In the 1980’s the red scare of communism was a film genre all its own. Sure, you could go all the way back to the 1950’s to see these types of movies emerge, but in the 80’s there seemed to be a new dimension in Cold War propoganda films. The 1983 ABC made-for-TV movie, The Day After, was certainly an early marker for me and probably the first time as a young child that I was aware of the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons. The 1984 movie Threads had a similar effect among the U.K populace. These films are widely credited with bringing the reality of nuclear devastation much closer in the minds of the average populace. In short, they scared the shit out of us.
All of a sudden nearly every American action movie had a communist enemy angle. Slyvester Stallone became a superstar making movies like this from Rambo: First Blood Part 2 to Rocky IV. And then something really weird happened. These movies were being marketed to and starred kids. A perfect example of this that comes to mind is John Milius’ 1984 film Red Dawn. The movie was certainly controversial in its day, not so much for featuring adolescents, but instead because of how it might create further lines of division between the U.S. and its Cold War enemies (most notably here, the Chinese). From here there seems to be three types of Cold War movies involving children: Nuclear War (1983’s WarGames, 1986’s Manhattan Project), Spies (1988’s Little Nikita), and Combat (1986’s Iron Eagle).
In the combat category comes a particularly curious entry and the main subject of this column. In 1988, Disney, by way of Touchstone Pictures, made a late entry into the Cold War Kids Movie (not a plug for the band) in the form of The Rescue. This movie, like Iron Eagle before it, involved military brats rescuing their POW dads caught behind communist enemy lines. The Rescue is kind of unique among these movies however. The story as told could easily happen today. At least as much as you believe that a small group of high school kids could sneak across the the DMZ from South to North Korea, infiltrate a military prison camp, and rescue 4 U.S. Navy Seals after a month of debilitating torture.
As I recently watched this non-classic from my youth with the hopeful eyes of nostalgia, I couldn’t help but think about where our current diplomatic relations stand with North Korea. While Donald Trump antagonizes Kim Jong-Un via Twitter and abroad and these two petulant “leaders” exchange barbs, we as a civilization creep ever so much closer to the reality that The Day After and Threads were warning of. I have more faith in WOPR from WarGames than either of these two asshats to keep us safe from destruction.
To summarize the plot, the Navy S.E.A.L’s are sent on a mission into international waters between fun Korea and dumpsville Korea to destroy some sensitive wreckage or some such shit that they are concerned will fall into the hands of the enemy. Of course they get captured and it’s not clear if they had actually drifted into North Korean territory or not. Because of this discrepancy, the powers-that-be decide not to mount the rescue plan that has been developed and is only awaiting a green light. There is a bunch of hand wringing about whether this rescue attempt and thus military invasion would be legal or not considering the charges of espionage levied against the Navy S.E.A.L.’s. At no point is there any discussion of diplomacy. It seems the only options are to mount a rescue and risk all out war or leave these dudes to rot in a dumpsville prison. Good thing Alex P. Keaton’s buddy Skippy is there to commit a little felony espionage of his own when he bugs the military meeting and learns about the now scrapped escape plan.
Cue military brats banding together to enact the plan and rescue their dads. Here is where the message of The Rescue gets particularly frightening. These kids want to rescue their dads with no real regard for their own lives, totally fine, okay. But what of the U.S. consequences of this action? Does anyone really think that North Korea won’t see this as an act of war and lash out violently? Maybe the thought is that things go back to a stalemate, but maybe not.
The movie ends with the kids and their dads flying across the border into South Korean territory in a stolen North Korean cargo plane. It’s not clear to the intercepting U.S. forces that the plane is friendly. To illustrate this fact, 10 year old stowaway brother, climbs up the turret ladder of the plane and pulls back his jacket to reveal his Bruce Springsteen Born in the U.S.A. t-shirt. Remember when The Boss was the perfect representation of the working class, blue collar, kick-ass, proud to be an American mentality? Now he’d probably be labeled a libtard unicorn. If this movie were made today, that shirt would be 3 bald eagles shooting AR-15 rifles into the air wrapped in the ‘murican flag.
But the message in The Rescue is the same. We’re American, we do what the fuck we want and as long as we win the day, fuck the war. They land and celebrate with no regard for the fallout of their actions. It’s perfectly 80’s but now some 30 years later in Trump’s America, we’re no more wise. It’s the equivalent a firing off a fuck you tweet to a guy sitting on a weapon of mass destruction not recognizing the long-term cumulative effect of a reckless lack of diplomacy.
And that’s all the things I thought about while watching a movie starring Kevin Dillon, Skippy from Family Ties, sexy Kaye from Dazed & Confused, and James Cromwell in an ill-fitted military uniform that I first watched 30 years ago on the Disney Channel.
This is The Rescue.