Argument

Mongol Hordes Take Manhattan

Before there was Red Dawn, there was Red Napoleon.

Red Dawn, the trippy, jingoistic 1984 movie about a Cuban-Soviet invasion of the United States, is heading back to theaters this week in a big-budget remake.

Early reviews have been leaning negative, with more than one describing the depiction of invading North Koreans as xenophobic and ambiguously racist, a perception not helped by the fact that when the movie was shot, the Communist invaders were Chinese and in post-production they were transformed into North Koreans through the magic of special effects (in order to do better box office in China).

Whether or not the new Red Dawn ultimately deserves that critique, we've actually come pretty far on the politics of race -- at least when it comes to hypothetical invasions of the homeland.

Before there was ever a Red Dawn, there was The Red Napoleon, the very first paranoid fictional Communist invasion of the United States, a book stuffed from cover to cover with perfervid nationalism and over-the-top racism beyond the wildest dreams of anyone working in Hollywood today.

The Red Napoleon was written in 1929 by Chicago Tribune war correspondent Floyd Gibbons, whose fictional alter ego is also the book's protagonist. A journalistic pioneer, Gibbons' nonfiction reporting has been the subject of glowing hagiographies, most of which omit mention of the fictional race war he spent 470 pages chronicling.

The Red Napoleon describes the invasion of the United States by Communists in lavish detail. Where both Red Dawn movies open with foreign paratroopers landing on U.S. soil, The Red Napoleon takes its time, spending nearly 200 pages methodically describing the Soviet conquest of the entire world before a shot is fired in North America.

Despite a few clumsy stabs at political relevance, Red Dawn is a melodrama using an invasion as a backdrop. In contrast, The Red Napoleon is a book about an invasion, with a flimsy narrative overlay to keep the geopolitics from becoming too oppressive.

Real-life figures populate the pages, from American icons (and Gibbons contemporaries) Herbert Hoover and Douglas MacArthur, to a host of foreign political luminaries, most of whom meet with bad ends.

All this mayhem begins and ends with one Karakhan of Kazan, the son of a Cossack father and a Mongol woman, who rises to become a top military leader of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. When Stalin is mysteriously assassinated in 1932, in Karakhan's presence, he uses his military influence to take control of the country.

One of the first things Karakhan does as the new Soviet leader is marry and impregnate an American leftist radical from New York. You see, Karakhan has a thing for white women -- an ideological thing. He believes the answer to historical white hegemony is miscegenation, miscegenation, and more miscegenation. Or as Gibbons puts it in the first page of the book:

[Karakhan's] defiant pride in his coloured skin, struggling against an instinctive inferiority complex originating from impacts with white dominance, fired him with the ambition to fuse all races -- white, yellow, black, brown and red -- into one human race, the only one he acknowledged.

We're not talking about a subtle thread of un-PC racial content weaving through an obviously dated book. Miscegenation is Karakhan's raison d'etre, and it drives much of what follows, although the first description is about as deep as the analysis gets. Gibbons doesn't seem to be invoking race to grind his own ideological axe. Rather, a world of miscegenation is simply the scariest thing he can think of, and he assumes his readers do not require elaboration on its horrors.

For a modern reader, this focus in the opening pages can distract from the fact that what Gibbons is really interested in is geopolitics and warfare. Much of the book consists of detailed descriptions of the political and military maneuvering that brings Karakhan's "yellow horde" to the very shores of America. Every few pages, these ruminations are interrupted by paeans to the virtues of the white man's fighting spirit and the white woman's Nordic honor, but then it's back to business.

Karakhan sweeps through Europe, killing Mussolini and pre-empting Hitler. The fictional Winston Churchill -- who pre-dates the "never surrender" days -- abruptly resigns after an uprising of Reds and leftists call a general strike, setting the stage for a British surrender. He conquers Australia, where he asserts himself by massacring six million whites. (Wait, how many? As if this book wasn't creepy enough.)

In the United States, Gibbons installs as president Alfred E. Smith, who ran on the Democratic ticket in real life during the 1928 election, just before The Red Napoleon was published.  Needless to say, Smith's liberal policies join forces with misguided pacifists and a Red fifth column to leave America weakened and vulnerable to the coming storm. But Gibbons gives Smith credit for eventually stepping up and making the tough calls when the Communist army arrives in America. (After all, he's still a white guy.)

As Karakhan's multiracial army mounts its land invasion -- under a rainbow flag, no less, to symbolize its diversity -- the East and West Coasts take a pounding. Washington, D.C., is abandoned, with the government relocated to St. Louis, and Gibbons briefly indulges in a Michael Bay-esque trashing of Boston, a spectacle of the sort that the book could frankly use more of.  

Although the miscegenation theme is clearly of paramount importance to Gibbons, his description of what actually happens in Occupied America is oblique to the point of absurdity, never coming out and saying what is obviously inferred about rape. Only in the book's earliest and final pages (set after the war) does Gibbons reflect unambiguously on the consequences of Karakhan's policy "CONQUER AND BREED" policy (yes, in all caps):

...the thousands of Eurasian, mulatto, mestizo children, half-yellow, half-black, half-brown, or half-red, born to white women in the wake of his conquering armies in Europe and the Americas, he holds that they constitute the lasting mark he has made upon the population of the world and calls them the first step toward the "deliverance of mankind from the curse of race prejudice."

Very little of this comes out in the account of the war itself, which is instead an endless list of engagements, battle orders, regimental movements, and the occasional name-dropping of politicians Gibbons particularly likes or dislikes. For good measure, America's beleaguered conscript force is aided by surviving military members of the Italian "fascisti" and the German Nazi Party, and other, you know, white guys. 

In the end, Karakhan is defeated after a disastrous naval engagement made possible by a piece of espionage executed by the Gibbons character himself, a sequence that's just about as contrived and self-aggrandizing as it sounds. This leads to a chain of events that devastates the Red Army in far fewer pages than it took to build it up. The fictional Gibbons -- a journalist, mind you -- personally captures the fleeing Karakhan, bringing an end to the war.

Of course, victory comes too late for white people, who are left to cope with a world now thoroughly miscegenated. Oddly, Karakhan is sent to exile in Bermuda, rather than being tried for war crimes or at least imprisoned in Siberia.

While The Red Napoleon is far more overtly political than its Red Dawn descendants, it's not much more subtle or complex. Lefties, pacifists, and dirty foreigners are the problem, righties and whiteys are the solution. That's about as deep as things ever get, although Gibbons' solemn inscription at the front of the book suggests the author imagined he was being somehow constructive:

DEDICATED TO THE HOPE THAT IT WILL NOT HAPPEN

Um, mission accomplished?

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National Security

Trouble on the Home Front

The Petraeuses aren’t the military family we should be worried about.

Are my fellow military wives and I shocked and outraged by General Petraeus' adultery? Frankly, after 11 years of war, military families around bases and posts throughout the world are too tired for shock, too experienced for outrage over this unhappy episode. I've heard a range of reactions, from sad recognition, to compassion, to the knowing response that no one can look inside another person's marriage. This story does, almost universally, make us reflect on the strains our families have been through over the past 11 years, and the fact that in many ways, the strains are about to get worse. 

Yes, worse. 

It is wonderful that the war in Iraq is over, that the war in Afghanistan will wind down in 2014. Sing hallelujah, strew the eucalyptus. It has been a difficult time for many men, women, children, and marriages. That's not the whole story -- many marriages stand strong for the joint experience of having been called to do something difficult, and meeting the call. Many marriages took a heavy challenge, but fought back. I think of my friend who, in the airport after the welcome home "honeymoon" with her Special Forces husband, opened an email with pictures of him and another woman. She left her husband, but eventually they came back together, and with counseling confronted together the strain of repeated combat and his destructive choice to cope through affairs. In fact, despite extraordinary challenges, military couples are still no more likely to divorce than similar civilians. But statistics shouldn't mislead anyone to think that things are therefore fine. 

It is very difficult for civilians to appreciate what the past decade-plus has been like for so many of our military families. Half of those responding to the Blue Star Families annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey have been separated from their spouse for more than two years. Half of those families have been separated for more than four years -- not only for combat and non-combat deployments, but for schools, trainings, and temporary assignments. 

What happens during those years apart? Births, deaths, personal growth, trauma. As one friend of mine explained to me, "When my husband left for his first deployment, we were basically newlyweds. Three years later after back-to-back deployments and ‘temporary duty' assignments he came home to find me, this single mother of a special needs child who didn't recognize him." 

It's not just the separation; it's also the reintegration after the stress of combat. Over a quarter of the military spouses in the BSF survey reported seeing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress in their service member (with less than half seeking and receiving a diagnosis). That squares with the Veterans Affairs estimate that 11-20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans experience PTSD. Almost a fifth in the survey said that reintegration with spouse and children after deployment was difficult or very difficult. Add the difficulty of reunion to the fact that the average military child moves 6-9 times. 

Another friend of mine tells of her Marine husband's anger and how her son, dealing with moves and his father's rage, spiraled down in school. Her husband retired from the military, and the marriage fell apart. She loves her ex-husband, and still wonders about reconciling -- on the other hand, her son is doing much better. It's hard to know what the right thing is to do in these situations.

But, one might say, Iraq is over, Afghanistan winding down. Problem solved, right? 

Wrong, because for the active duty military and their families, war -- or war-like readiness -- is going to continue as a way of life. There's no peace dividend for military families. It's something the civilian society should be aware of, because as government resources dwindle, we'll need support to help us continue to cope.

Cope with what? Set aside the very pertinent fact that we still have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. military is forward-deployed, away from family, throughout Africa, in the Balkans and Black Sea, around the Middle East, in South America, on ships in the Pacific, around the straights of Malaca, in Korea. We send and will continue to send thousands of service members to Japan on two-year orders away from their families. We will add new deployments to places like Australia.

To many military planners, the world is no less dangerous now than it has been -- it is perhaps even more dangerous. The Army is planning to move to a faster, cheaper rotational force, increasing "responsiveness and mobility" according to Army plans and policy. This means some Army families used to being together in garrison for two to three years in the United States will now live more like the Marine Corps, with their service member leaving them for six months or more at a time for "peacetime deployments" as part of the new way of doing business.

Here's how Secretary Panetta describes the post-Iraq-and-Afghanistan missions of this "smaller, leaner" force: they will counter terrorism and irregular warfare, deter and defeat aggression, project power despite external challenges, counter weapons of mass destruction, defend the homeland, provide a stabilizing presence throughout key areas of the globe, conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations, and conduct humanitarian, disaster relief, and other operations. 

Suffice it to say, our military will be busy. The families will continue to feel that they are at war -- but they will not have the same level of public backing that they have been able to rely on. As much of a strain as the hot wars were, they had in their way become predictable. Most families had long notice before their loved ones left, and they left in large units with significant support, including family readiness officers. The new force will be smaller, the separations will be less predictable, and there will be less support. Paychecks will be smaller since combat-zone tax-free pay and extra combat pay will go away; and the declining budget means fewer military-sponsored family programs. Plus, American society writ large will think that the war is over, the troops have come home. 

Why should Americans care? Because families remain a key partner in the health and stability of our military. Our military understands that family strength is a component of readiness, because if military life is too hard on families, we can no longer retain our force. Moreover, when the troops are in distress, families are a key line of defense. Finally, the country should care because in the end the military and the families serve the nation, not the Pentagon. We've had unprecedented support in recent years during the wars. And we still need it. If the media and Washington gave a fraction of the attention to this issue as they have to David Petraeus, we could perhaps mobilize a response to this coming challenge. And that could make a difference to our families, to our military, even to our national security.

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