March Madness 2023 Final Four Red-Silver: The Day After v. Red Dawn

1 The Day After (Red)  v 2 Red Dawn (Silver)

For this half of the Final Four it came down to how World War III was presented in the respective films.

Red Dawn

Exclusive backstory and plot. WWIII kicks off with a Soviet-led invasion of the United States, a nation that has not seen any of its territory occupied by a foreign army since 1812. American teenagers escape from their hometown of Calumet, Colorado and hide in the mountains when Soviet paratroopers land at their high school. Over time they turn into partisans and launch a guerilla war against the Soviet and Cuban occupiers. One reason the movie is so appealing is that the US does not have a history of being invaded. As a result, discussions about resistance in US history usually revolve around civil disobedience towards authorities, not using guns and RPGs against an invading army. This concept was very new to American films.

Red Dawn’s WWIII starts in September, 198x and lasts for at least 5 months. The events leading up to the war are presented in a short prologue at the beginning of the movie. Throughout, updates about the overall situation outside of Calumet and the Rocky Mountains make their way into the dialogue and movie scenes. The amount of information provided is just enough. Never too little, never an overwhelming amount. Most important, the ebb and flow of the war had a direct effect on the Wolverines, the Soviet occupiers, and residents of Calumet. The main characters especially were brought to life through the war and events surrounding it.

The epilogue of Red Dawn provides the viewer with closure. World War III ended with the US eventually victorious, and the story of the Wolverines is immortalized at Partisan Rock, the location where they placed the names of their dead and family members.

The Day After

The Day After’s WWIII lasts just under 24 hours, from the Soviet invasion of Germany up to a major nuclear exchange between the United States and Soviet Union. The film essentially crammed two weeks’ worth of crisis into a twenty-four-hour period. The backstory and buildup to nuclear attack is a textbook Cold War scenario. On the first day, tensions simmer between the superpowers. Units of the East German army revolt, causing the Soviets to seal off and blockade West Berlin. The US president issues an ultimatum, calling for the blockade to be lifted by the next morning. When morning comes and the blockade remains in force, NATO armored units cross the Inner-German Border and move towards West Berlin. The situation escalates from there, going from Soviet air attacks against military targets in West Germany to Moscow being evacuated. The culmination comes with the Warsaw Pact invading West Germany, edging nuclear war even closer. Within two hours, tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons are used in Europe. From there an already dangerous situation deteriorates into a strategic nuclear exchange.

The Minuteman II missile fields east of Kansas City are struck, along with the city itself. The destruction of Kansas City in the first strike opens far more questions than it answers. If the first strike is counterforce in nature, what is the point of nuking KC too? There’s no strategic value to the city and destroying it would only guarantee that a similar-sized Soviet city is wiped out in response. Unless escalation has reached the top level and now both superpowers are firing everything in their arsenals. Sadly, we never find out for certain. This movie was entirely about two things: Graphically displaying the horrors of a nuclear war and playing to the leftwing anti-war crowd’s cherished belief that a nuclear war simply cannot be won.

Winner: Red Dawn

It was close when all was said and done. However, the plot surrounding a Soviet invasion of the United States just managed to edge by the horrifying end-of-life-as-we-know-it WWIII. In Red Dawn, America not only survived but emerged victorious. In The Day After, the United States and the rest of the planet likely came to an end.

Author’s Note: Blue/Gold will be up tomorrow.


4 Replies to “March Madness 2023 Final Four Red-Silver: The Day After v. Red Dawn”

  1. Red Dawn is too easily dismissed as a “silly attempt at Reaganite patriotic propaganda”. I was very surprised that both of my children, born 2005 and 2008, absolutely loved it when my wife suggested we watch it for family movie night last year. They had no framework to understand 1980s anti-Communist sentiment (hysteria?) but the film really resonated with them. Why? I believe it’s because it speaks to a primordial human instinct to rally against the invader. It really is a better film than it’s given credit for. Remove the helicopters and tanks, and it’s a basic story that people from 100,000 would have understood instinctively and people will understand 100,000 years from now.

    I do admire The Day After for its message of “nuclear war is going to be so much worse than they’re telling you”. It was excellent storytelling. That said, Red Dawn is better because it echoes the most basic human story of all time: me and my tribe against the invader.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Red Dawn has aged well, and through the years it has earned popularity and respect. So, what was once considered “silly Reagan propaganda” is now viewed as a classic Cold War film. Wolverines! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Poor Kansas City, they get it in both movies.

    In Red Dawn, Tanner specifically mentions KC as one of the transportation hubs targeted by nuclear weapons. Makes sense from a military perspective if you’re trying to isolate the Great Plains to prevent rapid repositioning of forces against your main effort.

    In the Day After, I guess it could have been targeted for the same reason, but that introduces a countervalue element to the Soviet strike. The only intrinsically military targets in greater KC were Richards-Gebaur ARS (A-10 Wing) and the Kansas City Plant (DoE GOCO non nuclear components). For first strike targets they’re pretty low value relative to others that get no mention and seem to have been factored out of the script like the Titan 2 sites around Wichita or the SAC gained KC-135s based in Topeka. Forbes ANGB is about 18mi away from Lawrence; they would have seen and felt it in Lawrence when ground bursts cut the runway and likely been hit in any pattern designed to catch escaping alert aircraft.

    Pretty much seems like the movie needed an easily relatable city that could be wiped out to further the plot. And another to show just how bad life would be afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny though. In the original script of The Day After, they left KC alone, mainly because it didn’t make sense to hit the silos and city at the same time. ABC ruled this out and demanded a rewrite with KC getting nuked. Better cinema, perhaps. They are probably right too because watching a city die in the blink of an eye is pretty traumatic.


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