Red Dawn is the greatest two movies ever made, and everybody agrees. Which of the two versions (1982 or 2012) is #1 is up to the reader.
What fascinates us about this movie (and its reimagined younger self)? Our current generation has a collective memory of America being the obviously dominating world superpower, with a few distant-second contenders around the globe. Even during the Cold War, there was never serious consideration to the U.S. being invaded by a foreign adversary—only that we would be obliterated by nuclear Armageddon or defeated in an offshore proxy war.
What’s Red Dawn?
For those not familiar with the movie Red Dawn (in either form), the general plot is [spoiler alert!] that the U.S. is invaded by a handful of foreign militaries. Paratroopers, transport aircraft, land forces, and transport ships swarm our lands to infiltrate with a population-suppressing military force with an unclear intent. As most amazing movies are, this scenario is wildly fantastic and unrealistic.
At least, the scenario was wildly unrealistic at the time it was (rather, they were) made. Let’s fast-forward to the 2020’s to reevaluate the situation, and ask what the U.S. status currently is.
What makes a country a global superpower?
First, what makes a country a global superpower? Is it pure population?
- China: 1,440,000,000
- India: 1,380,000,000
- U.S.: 330,000,000
The #1 and #2 national populations are greater than 4 times the U.S. population!
Obviously, it is not the entire population that matters, but the size of the military that gives a country great power.
- China: 2,180,000
- India: 1,440,000
- U.S.: 1,400,000
OK, so the global military leader has a 50% larger military force than second place, and it tends to stay close to home. No worries.
Perhaps it’s not population, but the sum of our economy. We measure this by gross domestic product (GDP).
- U.S.: $19,500,000,000,000
- China: $12,200,000,000,000
- Japan: $4,900,000,000,000
So the U.S. is in the lead here, by a 60% margin. Not bad, as long as dollars are weighted more heavily than humans.
But is all GDP created equal? Maybe it’s the percentage of GDP that’s spent on military and defense.
- Saudi Arabia: 8.0%
- Israel: 5.3%
- Russia: 3.9%
- U.S.: 3.4%
- South Korea: 2.7%
- India: 2.4%
- China: 1.9%
With these in mind, the U.S. is clearly not a clear leader across the board; it is only the culmination of our industrial base and exported products that gives us an advantage across the globe. This is not even considering the technological advantage, cultural willpower, or international moral support that intangibly make or break a nation.
Let us return to the question at hand: is it unrealistic for another country (or handful of countries, as demonstrated by our theme movie[s]) to invade our lands? We will answer this question by asking another question: why would one country (or countries) invade another?
Why a country invades another?
- Resources. Land, oil, precious metals, and food have all been historical reasons for one sovereign entity invading another.
- Influence. One entity believes that its ideologies are superior to those around it, and attempts to spread them the hard way by taking over.
- Border disputes. One entity is just trying to take its rightful (in its own eyes) land and people back.
- Vengeance. One nation’s transgressions upon another could be righted by a future expansion across borders.
- Defense. If there is not enough acreage between one country an enemy, the defending country could increase its protection by broadening its borders to protect those internal areas it truly cares about.
Of these five generic (and non-exhaustive) categories, I see the world superpower contenders having only three potential motivations to take over U.S. soil: resources, influence, and vengeance.
- Our resources are well-documented by our GDP figures, so enough said here.
- Our ideology is fairly weak: as a country where “anything goes”, we are culturally divided, and each disparate part of our culture stands as an offense to some other culturally-unified nation (not to mention those dissenting factions within our own borders). Literally, every culture from around the world already has sympathizers within our own borders, so we are easy targets.
- Vengeance can be a strong motivator, especially for cultures with a long collective memory: the U.S. has only existed for about two centuries, which is a small blip on the timeline of other ethnic groups from both hemispheres. We have already forgotten about our ancestors’ grievances that continue to burn in the hearts of our adversaries, and our country has yet to learn the meaning of “long term”.
Following from this list, I would like to bring into question the method of physical invasion to accomplish these goals. Do foreign troops need to patrol our streets to steal our resources? Do they need to hold us in detention camps to influence our ideology? Must they slaughter Americans to achieve generations-old vengeance?
I would offer that the answer to each of these is “No”. There are ways to achieve strategic victory without committing a single armed trooper.
- Our resources are being exported daily on terms that are not always advantageous to us, and we mindlessly send money offshores with our value-based consumerism. Our physical, digital, and intellectual resources have been exported for decades without our volitional knowledge or consent.
- In the last decade, there has been a growing trend for both individual and collective ideology to be based more heavily upon social media than from societal norms and values. Modern American culture is more malleable than any other in history.
- Every time we question ourselves and our national cause (if we even have one anymore) is a small victory for somebody else. The lack of popular support for our government in the last 20 years is one example of other entities’ ability to weaken us as a society as a form of retribution for the wrongs of our predecessors. The lack of respect and empathy our forefathers have shown to people of distant lands now displays itself on our very own streets between the various socioethnic groups. We are casting upon ourselves the very hatred that we once showed to those inhabitants of foreign lands.
Do our adversaries have the numbers to overpower us?
After this philosophical introspection, let’s return to the issue at hand. Do our adversaries have the numbers to overpower us? Absolutely. Do they have the combined military might to penetrate our borders? Absolutely. Would they want to? I doubt it.
But let’s assume I’m wrong, and I misinterpreted a country’s reasons for invading a country, along with their follow-on intentions. The U.S. became very dovish in the face of multiple hawks. For the sake of this article, let’s put our top adversaries together in a massive cooperative undertaking to undermine the U.S. through occupation of our physical geography, just like in Red Dawn.
If I was planning on occupying America, my first step would be probing and softening the defenses. I would start with reducing popular support for protecting the country: reduce defense spending; put tighter leashes on the military, law enforcement, and intelligence communities; and open up immigration. This will last for several years, but I am patient. As budgets decline and restrictions increase, I would plan my entry points and identify the greatest barriers. These would allow me to rapidly flow in my forces by the most efficient means possible.
Next would come my preparation phase. After identifying my entry points (to be discussed next), I would minimize resistance. By this point, a portion of Americans would already be sympathetic to my social cause, and I would use their sympathy to support my efforts. I would learn things about physical defense mechanisms (early-warning radars, missile defense systems, etc.) and target them for attack. Unlike many other countries, the U.S. borders are not lined with defensive systems, so I have only a handful of sites to be concerned about. For each of these sites that might pose an obstacle to my invasion plans, I would plan a neutralization action: cyberspace attack (to include power outage), infectious disease, sabotage, or kinetic damage.
Finally, I would get to the physical invasion. There are only about 3 ways for humans to enter this country: by land, sea, and air. I would actually begin this phase years in advance through legal and illegal immigration, planting my agents in key locations throughout the country. They would be janitors at the missile defense sites and construction workers at the defense arsenals, giving me key intelligence to the infrastructure and logistic supply chain as well as an attack vector for sabotage or local social influence. If I’m lucky, maybe they even got an account on the classified network that I can harvest. Once these key enablers are in place, the American defensive mechanisms would “go dark” as my transport vessels and delivery aircraft diverted from their “training exercise” into sovereign U.S. territory. My vessels enter civilian ports, and my aircraft follow the commercial airways to major airports. U.S. military forces are incapacitated as they are overtaken by explosions and outages at their main bases—servicemembers are more concerned about getting their own families to safety than reporting for duty to ready the jets for battle. It would be foolish to directly attack any military installation without a clear numerical advantage; rather, I would push inland to the rural areas, beyond the intended surveillance and targeting capabilities. Good thing that I have a few bus drivers and train operators on my payroll! As long as I am near a civilian population, I know I am safe from the most destructive U.S. weapons. If I really need them, I have enough mass-destruction weapons to overwhelm one defense sector, though I would prefer not to use them due to the inevitable loss of support from the American dissenters and destruction of valuable resources.
Small skirmishes occur along the way, but the U.S. military was not trained to do battle in its own backyard—a luxury that it alone has in this world. In fact, the military refuses to meaningfully engage me on U.S. soil! With a force that is 20% of the local population, I am able to subdue the area and keep it hostage from the U.S. government. And, I already have a few members of the civilian government sympathetic to my cause, lobbying for popular support and spreading a message of acquiescence. The Americans are in civil conflict while I occupy their country!
Now that my troops are in place, and I have established facilities and a command-and-control infrastructure, my challenge becomes logistical support. This entire operation has been part of the long-term vision, and it will endure for quite some time.
Role of citizens
This part of the nightmare is where we citizens step in. Most of us cannot hope to make a noticeable impact in a violent engagement with a trained military force, but we can absolutely complicate their lives during a prolonged occupation. The logistical supply chain to sustain a force is substantial: each trooper needs about 2,000 calories a day plus a gallon of water; their vehicles and generators need fuel; those guns don’t produce their own bullets; those computers don’t connect to the internet on their own. Even if each trooper carried in 50 pounds of material in their backpacks plus a few train cars of supplies, this initial supply would sustain the force for days, perhaps weeks, before they required resupply.
What if our country is ever invaded?
If our country is ever invaded, our guerilla warriors must target the enemy’s logistics supply. In this sense, warriors are not only those who carry guns: an invading force needs a cooperative indigenous workforce to sustain itself, so any chance to be uncooperative makes you part of the resistance.
The invaders will need us to produce, package, transport, and potentially prepare their food and water—this brings in many opportunities to lose, mishandle, or taint their diet. Sabotage their nutrition! Hungry and sick soldiers are less effective than their healthy counterparts, and will lose their willpower much sooner if they are malnourished. Bonus points to infect food or water with an infectious disease that will make them question all sustenance and limit social contact (which decreases morale).
Global petroleum infrastructure
Unless an invading force reroutes a global petroleum infrastructure, they will most likely have to siphon off local fossil fuels to power their equipment. In fact, they may even need local experts to maintain their equipment (unless they apportioned part of their invading force for diesel mechanics). They will need local people to transport fuel and maintain equipment over the long haul—truckers, railroad operators, and maintenance technicians. Every resistance member has an opportunity to reduce the availability of the enemy’s equipment. Mix water into the fuel, create leaks in fuel lines, and mix sand into the oil—anything to degrade their equipment to reduce its useful lifespan. Bonus points for creating a scenario where a vehicle dies away from its home base (such as plugging a hole in the fuel tank with wax, which slowly melts away)—this doubles their burden by committing a tow vehicle to recovering the vehicle, and then repairing it before its next use.
Ammunition is surprisingly heavy and bulky to pack in, and is likely to comprise the majority of the initial load that the force brings in. Individual troopers can carry days’, maybe weeks’, worth of rounds for individual and crew-served weapons, but it takes vehicles to transport significant quantities of mortar, artillery, and anti-armor rounds. Bombs and missiles take even larger vehicles to transport in mass. So, they may be looking to leverage the American military-industrial base for their own use. The good news here is that there is only a small number of American facilities with the ability to manufacture ordnance, and they are likely to be distributed across the land. Moreover, they probably need to make some modifications to the manufacturing process to adapt to foreign weapons. This is an incredible opportunity to use inefficient meetings, design reviews, and other office-related ineffectiveness to bog down the process! What would normally take one week could very well take 4 weeks for a different “customer”, and the production control processes could be relaxed to produce lower reliability. For example, imagine that a bullet factory conducted tests in which 1 out of every 20 bullets experienced a hang fire. At the very least, these bullets would reduce the effectiveness of the enemy’s fighting units. At best, it would delay mass production until all anomalies were fixed, which would itself be an arduous redesign process due to the feigned ineptitude of the team.
Network connectivity is the currency of modern warfare, and the enemy’s needs are not met by satellite phones alone. To coordinate all their activities over a sustained period, they need to have network connectivity. This is a great opportunity for us to disrupt the very fabric of their connectivity. Whether disturbing a single room, building, or town, it can take a single strand of wire to bring a network to its knees. The cleaner and more concealed the cut, the longer it will take technicians to locate the flaw and repair it—this is more time that the enemy’s command-and-control network is not functioning as intended.
While this disruptive activity is occurring, there will be some inevitable and necessary resistance skirmishes to destroy facilities, steal supplies, or otherwise degrade morale. When invading troops’ concern for their own well-being outweighs their devotion to the cause, their will to fight dwindles to zero. This is the state you want them to get to: you want another nation’s warriors to want to return home more than remain in our land. In fact, you may be able to expedite this process by getting them to sympathize with our plight and question their own role in this conflict. In all matters, treat individual humans with respect and dignity; that is a tenet of American society, and is something that foreign fighters may not have yet experienced in their own land.
As portions of an adversary force lose their will do to battle, their governments may begin to question the validity of this venture. Perhaps they will not be able to achieve their objectives after all. The ultimate goal of an invasion resistance is to remove the invaders from our land. The attrition model has proven not to work (they can always ship more people here!), so a better model may be reducing their willpower by cutting off their supplies and eliciting sympathy. And that, readers, is how we are most likely to survive a foreign invasion in the modern world.