and he’s very interested in putting scenarios together.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Matt, it’s too good of a collection not to build upon. Maybe as an oral history or anthology. That way everyone gets appropriate credit for their contribution. As for the scenarios…..absolutely. I’d love to see some of those battles in Texas done up with miniature wargames 🙂


  3. We’ve filtered the wheat from the chaff and a lot of it is at the HPCA forums. I do hope you enjoy the fiction that several writers have done. The stories involving the 335th TFS (Shameless plug here!) and the big one about the end of the war in the lower 48 (the Brownsville Pocket) I suggest you spend quite a bit of time on. The stories are at both HPCA and alt. hist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I might have to take this weekend to go through it again. I remember the 335th from that timeline. Did a great job! 🙂


  4. Thanks! There’s more stories in prep, including a big one about a major strike designed to clean out some of Ivan’s Su-24 force in Texas.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Get caught up… and have a look at the fact files for various weapons systems (American as well as Soviet) while you’re at it.

    Having real people show up in guest or cameo roles-or a fictional character like Gen. “Sundown” Cunningham-does liven things up.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Not in a story per se, but in a “history” of the war: He commanded the U.S. Fifth Army from late ’86 on, and led it at the Battle of Wichita-which displaced Kursk as the Greatest Tank Battle in History. He then took Fifth Army into Texas in the American counterattack, and ended the war in 1989 waiting for the planned invasion of Mexico (which was made unnecessary by the Mexicans agreeing to an Armistice on American terms). He retired as a five-star and CJCS.

    Colin Powell commanded Third Army from Louisiana into Texas in those years. He, too, retired as a five-star, JCS Chair, and was later elected POTUS.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You should have had an e-mail by now.

    We’ve had quite a few cameos: Chuck Yeager and Robin Olds have shown up in mine, and in one fellow’s still ongoing story? Karen Sisco and Cordell Walker show up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll check my email after dinner and get back to you later on tonight.
      I remember seeing Yeager in some posts back in the day, I think. But Cordell Walker? Awesome!!


        1. Hi Matt. I haven’t been reading much lately. Unfortunately, this summer hasn’t afforded much reading time with the manuscript writing. But I can probably squeeze some time in later this week so I will definitely provide feedback. As long as my log-in still works for that site 🙂


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