To be sure, depicting a Chinese invasion of the United States probably wouldn’t promote friendship. Of course, neither would it contribute to hostility. But altering a film to appease the gatekeepers of China’s massive market could contribute to the sense among China’s ruling elite that they hold all the cards. As Joseph Nye recently observed, admittedly in relation to the much bigger, broader issue of U.S.-China power perception, many Chinese “believe that the recession of 2008 represented a shift in the balance of world power, and that China should be less deferential to a declining United States….Faulty power assessments have created hubris among some Chinese….Any American compromise is read in Beijing as confirmation of American weakness.”
While reasonable people can disagree about whether China is a friend, foe or something in between, the PRC certainly represents a long-term challenge to the United States. And while a U.S.-PRC conflict may be unthinkable to most Americans today—and let’s hope it doesn’t happen—it pays to recall that China and America have gone to war in the recent past (the Korea War), China’s military spending is growing by 12 percent annually, U.S. Pacific Command is expanding its capabilities and strengthening its web of alliances because of China, and observers on both sides of the Pacific conclude that the two powers are already in the early stages of a new cold war.
None of this makes a shooting war between the U.S. and the PRC inevitable, but it does help explain why a screenwriter would choose today’s PRC to replace yesterday’s USSR in the “Red Dawn” remake.
A North Korean invasion or occupation of the U.S., on the other hand, is downright laughable. To be sure, North Korea is a dangerous enemy and represents a real threat to regional stability and to two of America’s closest, oldest allies in the Asia-Pacific region. But it is starving, insular, backward, hollow and hermetic. It can hurt America but it could never invade America.
MGM’s post-production switch from China to North Korea calls to mind how studio execs changed Tom Clancy’s riveting and all-too real 1991 novel “The Sum of All Fears”, which contemplated the global consequences of a nuclear bomb falling into the hands of a jihadist group, into a movie where jihadists are nowhere to be seen and the villains are a cabal European neo-Nazis. The result was something that was neither believable nor entertaining.
We can expect the same from the remade remake of “Red Dawn.”
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.