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What if ‘Red Dawn’ Actually Happened?

Red Dawn is a cult classic that has fed the imaginations of millions for decades now. And everyone who has ever watched that movie has left their chair wondering, "What if that actually happened? What if there was a Red Dawn event in the US? How would that play out, and what would I have to do to survive?"

If you've recently watched the film and found yourself haunted by those very questions, check out our thoughts on how we think it would all play out.

Table of Contents

  • 01

    How Would an American Red Dawn Play Out?

  • 02

    What Would You Need to Survive Red Dawn?

  • 03

    Could the Red Dawn Movie Become Real Life?

  • 04

    Frequently Asked Questions

How Would an American Red Dawn Play Out?

If we're looking at a modern-day, real-life Red Dawn, we must be cognizant of a couple of things.


First, just like in the original film, we would have to watch for the logistics to receive an early warning.

In the original film (Red Dawn 1984), before the Cubans or Russians formally invaded the United States, they first moved the pieces into place. War is logistics, and just as one must maneuver their pawns to just the correct position so that the other chessmen can attack, the same must occur before the outbreak of any war or battle.


None of the Red Dawn cast for the original 1984 movie are featured in the opening credits.

Consider that before the Russians invaded Ukraine in 2022, they first moved massive amounts of troops and weaponry to the border, including their blood bank supplies. The logistics were figured out first, and then the attack came later. Attention to enemy logistics is one of the first things Americans could do to get an early alert of an impending invasion.

Part of this logistics would be pre-positioning special operatives in networks of underground, clandestine cells. We see a brilliant example of this in the original movie, as we're told how the Soviets and Cubans sent soldiers into the US via passenger planes as sleeper cells in critical regions. These soldiers would initially be involved in what is referred to as gray zone warfare.

This is a concept that a lot of people aren't aware of. We tend to view warfare solely through the lens of post-invasion Red Dawn or in the sense of Ukraine. For some reason, unless people see tanks and fighter jets involved, they refuse to believe that what they are witnessing is, in fact, outright war.

If more people understood gray zone warfare, however, more people would understand the beginning of all modern wars. The gray zone is the realm where one can hurt their enemy without the actions being overtly necessary for a military response. This is one of the regions where cyber-attacks excel. If a nation is heavily hacked, does that necessitate retaliation with conventional forces? Most people would say no, and because of this, gray zone warfare is so effective.

Of course, cyber attacks aren't the only method of attack in the gray zone. Economic, political, and even media can be used to wage this type of fight against an opponent.

And by using these types of weapons where one can confine themselves to the gray zone, the offending nation can deliberately weaken its target without triggering enough response to halt its aggression. While I haven't been able to find any explicit examples of gray zone warfare in the original film (the opening credits detail bad happenings that could be caused by gray zone warfare, but we're never explicitly told they were the actions of the Soviets), we would have to expect this to play out in any real-life invasion of the United States.

This type of warfare would sabotage critical infrastructure, such as our energy, food, and manufacturing sectors throughout the United States. This would make it not only difficult for the American military to respond to any incoming invasion effectively but would make it so that the American citizenry would A.) would be dependent on others for basic survival needs, B.) would have a more challenging time resisting any future invasion, and C.) would be looking for somebody to reinstate order.

This last point would mesh well with the gray zone concept of using extensive propaganda and "narrative control" to cause the psychological "softening" of Americans to invasion as well. This is a common technique that, to this author's knowledge, was first used extensively throughout World War 2 with shortwave radio to prepare a soon-to-be-conquered nation not to resist.

This softening would cause people to view the aggressor nation as "not that bad," have zero interest in firearms or self-sufficiency, and believe that pacifism was a moral requirement. We saw this extensively throughout The Cold War, with the KGB funding the anti-nuclear movement throughout the United States. This mental softening process can often take years to unfold fully.


Public Law 87-297 created an agency tasked with conditioning the American public to the disarmament of all weapons via a public relations campaign. Nuclear weapons would be included in this definition.

It's also plausible that an electromagnetic pulse or a biological agent would also be used during this stage. The Russians have both of these types of weapons in spades, and both would cripple the United States. The 2009 EMP Commission Report found that 90% of Americans would die within one year after an EMP attack against the United States, meaning that the Russians would only need to launch an EMP and then sit back and wait. Ninety percent of those who could pull a trigger would now be removed from the equation.

The catch is that if a missile caused this, the US would likely know that the Russians (or whoever) did it and retaliated with nukes.

Biological agents are much trickier to identify the source of, however, and the Russians also possess numerous types of these that would quickly cause many problems in the United States. We'll discuss these more momentarily.

The Invasion

After the gray zone warfare matured into outright, conventional war, we would see an actual boots-on-the-ground invasion. At this point, Alaska would be one of the first places to receive foreign feet on its soil. Many forget that Alaska was actually invaded by the Japanese during World War 2, and it is really close (55 miles) to Russia. Considering that a great bulk (up to 95%) of Alaska's food is shipped in from the continental United States, it wouldn't be long before it was starved into submission.


“When they [America] try to manage our resources abroad, let them think before they act that we, too, have something to take back.” – Vyacheslav Volodin, State Duma speaker, discussing the invasion of Alaska


Hawaii would serve as an excellent staging ground for attacks against the southern half of California, but it is "small potatoes" compared to the continental US. Given that Hawaii primarily has an anti-gun culture and has minimal acreage, the collapse of Hawaii would take little time. It's plausible that Hawaii would just be nuked, so any US Navy response from here would be impossible.

The West Coast would have its military bases and airfields attacked (probably not with nukes as this would make amphibious landings difficult) as carriers would be offshore. A barrage of hypersonic missiles would likely start the invasion shortly before Russian fighter jets (followed by bombers) move in to take out as many American aircraft on the ground as possible.

The sleeper cell agents that had been pre-positioned throughout the US (via both legal and illegal means) would be activated at this time, forming small pockets of resistance throughout the innards of the United States and preparing regions for incoming troops. These cells would cause widespread havoc by sabotaging critical infrastructure (such as communications and electricity) at the last minute, quickly taking vital strategic areas, and preparing the way for the main bodies of foreign troops.

Along the coastline, this would mean that these sleeper cells would work to eliminate components of the American military response. Deeper within America, these same soldiers would likely concentrate their efforts on holding strategic mountain passes, targeting airfields, sabotaging resupply points, and the like.

Paratroopers would then be dropped throughout the western and southern border of the US as well. These soldiers would be used to further secure beachheads for incoming amphibious landing craft and help to secure other key areas that were likely already taken by sleeper cells.

(A Red Dawn meme courtesy of yours truly.)

Amphibious landing craft would come soon afterward. These would bring the bulk of the foreign troops to American soil, but they would only show after they were guaranteed as safe of a landing as possible.

The Unfolding of World War 3

After the initial stages of the invasion were completed and Americans recovered from the initial shock, World War 3 would begin to mature. If not already disabled by nuclear strikes (or other means), what was left of the American nuclear armament would be sent toward Russia.

If we look at the history of how invading nations treat others, we find patterns we can also follow here. For starters, widespread terror campaigns would be used by the Soviets once they moved into an area to shock and awe the populace into submission. Any act of warfare by partisans (e.g., the Red Dawn "Wolverines") against Soviet forces in the area would be responded to by mass executions of civilians in that area.

Lithuanian “forest brothers,” 1952.

For every Soviet killed, ten civilians would be executed, for example. This would be used to make the populace fearful of supporting any partisans, as well as causing partisans to fear for their loved ones' lives.

American collaborators would begin to side with the Soviets as well. These people would join the Soviet-backed provisional government in each occupied region, working as high-level officials, police officers, and informants. We saw this with the kapos of the Jewish ghettos during World War 2, the HIPO guards of the Dane-Nazi War, and throughout just about every other occupation in history. Red Dawn highlighted this in both the original and the remake.

Martial law would be applied throughout the United States, regardless of how far from the scene of battle. This would involve curfews, stiff penalties, the imprisonment of persons of interest, and the forced confiscation of all "hoarded" supplies, such as food, guns, and radios. Atrocities would be committed anywhere that the Russians were, and given the Russian treatment of all people groups that they detest after they are captured, there is virtually a zero percent chance that any American soldiers who surrendered to the Soviets would be treated as actual human beings. All partisans captured by the Russians would be considered "illegal" combatants and executed on-site or at mass graves.

Martial law in Poland.

This type of treatment would soon cause even formerly "pacified" regions to soon bristle under the command of the Russians (or whoever). Numerous factions would pop up within the United States, each of which would set up provisional governments in their locale where the American military did not/was nonexistent. The invaders would then play off these factional splits by attempting to bribe the leaders of each of them with power, money, and land or just using kidnapping to coerce them into making decisions that best benefited the Russians. Some of these attempts would succeed, and many of them would not.

We would see all this take place ad nauseum throughout the United States until the world ended up with a definitive winner.

What Would You Need to Survive Red Dawn?

To survive a real-life Red Dawn, there are several things that you would need.


Attacking a nation's food supply at the same time that you attack a country is a tactic as old as warfare itself. Whether looking at ancient Greeks lighting fields on fire, medieval sieges starving out castle occupants or the slash-and-burn approach the Russians took in the face of Napoleon (to deny him the ability to live off the land), this is not an original idea.

But it is an idea that works, and that's what matters here.

It's been said that a soldier operates on his stomach, and any soldier who has ever served overseas will attest to the importance of food in maintaining morale. Why? Because a starved soldier is not an effective soldier. Starving people don't fight; they beg. And when people beg, they're willing to sell what they have for food—even freedom.

This is why you must ensure you have plenty of food throughout the invasion. You would need pre-prepped food supplies, the ability to produce food, and the knowledge to forage for more.


You have to have water, and considering that power grid attacks are a massive part of modern warfare, you have to consider how this would impact your ability to get clean water to drink for your family. There would be no longer county water, and even if there were, you would have to worry about sabotage. Your well water would be there; still, you just wouldn't be able to bring it to the surface to drink.

Because of this, you would need the means to purify the water that you found so that it would be safe to drink.


No power means no modern healthcare. Most hospital generator systems only have the fuel to last a week, if that. You would be your own doctor as a result. This would mean that you would not only need to have some base level of medical skills, but you would also need to have the gear to treat a variety of common maladies.

Given that you would now be living in a warzone, you would also need to carry an IFAK on your person at all times and understand a thing or two about how to deal with gunshot wounds.


You won't hold onto your life or freedom for long if you don't have weapons. As we saw in the original Red Dawn, the schoolteacher naively decides he's going to head out to the Soviet paratroopers with nothing other than questions.

This turns out poorly for him.

The same goes for the rest of the townspeople, who are caught unaware and unprepared by the Soviets (or the North Koreans, depending on the film you're watching). These end up spending the bulk of their time at concentration camps until they are later executed or die from maltreatment.

( I’m just impressed with how well-kept the cast of Red Dawn is after living in a war zone.)


Take your pick of the nations on the planet that hate the United States, and you'll find that every single one has chemical and biological weapons. These nations would have no compunction about using these weapons against the American people, either.

This author is of the notion that if you look at the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, where both conventional and biochemical weapons were used extensively, you will get a taste of how this type of warfare would be waged against the US.

Where stiff pockets of resistance were found, chemical weaponry would likely be used. This would be especially effective considering that very few Americans actually possess CBRN protective gear. Sleeper cell agents would be highly likely to use bioweapons with limited range or lethality to cripple regions well ahead of incoming Soviet troops. Agents that either A) were not contagious or B) caused the infected host to be violently ill for a week, or two would allow the Soviets to move into an area weeks or months later after the weapon had accomplished its goal.

You also have to consider the very real possibility of attacks on the American electrical grid causing chemical releases at industrial facilities. We've seen power outages cause these types of releases many times before here in America, and this would be something that would likely deliberately be staged by the Russians to cause loss of infrastructure and life.

As such, you would need CBRN gear to protect yourself from a real-life Red Dawn.

The two most critical pieces of gear you would need would be a high-quality gas mask and CBRN-rated filters. Our CM-7M mask, coupled with an NBC-77 filter, would be perfect for this type of environment. Not only would this setup protect you from whatever CBRN agent was released, but the individual lenses of the CM-7M permit a tight cheek weld for a rifle, meaning you would have no problem looking down the sights of your newly acquired AK-12.

You would also want to consider adding a hazmat suit and M4 CBRN Military Poncho to your gear as well. If like Saddam Hussein, it was found that conventional artillery typically was followed by chemical artillery after the invasion, the only way you could survive would be to suit up in full hazmat gear quickly.

(Of course, this would also necessitate gloves, boots, chem tape, and the ability to detect that a chemical attack was incoming.)

Could the Red Dawn Movie Become Real Life?

Surviving Red Dawn is entirely possible, but like any war, it is not easy. If you wanted to make it, you would have to be thoroughly comfortable living off the grid, have a reasonable degree of physical fitness, and be proficient in firearms, CBRN survival, and communications.

But, if you're a regular reader here at MIRA Safety, you likely already have your bases covered there.

We're interested in hearing your thoughts, though. What do you think about our analysis? Are there other factors to consider? Would paratroopers or amphibious invasion be the main entry route for the initial invasion? Let us know your reasoning in the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions

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