Red Alert: Moral Clarity

Both sides in Red Alert have their own distinct superweapons: the Soviets have the “Iron Curtain” effect described previously, while the Allies have the Chronosphere, a temporary teleportation device developed from the conspiracy-theory-famous Philadelphia Experiment. I still haven’t seen either of these things used in battle, but their development figures big in the plot, which is greatly concerned with protecting your own research and sabotaging the enemy’s. About two-thirds of the way through the Allied campaign, we learn of another project, Stalin’s ultimate secret weapon: his scientists have discovered how to unleash the power in the heart of the atom, creating an explosion of unparalleled destructive power. You, of course, have to prevent these doomsday weapons — these “atom bombs” — from ever being deployed.

It’s alternate history as moral wish-fulfillment fantasy for America. I suppose some people would argue otherwise — I mean, a world where the Reds got the bomb first? That’s your fantasy? But it is: it puts us in the role of unambiguous good guy. Nukes are, after all, bad-guy weapons, things whose chief practical use is to terrorize the world into submission like a James Bond villain. The first Command & Conquer recognized this by making tactical nukes the ultimate weapon for the fanatical terrorist side, the Brotherhood of Nod. The ultimate weapon for the good guys, the Global Defense Initiative, was an orbital laser: clean, precise, comfortably remote from retaliation, and best of all, fictional, and therefore never yet historically used to massacre civilians.

Come to think of it, the very premise of Red Alert is a moral simplification of World War II. Forget the real-world use of atomic weapons for the moment; that’s something people manage to justify in their minds. All it takes is an extreme us/them mentality, the sort that considers “uncompromising” to be a compliment. But that same mentality finds it extremely galling that, in order to fight the Nazis, we had to be on the same side as the Communists. Removing this factor, Red Alert allows us the luxury of complete purity, of both aims and means. Heck, even the lack of any involvement with Japan presumably means no Japanese-American internment. It all comes a lot closer to our national myth of WWII-as-last-good-war than the reality ever did. It really says something that the creators of this game felt it necessary to clarify and improve our good-guy status even in the context of the war we spent fighting Hitler. And it’s profoundly weird that they decided to do this by removing Hitler from the story.

1 Comment so far

  1. josh g. on 8 Jun 2010

    Ok, that blew my mind.

    I wonder how that changes (or doesn’t change) with Red Alert 2? I haven’t played it yet, but it does introduce the Japanese as a third faction.

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