Real-life Wolverines: What if "Red Dawn" Actually Happened?
Red Dawn is a cult classic film that has fed the imaginations of millions for decades now.
While the movie leaves viewers with many questions, one of them is undoubtedly, "What if that actually happened?" followed by: "What if there was a Red Dawn event here in the US? How would that play out, and what would I have to do to survive?"
If you've ever found yourself pondering these questions, ruminate no longer! We'll explain exactly what it would take to become a real-life "Wolverine"—the code name for the members of the film's resistance movement—including the gear you would need to survive a foreign occupation.
Let's jump right in.
Table of Contents
How Would an American Red Dawn Play Out?
What Would You Need to Survive Red Dawn?
Could the Red Dawn Movie Become Real Life?
Frequently Asked Questions
How Would an American Red Dawn Play Out?
In order to examine the happenings of a real-life, modern-day Red Dawn, we must be cognizant of a number of different factors, which we will delineate below.
Before we begin, however, we should emphasize that there is no way to know if and how an invasion of the United States would occur. As such, the following breakdown is strictly our opinion, informed by the historical record, theories of international relations, and current events.
In the original film from 1984, the opening sequence details the lead-up to the joint Soviet-Cuban invasion of the US. What this shows us is that no war breaks out without warning; there are logistical clues of an imminent invasion that one can identify in advance.
Remember: war is logistics, and just as a chess player must maneuver his or her pawns into the correct position so that the other chessmen can attack, the same must occur before the outbreak of any war or battle.
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. This means that the logistics were figured out first, and then the attack came later.
From this perspective, paying close attention to enemy logistics is one of the first things Americans can do to get an early alert of an impending invasion.
These logistics would, in part, consist of enemy nations pre-positioning special operatives in networks of underground, clandestine cells. In the movie's opening, we see a brilliant example of this, as we're informed that the Soviets and Cubans sent soldiers into the US via passenger planes as sleeper cells in critical regions.
In the real world, these soldiers would be involved in what is referred to as "gray zone warfare"—a concept that a lot of people aren't aware of. This is because we tend to view warfare solely through the lens of a post-invasion Red Dawn—i.e., overt, explosive conflict. In other words, 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, the public would come to understand that most modern wars do not start with a bang. Instead, they begin with actions, like cyber-attacks, that are designed to hurt the enemy without necessarily provoking a military response. After all, if a nation is heavily hacked, does that necessitate retaliation with conventional forces? Most people would say no—which is what makes gray zone warfare so effective.
Of course, cyber attacks aren't the only method of attack in the gray zone, as war can also be waged along economic, political, and even medial lines.
By operating within this realm of "soft power"—as opposed to the "hard power" of military might—the offending nation can deliberately weaken its target without triggering enough of a response to halt its aggression. In light of all this, we would have to expect gray zone warfare to play out in any real-life invasion of the United States.
become dependent on others for basic survival needs
have a more challenging time resisting any future invasion
be looking for somebody to reinstate order
This last point would dovetail neatly with the gray zone concept of disseminating extensive propaganda as a means of psychologically weakening the occupied population. Though this technique has a long history—tracing its roots back to ancient conflicts like the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE)—technological innovations, like the shortwave radio during World War II, have arguably made it much more effective.
Declaration of War
Though the specifics are difficult to predict, it's possible that the enemy nation's first official act of outright aggression would take the form of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) or a biological agent attack.
After all, the Russian Federation has both of these types of weapons in spades, and each has the potential to cripple the United States. The 2009 EMP Commission Report, for instance, found that an EMP attack could result in the deaths of up to 90% of Americans.
Needless to say, an attack as devastating as this would do much to clear the way for an invasion, as there would be a lot fewer people able to resist a foreign military force.
The catch is that if an EMP were launched via missile, the US would likely know which foreign foe was to blame and retaliate with nukes.
The source of biological agents, meanwhile, is much trickier to identify, though Russia would certainly be on the list of suspects if an attack of this nature were to occur.
This is because, according to the US State Department, the Russian government inherited a Soviet biological weapons program following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov, a former Soviet microbiologist, has backed these claims, alleging that the Soviet Union had produced "hundreds of tons of anthrax weapons" and "tons of smallpox and plague."
The Initial Invasion
“When [the US tries] to manage our resources abroad, let them think before they act that we, too, have something to take back.” – Vyacheslav Volodin, State Duma speaker, hinting at a potential invasion of Alaska, following sightings of "Alaska is Ours!" billboards in Krasnoyarsk
After the gray zone hostilities matured into outright, conventional warfare, we would see an actual boots-on-the-ground invasion. At this point, Alaska might be one of the first places to receive foreign feet on its soil.
Consider, for example, that two US-owned islands to the west of Alaska, Attu and Kiska, were seized by the Japanese during World War II.
Plus, mainland Alaska is a mere 55 miles away from longtime US rival, Russia.
Finally, there are logistical considerations that make Alaska a favorable target for invasion, like the fact that up to 95% of Alaska's food is shipped in from the continental United States. On this basis, a foreign enemy might try to starve the geographically isolated, Arctic state into submission.
How the Invasion Would Progress
But what of the rest of the United States?
Hawaii, for its part, would serve as an excellent staging ground for attacks against the southern half of California. And given that Hawaii primarily has an anti-gun culture, as well as a small amount of acreage relative to its mainland counterparts, the collapse of the Aloha state would probably take little time.
The West Coast, meanwhile, would have its military bases and airfields attacked (probably not with nukes, since this would make amphibious landings difficult) by offshore carriers. A barrage of hypersonic missiles would likely kick off the invasion, shortly before Russian fighter jets, followed by bombers, moved in to take out as many American aircraft on the ground as possible.
At this time, the sleeper cell agents that had been prepositioned throughout the US (via both legal and illegal means) would be activated, forming small pockets of resistance throughout the innards of the United States and preparing regions for incoming troops. These sleeper 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.
This would mean that, along the coastline, these sleeper cells would work to eliminate components of the American military response. Then, deeper within the US, 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. These soldiers would be used to further secure beachheads for incoming amphibious landing craft, as well as help to protect 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, showing up only after they were guaranteed as safe of a landing as possible.
Mind you, all of this is our speculation, and should be taken as a rough guide as to how things might proceed in a situation like this.
After the initial stages of the invasion were completed and Americans recovered from the initial shock, World War III would, in all likelihood, come to fruition. This would include the US launching whatever was left of its nuclear armament towards the invading nation, if said weaponry had not already been disabled by nuclear strikes (or other means).
Meanwhile, on the homefront, the occupation, Russian or otherwise, would be difficult to endure. Again, the details are difficult to forecast, but generally speaking, we could expect to see the following changes:
Political control: As in Red Dawn, the invading country would seek to exercise political control over the occupied territory. This would involve dismantling, or at least reorganizing, the existing American government, and replacing it with new administrative structures that would serve the invaders' interests.
Legal changes: Alongside this upending of government structures, local laws, economic policies, and institutions would be modified or abolished in service of the invaders' objectives and/or ideology. Though Red Dawn did not focus on these kinds of changes, we can find numerous examples of this throughout history, such as the introduction of anti-Jewish legislation in occupied France during World War II.
Economic exploitation: As in the previous example, Red Dawn did not delve into the economic impacts of the invasion. In reality, however, this would be an avoidable aspect of daily life, with invading forces seizing control of key industries, confiscating art, and plundering natural resources. These looted assets would then be redirected towards the invaders' war machine and economy. Once again, Nazi occupations in countries like France, Belgium, and the Netherlands provide historical examples of this.
Security and military presence: In Red Dawn, the Soviet and Cuban forces employ various means to suppress American resistance movements, like the Wolverines, including the establishment of curfews, restriction of movement, revocation of freedom of speech, and conducting of widespread surveillance. The same would likely be true of a real-life occupying force.
Martial law in Poland
What Would You Need to Survive Red Dawn?
To become a real-life Wolverine, 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 reading about 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), observant students of history all come to the same conclusion: that is not an original idea.
But it is an idea that works, and that's what matters here.
It's been said that "an army marches on its stomach," and any soldier who has ever served overseas will attest to the importance of food in maintaining morale. Why? Because a hungry soldier is not an effective soldier. Starved people, after all, 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 that you have plenty of food prior to and throughout an invasion. This includes pre-prepped food supplies, the ability to produce food, and knowledge of how to forage for more.
It's a fact of life: humans need 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 obtain clean water for your family to drink. After all, there would no longer be county water, and even if there were, you would have to worry about sabotage. Well water, meanwhile, would be available, but it might prove difficult to bring it to the surface to drink.
In light of this, it is prudent to invest in water purification systems. That way, any water that you find can be made safe to drink.
No power, naturally, means no modern healthcare. Note, for example, that most hospital generator systems only have the fuel to last a week, if that.
Plus, with limited access to medical institutions, you would have to act as your own doctor. This would mean that you would not only need to acquire some base level of medical skills, but you would also need to obtain the gear to treat a variety of common maladies.
And given that you would now be living in a warzone, you would also need to carry an individual first aid kit (IFAK) on your person at all times. Think back, for example, to the gunshot wound that Jed sustains during a firefight between the invading forces and Wolverines in Red Dawn. In the midst of a real-life invasion, these kinds of injuries would be commonplace, making it wise to pick up some knowledge about tending to gunshot wounds.
You won't hold onto your life or freedom for long if you don't have weapons. For an example of this, look no further than the original Red Dawn, when the schoolteacher naïvely decides he's going to approach the Soviet paratroopers, armed with nothing more than questions.
Spoiler alert: this turns out poorly for him.
The same goes for the rest of the townspeople, who are caught unaware and unprepared by the Soviets. Sadly, these characters end up spending the bulk of their time at concentration camps until they are later executed or die from mistreatment.
I’m just impressed with how well-kept the cast of the Red Dawn remake is after living in a war zone.
In 1988, Iraqi war planes and artillery launched a series of chemical attacks against the Kurdish town of Halabja in northern Iraq, including the use of mustard gas and the lethal nerve agent sarin. These attacks resulted in an estimated 3,200 to 5,000 casualties, with thousands more injured and dying in subsequent years.
This massacre occurred during The Iraq War (1980-1988), a conflict in which both conventional and biochemical weapons were used extensively. In this author's view, this prolonged and violent clash provides valuable insight into the kind of warfare that could potentially be waged against the United States during an invasion, making it well worth studying.
Though we can imagine chemical weaponry being deployed for a variety of reasons in a Red Dawn scenario, one standout would be the use of chemical agents to subdue stiff pockets of American resistance, like the Wolverines.
What would make this so effective, unfortunately, is the fact that so few Americans possess CBRN protective gear. In this context, sleeper cell agents would be able to use bioweapons with limited range or lethality to cripple regions well ahead of incoming Soviet troops.
You also have to consider the very real possibility of attacks on the American electrical grid causing chemical releases at industrial facilities. After all, we've seen power outages cause these types of releases many times before here in the US, and experts are increasingly sounding the alarm that chemical plants are vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
As such, you would need CBRN gear to protect yourself from a real-life Red Dawn.
Most critically, you would require a high-quality gas mask and CBRN-rated filters. Enter the CM-7M mask, coupled with an NBC-77 filter: your best friends during an invasion. 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 (or old reliable) AK-12.
It would be wise, too, to consider adding a hazmat suit and M4 CBRN Military Poncho to your loadout. After all, if conventional artillery was followed by chemical artillery post-invasion, your only hope of survival would be suiting up in full hazmat gear quickly.
Could the Red Dawn Movie Become Real Life?
In this article, we have walked you through a possible invasion scenario, including how hostilities would progress, and what you would need to prepare yourself.
With all of that said, however, we must stress that it would be difficult for any country—including Russia, China, and most certainly Cuba—to successfully pull off a physical invasion of the United States without incurring massive retaliatory strikes and personnel and material losses.
These losses would render the invader critically vulnerable to attacks from other enemies, and cause difficulties managing internal security. Note that the ability to project and sustain power is proving extremely difficult for Russia even within Ukraine, a relatively smaller and less populated country.
Nevertheless, an invasion can never fully be ruled out—which is why the prudent reader makes preparations for any and all eventualities.
Remember: surviving a Red Dawn-style invasion is entirely possible, but like any war, it would not be easy. If you wanted to make it, you would have to be thoroughly comfortable living off the grid, possess 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 in that regard.
And since our readership is so knowledgable, we're interested in hearing your thoughts. 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
The 1984 film takes place in Calumet, Colorado. The 2012 remake takes place in Spokane, Washington.
While the events of the movie take place in Colorado, the original movie was primarily filmed in Las Vegas.
Numerous locations throughout the state of Michigan were used in the filming of this movie.
As of this writing, you can watch the original Red Dawn (the only one most people care about) on Pluto TV, Tubi, Amazon Prime Video, Fubo TV, and Paramount+.
Red Dawn is about a foreign invasion of the United States and a small group of teenagers-turned-guerilla fighters who do what they can to save their country.
No, Red Dawn is a fictional story. If it were real, you would have learned about it, even if you slept through the bulk of your high school history classes, and you'd be much better familiarized with marksmanship.
If we take both the original and the remake film together, what we're really asking is if another nation could invade America. And the answer to that question is a definitive 'yes.' Countries are not immune to being attacked or invaded, and America is no exception to this rule. It doesn't matter what you may think about the logistics of it, the likelihood, or anything else – every country on the earth has the potential to be invaded.
Is it plausible that America would be invaded solely by North Koreans? No. They have neither the manpower, logistical ability, or military power to do so. Could America be invaded by a confederation of multiple nations, as in the original film?
In the 1984 film, Russia and Cuba are the invading forces. In the 2012 remake, the North Koreans are the only nation that invades the United States.
Red Dawn 2012 was supposed to feature China as the invading army. However, the movie producers went back through and re-edited their virtually finished film so that the invading forces would instead be North Korea.
If we're talking about Red Dawn 1984, the end scenes imply that America won World War 3. If we're talking about Red Dawn 2012, we're not left with concrete answers as to who wins, as the movie ends while the fighting on American soil (several years later?) is still ongoing.
In the 1984 film, the "grand scheme" bad guys are predominantly the Russians. However, if we get down to the nitty-gritty level, Ernesto Bella, a Cuban colonel, is the arch-nemesis of The Wolverines.
In the 2012 film, the North Koreans are the "big picture villains," while Captain Cho is the main enemy that The Wolverines must deal with daily.
Picture this: you're standing tall, refusing to kowtow to anyone or anything that threatens your freedom and principles. That's what resistance is all about. It's the art of pushing back against the powers that be, saying, ‘This is our land!’ (To quote Robert from Red Dawn.) Whether through peaceful protests, acts of defiance, or joining underground movements (like the Wolverines), resistance is about taking a bold stance against injustice.
A sleeper agent is the ultimate undercover operative, strategically placed by an intelligence agency or organization within a target country, tasked with lying low until they receive further instructions. Usually, a sleeper agent operates as a part of a sleeper cell—a clandestine network of individuals camouflaged within the local fabric, patiently awaiting their moment to strike. Picture a James Bond-esque figure, but with an uncanny ability to fly under the radar for extended periods, seamlessly assimilating into society while biding their time for the signal to activate. When that moment arrives, sleeper agents spring into action, deploying their unique skill sets to carry out a range of top-secret activities—think espionage, sabotage, or facilitating acts of aggression—all in service of their shadowy parent organization's objectives.
The invasion of America in Red Dawn 1984 starts on September 4, 1985. Given that the ending scene of Partisan Rock shows that the main characters haven't aged one bit, it's likely that WW3 only lasted a year or two.
In Red Dawn 2012, WW3 is still ongoing by the movie's end, so there's no way to answer this question.