In the mid-1980s, I embarked on a cross-country road trip from California with a friend who was to attend law school in Virginia. Along the way, after checking into a roadside inn, we settled into our room with a short case of beer and watched a film called Red Dawn.
The movie, written by A-list Hollywood screenwriter John Milius, portrays a group of Midwestern high school students who wage a resistance campaign against the Soviet occupation of the United States during the first phase of World War III. Given the Cold War anxiety of the times, Red Dawn was a tersely drawn and frighteningly realistic account of America’s vulnerability to the Russian bear. Like most Americans sucker-punched by generations of alarmist babble from Washington, neither me nor my equally beered-up companion understood that the Soviets lacked the kind of long-range lift capacity needed to make an invasion of the continental United States even remotely possible. [See a slide show of 15 major post-Cold War uprisings.]
A quarter century later, Milius has outdone himself with a postmodern update of his Reagan-era paranoid fantasy. His recently released Homefront is a video game in which players must resist yet another foreign occupation of middle America—this time by fascistic, hegemonic Koreans. The chain of events behind Milius’s fabulist denouement, according to the New York Times, begins with America’s pell-mell withdrawal from its military bases in Asia and the Middle East, the reunification of the Korean peninsula—with authoritarian Pyongyang, rather than democratic Seoul, as the seat of power—and the capitulation of Japan in the face of guileful Korean aggression. Having plundered Japan for its nuclear know-how, Korean forces detonate an electromagnetic pulse-bomb over the United States, which renders half the country prostrate before a Korean expeditionary force.
As someone who spent a decade living and working throughout Asia—including a three-year assignment based in South Korea and several reporting trips to the reclusive north—I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry at this. To imply that impoverished, isolated, and famine-stricken North Korea could evolve into the epicenter of an Asian Fourth Reich betrays a stunning ignorance of a most strategically vital region. Should Korean unification ever come—the sad fact is that no one really wants the two Koreas to disrupt the status quo with reconciliation—it will be on terms imposed by Seoul and Washington and hopefully in close consultation with Beijing. (Oddly, China does not seem to play much of a role in Homefront, though it tops the Pentagon’s list of long-term hostiles and would have thus served as a much more credible villain.) At the same time, to suggest the South Koreans would ever throw in their lot with the totalitarians next door is an insult to a people who survived decades of foreign occupation and war to become a vibrant democracy and industrial powerhouse. [Read more about national security, terrorism, and the military.]
None of this is to impugn Milius’s intentions. As a screenwriter—not unlike most politicians—it is his business to pander to the most primeval of human instincts. If there was ever a time when Hollywood promoted subtlety, proportion, and restraint as production values, it has long since passed. There is, however, a dark subtext to Homefront that transcends its loony plot: Just as Red Dawn, either wittingly or otherwise, contributed to the Cold War’s culture of fear, so too does Homefront cynically exaggerate both the scope and character of America’s enemies abroad. Having lived for three years within shelling range of North Korean artillery, but having also witnessed North Korean troops harvesting grain and filling potholes in rural highways, I am aware of the terrible resources under Pyongyang’s command as well as its limitations. The implication of Homefront is that America’s adversaries are eternal, relentlessly offensive, and endowed with inexhaustible resources. Consequently, they must be challenged on their threshold, the better to deter them from transgressing ours.
This is the kind of paranoid nonsense that inspired the Cold War doctrine of “containment,” which informed national security policy for six decades, and which has, in recent years, been discredited as the brainchild of parochial delusionals in Washington. The destruction of America is no more Pyongyang’s objective than it is Al Qaeda’s, as Osama bin Laden himself has made clear.
Homefront is cheap fiction and its author is no doubt laughing all the way to the bank. Milius’s demographic—man-boys consumed by prurient tales of national violation and redemption, unburdened by worlds beyond their emotional cul-de-sacs—is the militarist’s prime constituency. For all its violent score-settling, Homefront’s biggest victim is curiosity for the world beyond our shores, and that may represent the greatest threat of all.