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"DEFCON 5 means 'no danger', DEFCON 1 is a crisis!"

In some movies, the phrase "Defcon 5" is used to refer to the highest state of alert.

This is incorrect. Defcon 5 (codename "FADE OUT"[2]) is the lowest state of alert, aka completely tranquil peace time. Defcon 1 (codename "COCKED PISTOL") is the highest, referring to a confirmed state of war. The use of nuclear weapons is authorised here, but they will still require unlock codes from high authority. The highest state reached for the Strategic Air Command in US history was Defcon 2 (codename "FAST PACE", during the Cuban Missile Crisis), but the Gulf War led to forces in the Middle East reaching Defcon 1, for obvious reasons -- like being at war. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 saw a brief period at Defcon 3 (codename "ROUND HOUSE", with some forces in the Middle East being at 2), as did 9/11. Currently the Defcon level is at 4 (codename "Double Take").

The UK did once operate a 'Queen's Order' level which escalated from 1 to 5, QO1 being the peacetime default and QO5 meaning (at the time) that the V-bombers had started their one way trip to Russia. The current system, dubbed the UK Threat Levels, doesn't use numbers at all, instead ranking the current likelihood of attack on a scale from Low to Critical (its most recent predecessor, the now-defunct BIKINI scale, used colours).

Examples of Defcon Five include:


Anime and Manga Edit

  • Eureka Seven gets it right: Gekkostate announces they're going to DEFCON I several times before engaging enemy airships. But then again, they're just one ship, why the hell would they need defcons?
    • They probably think it sounds cool to say.
  • In Macross Plus, when the Big Bad activates Earth's defense gid, astonished operators gasp "The system's at Defcon Five!", while armed satellites reorient themselves.
  • Rare anime example (that got it right): The last episode of Sentou Yousei Yukikaze has the supreme commander announcing "all ships, go into DEFCON 1".
  • The episode titles in Aozora Shoujotai start with DEFCON I, counting up to DEFCON V... and beyond, with the final episode named DEFCON VI.


Comic Books Edit

  • Ultimate Avengers: The Defcon is raised to 4 when aliens are spotted, and then "raised" again to 5 once the aliens actually begin to attack military installations.
  • Another correct use: X-Factor v2 #26, where Cyclops refers to "the mutant equivalent of Defcon 1".


Films -- Live-Action Edit

  • Averted in War Games. In fact, it's explained quite clearly that DEFCON 5 = peace, DEFCON 1 = war.
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: "I have to crack this guy. I mean, this is Defcon Five, and I have to do something truly appalling. It's not funny." Which possibly makes sense in this context, since Ben is doing everything he can to keep the relationship peaceful while Andie is trying to get dumped.
  • Undercover Brother: "That's Right! It's goin' to the streets. Hey y'all! It's revolution up in this Bitch! Set the alarm for Defcon 5! It's on, baby... it's on!" To be fair, the character in this case is a little nuts.
  • In the film Crimson Tide, Defcon 2 is the level at which the USS Alabama is authorized and directed to launch its nuclear missiles at Russian military targets, particularly land-based silos that are prepping to launch themselves. Contrast to War Games, in which no strikes were ever authorized.
    • This might be intentional, though, as the US is not at war with another nation--the nukes are aimed at a General Ripper who's commandeered a Russian nuclear base, not Russia in general.
    • It went through the scale properly:
      • The mission started at DEFCON 4 when the Russian general command lost control of the base to the General Ripper.
      • DEFCON 3 was invoked when the Russian launch codes were compromised, i.e. Launch Possible.
      • DEFCON 2 was when fuel trucks were parked at the silos, i.e. Launch Imminent.
  • In the film Canadian Bacon, Defcon 4 means "imminent nuclear attack."
  • Done correctly in The Santa Clause 2, of all places, where the North Pole's "Elfcon" warning system goes from five to one.
  • The horrible 1980's cold war film Defcon 4 incorrectly gave Defcon 4 as the highest state of alert. The fact that they couldn't even be wrong in the usual manner was not the worst thing about this movie.
  • The 2007 Transformers film handled this in an interesting fashion. The Secretary of Defense announces the country was now at "Defcon Delta, our highest alert level." The oddness is reconciled given the depth of cooperation he received from the United States armed forces: in the real world, Threat Conditions Alpha through Delta are used in the military to denote the likelihood of a terrorist/surprise attack (as opposed to a general state of hostilities and war), with 'Alpha' meaning 'remotely possible' and Delta meaning 'attack imminent or has just taken place'. Most likely, it was kept as "Defcon" in the film because that's what people would recognize.
  • In Independence Day, the president says, "We may need to upgrade to Defcon 3".
  • Averted in Watchmen, when Nixon correctly tells his staff to 'take us to Defcon one'.
  • Half-averted in Beavis and Butthead Do America. When Cornholio talks into the red phone, the person in charge of the Defense Control Center becomes concerned and goes to Defcon 4 (from 5). However, this incorrectly sets off the Red Alert klaxon and everyone scrambles around as if this meant war was imminent.


Live-Action TV Edit

  • Another exception was in Stargate SG-1, where they correctly order the Defcon sequence in an episode where the US and Russia each believe the other has been infiltrated at the top levels by the Goa'uld. (This was done in several other episodes as well - they even have a set of Defcon lights on the wall so we can see them clicking downwards.) Having a military advisor on the show probably helped set that straight. Or just freakin' Googling it...
    • An early episode, however, did have the Defcon system used erroneously.
    • The DefCon lights on the wall are, in fact, identical to the ones that appear in War Games. Which makes sense, to a point, since the SGC and NORAD are both within the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.
    • Stargate SG-1 asked for, got, and accepted gratefully a lot of help (material and advice) from the US military (mostly the USAF, but the USN did lend them a sub), so I'd imagine that their US Military accuracy was as high as the military would allow, taking into account various Rules (Cool, Funny, etc.)
      • The correctness when it came to military matters was a significant point in the relationship between the show and the USAF; one episode had production problems because a female officer wore her hair longer than permitted and the USAF wouldn't let it fly.
  • Top Gear got it wrong too, where Clarkson stepping up his Bugatti Veyron (the world's fastest-ever production car) to no-spoiler fast mode took him from Defcon 3 to 4.
  • Upheld in the Angel episode "Dad". Lilah refers to Wolfram and Hart as being at "Defcon, like, a thousand" over Connor's birth, Lilah being a civilian lawyer who apparently knows nothing about the military. What she was trying to say was that they were at DEFCON 1.
    • The idea of the world being put at DEFCON 1000 due to a unexpected birth is... amusing
    • Wolfram & Hart, being an extradimensional demonic law firm and not the US military, could actually have a scale that goes to 1000. More likely Lilah was just exaggerating.
  • Done in an episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete with Little Pete's "LOVECON" alerts, with 5 being the highest level of "danger" (i.e., lovesickness).
  • Parodied, predictably enough, in The Big Bang Theory; Howard describes an emergency as being "DEFCON 5" and Leonard rushes everyone toward the door, Sheldon protests "DEFCON 5, well there's no need to worry then" and when his friends inquire he says "DEFCON 5 means 'no danger', DEFCON 1 is a crisis."
  • Parodied in Chuck: "We're at Defcon 1, or 5, or whichever means HURRY!"
  • Averted in Doctor Who "The Poison Sky". UNIT is said to be at Defcon 1 as they prepare to launch nuclear missiles at the Sontaran ship.
  • In one episode of The Office, Michael Scott declares DEFCON 10 because he is afraid of an upcoming meeting with Jan. Later in the episode, he "increases" it to DEFCON 20.
    • This is also Michael Scott we're talking about, a Bunny Ears Lawyer if there ever was one.
  • Averted in General Hospital by Spinelli. When his computer is hacked...which, for the Playful Hacker, is a Fate Worse Than Death...he keeps repeating "Defcon 1".
  • Averted in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Bargaining when Xander declares "This place is NORAD, and we're at DEFCON 1."
  • Due to its almost unerring dedication to accurately portraying Government Procedural, The West Wing avoids this particular pitfall.
    • Generally true, although DEFCON/THREATCON mistake did occur occasionally in the show, with even military characters using expressions like "DEFCON Alpha" and "Threatcon Five". When advising his sole survivor cabinet secretary what to do if he were to become Acting President in the event of the Capitol Building being destroyed, Bartlet counselled that he should take the U.S. to DEFCON 4 (arguably wrong even if Bartlet meant "up from five", because such an event would likely put the country at two or three)
  • Battlestar Galactica has Conditions Three to One, Condition Three meaning everything's normal, Condition Two a state of alert, and Condition One "launch the Vipers, it's going to get hot". This mirrors the system used aboard some US Navy ships for certain weapons systems. Condition 1 is ready to fire. 2,3 etc. are for less ready-to-go states.


Literature Edit

  • In Cryptonomicon, the narrator refers to "some very high Defcon level, the one just short of all-out nuclear exchange." Its vagueness means it could either be an aversion (with "very high" referring to the state of alertness) or playing it straight (with "very high" meaning the numerical alert status).
  • Averted by Terry Pratchett: in Witches Abroad he writes "Asking someone to repeat a phrase you'd not only heard very clearly but were also exceedingly angry about was around Defcon 2 in the lexicon of squabble."
  • Averted in Artemis Fowl, where Foaly is mentioned as being paranoid enough to repeatedly send the LEP's alert level to Defcon Two when he panics. In all fairness to the centaur, it makes somewhat more sense in context given that a lot of the bad guys have plans that could wipe out civilizations and it's better to be safe than sorry.
  • Used in a metaphorical sense, but correctly: In Stephen King's non-fiction essay Head Down (about his son Owen's championship-winning Little League season) there is a scene where King is driving his son and a few of his friends back from a game. One of the boys really, really needs to take a leak. They find a gas station "just as [his] bladder is going to DEFCON-1".


Music Edit

  • Platinum Blonde's 1983 hit "Standing in the Dark" contains the line "Defcon 5 / We're ready to explode."
  • Subverted by the song "Defcon 1" by Pop Will Eat Itself.
  • Another musical Subversion: the Devqon.1 Dance festival.
  • Nox Arcana's Zombie Influx album contains the track "Defcon Six."


Print Media Edit


Tabletop Games Edit

  • Averted in the board game Twilight Struggle, a two-player game about political tensions during the Cold War. The Defcon level starts at 5, and gets lowered as tensions mount between the two superpowers. If it ever goes to 1, though, the game is over and the player who triggered World War III has lost. This could be seen as a variant of You Lose At Zero Trust.


Videogames Edit

  • Played straight' in 'Sam And Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die!, as a result of a civil war in South Dakota.
  • An aversion right there in the title: The PC, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn game Defcon 5! You wouldn't think it, but within the backstory, Defcon 5 is precisely what's going on... even if the company in charge of the base you're automating does not want that.
  • Averted in Rise of Nations: Thrones and Patriots: the threat meter in the Cold War scenario accurately starts from DEFCON 5, and counts down the more reckless you are. If your threat meter reaches DEFCON 1, both sides will launch the nukes.
  • Averted, obviously, in DEFCON. All DEFCONs prior to One is spent building silos, fleets, and generally preparing for nuclear holocaust. When it gets to one, the nukes start flying.
  • Averted in the browser-based nation simulation game Cyber Nations, in which DEFCON 5 yields a happy population but weakened and more expensive military and DEFCON 1 makes your nation ready for battle at the cost of citizen income.
  • Averted in End War. "If the mission Condition becomes critical", DEFCON 1 starts. (In Conquest mode, it starts when one side takes more than half the uplinks; In assault, it starts when one side starts running out of units; and in siege mode, it starts when 10 minutes pass and the defender gets access to support.)
    • Also interesting in that the player that is winning doesn't go to DEFCON 1 first. The losing player does, and therefore gets the WMD capability first. And the winning player can't use a WMD until the losing player has, in a sort of retributive strike.
      • Probably for balance; in universe, the explanation is probably that high command doesn't think the use of WMD's are necessary if you're winning. Also, both sides go into DEFCON 1 at the same time; but the losing side still gets authorization to use WMDs first. (The losing side also does get one perk - the ability to permanently disable one uplink for the rest of the match.)
  • Used correctly in War Games, loosely (very loosely) inspired by the movie of the same name. The DEFCON system started at 5, and got lower over time as enemy attacks landed. Once it reached DEFCON 1, that began the launch countdown for a nuclear response that would set off World War III.
  • Presumably averted in Lemmings, in which one of the levels is titled "We are now at LEMCON 1" - the fact that this was worth announcing makes it clear that they didn't think it meant peacetime. (It also helps that the titular creatures start out about two seconds from walking into a bottomless pit and have a spinning deathtrap right behind them.)
  • Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge gets it right: the first spoken word in the intro cutscene is "We are now at DEFCON 2" about a minute before the Big Bad threatens to Mind Control the entire planet all at once.
  • Act of War: Direct Action (as well as its expansion pack High Treason), a RTS produced by Eugen Systems, gets it right when the player plays as the US Army side, except that in the beginning of a game, the DEFCON mode starts at 3, not 5 (it's a wargame, after all), and successively goes to 2 and 1 as the player pays for those modes with the in-game currency. The lower the DEFCON condition, the more powerful and expensive the units become available. - effectively, DEFCON 1 allows for a nuclear missile strike.
  • Universe at War uses this in an odd fashion, with the DEFCON mode new units and powers are available through time, it uses it in the right order but not for the correct powers granted.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops averts this. During the campaign, the DEFCON level will be shown increasing toward 1 during cutscenes, in response to the time limit. Then, during the 'Five' level of zombie mode the team must lower the DEFCON level from 1 to 5 end the map's security lockdown and open an important door to a weapon upgrade machine.
  • Averted, in all places, in the arcade version of Battletoads - throughout one level, you see DEFCON numbers posted. They go down from four as you get further into the level, reflecting the increasing threat of the Battletoads getting deeper.
  • Command and Conquer Generals has, of all things, a map named "Defcon Six". One imagines this might make the opposing sides catatonic in their tranquility, but the map is a frantic, six-player melee.
  • Averted in one scenario of Tropico 4: though an adviser at the beginning of the scenario assumes that "DEFCON" is a new American doomsday weapon, DEFCON starts at 5 and increments after certain actions that threaten the peace (like building weapon and chemical factories). You lose the scenario at DEFCON 1, but have the opportunity to raise the level through certain decisions and holding Pan-Caribbean Summits.


Web Animation Edit

  • Parodied in the flash cartoon BadGuys, where one of the characters activates an alarm and shouts "Go to Defcon 62!"


Webcomics Edit

  • During a Crossover between the webcomics It's Walky! and Fans, a strip was originally drawn with this error. When readers pointed this out, the strip was corrected, with a note of thanks added to those who mentioned the error (though it was not included later in the Strip Archive).


Western Animation Edit

  • In American Dad, Stan keeps a colour coordinated terror alert system on his fridge, which he'll adjust according to his paranoid delusions.
  • Used correctly in Aaahh Real Monsters, wherein the alert system starts at 'DefDump 5' and gets lower as the situation intensifies.
  • Averted in a way on The Penguins of Madagascar, when Skipper briefly considers declaring "Defcon Red", (the coordinating color to Defcon 2). When Marlene asks what that means, Skipper says "Classified. Just hope you never live to see one, sister."


Real Life Edit

  • According to some accounts of the 1981 shooting of Ronald Reagan, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wanted to go to DEFCON 2. He believed it meant a low state of military readiness, slightly higher than DEFCON 1, which to him meant tranquil peacetime.

Notes

  1. Ironically, this isn't a DEFCON poster, it's the defunct Terror Alert Level. The DEFCON colors, from top to bottom, are white, red, yellow, green, and blue.
  2. these codenames are used during exercises to avoid confusion with the real deal