By Dawn's Early Light (TV Movie 1990) Poster

(1990 TV Movie)

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  • The answer is not necessarily clear in the film, but the source novel indicates that the target was indeed Andrews AFB but the missile overshot its target. In the novel (unlike the film), the Soviet attack was deliberate, measured, and preemptive attack in order to to regain strategic parity with the United States following the Reagan military buildup, which had left the Soviet Union behind. The attack on Andrews served two purposes, one directly stated by the Premier and the other implied. The first reason, which the Premier had agreed to as a concession to his military advisors, was to "intimidate" the President into accepting the Soviet terms for a limited nuclear exchange. The second was to prevent the President from leaving Washington, DC. If the President was forced to stay in the White House (versus getting to an airborne command-and-control platform), then he would be more likely to accept the Soviet terms and avoid a larger nuclear war. In this sense, the Soviets anticipated the problem correctly, because when the Soviet missile missed Andrews, the President immediately attempted to move to Air Force One, precipitating the succession problem that followed and nearly resulting in an extinction-level nuclear exchange. All of that said, it is more likely that the Soviet submarine-based missile (inaccurate by American standards) missed the target than that the Premier lied about it. Edit

  • In short, because the screenwriters changed a critical plot point from the source novel without factoring in the second and third-order effects of the change.

    In the novel, there was no false-flag attack from Turkey that precipitated the events. The Soviet attack was deliberate, preemptive, and measured in order to quickly reduce U.S. nuclear capability and help the Soviet Union regain strategic parity it had lost due to the U.S. military build-up during the 1980s. In the novel (and film) the Soviet targets were Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha, Nebraska; North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) in Colorado Springs, Colorado; SAC airbases such as Fairchild, Washington; and Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC. The Soviet Union deliberately did not target most of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites, other military bases, or civilian population centers in order to mitigate an overwhelming U.S. response. The idea was only to destroy the U.S. strategic bomber fleet, command-and-control apparatus, and the U.S. President's ability to escape Washington (so that he would have to remain in place and negotiate).

    Because the filmmakers decided to change this deliberate attack to a response to a false-flag attack a couple of things no longer make sense. First, it is doubtful that the Soviet Union would have reacted so quickly without at least assessing the attack on its territory and challenging NATO to explain itself. The film explains this away as an "automated" reaction of its strategic missile forces. But this does not explain the submarine attack on Washington; those valid orders for a nuclear attack would have had to come from a human with the appropriate codes, and then two humans on the submarine would have to validate those orders and initiate the launch. Second, the deliberate nature of the Soviet attack only makes sense in the context of preemption discussed above. If it was an "automated" response, then why was the attack not centered on Turkey, from which the initial missile originated? Third, the message that the President receives from the Soviet premier via the hotline comes very soon after the Soviet counterattack begins. This makes sense in the novel, because the message was written in advance and sent to the President shortly after the attack started. In the film, however, in a matter of a few minutes the Soviet premier would have had to receive the message about a nuclear attack on his country; that an "automated" response was in progress; have somehow discerned the truth that it was a false-flag attack initiated by members of his own government; and formulated the detailed message that he sends the President, including options for a proportionate U.S. counterstrike (without consulting the Politburo, which might have had a problem with this last part). Edit

  • This is more clear in the source novel, but communications were severely degraded by the nuclear exchanges that had happened previously. The submarine had been in a series of engagements with the carrier strike group (CSG) in question and had nearly been killed several times. It was following its last received orders to find and sink enemy vessels. The novel implies that if the CSG had not received orders to intercept the renegade B-52, then it would not have broken off its hunt for the enemy submarine and maneuvered to launch fighters for the intercept. Consequently, it would not have been vulnerable to the attack that sank it. Edit

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