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Andrew Klavan on Hollywood’s anti-Americanism

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One of my biggest disappointments in seminary was learning that there were some members of the faculty and student body who saw little redeeming value in the American experience. Patriotism was seen as somehow anti-Christian or fervent nationalism by some, and love of country was supposed to be understood as idolatry. I address a few of the issues at seminary in a blog post of mine “Combat and Conversion.” Often people who articulated this view would explain how patriots are not evil people necessarily, just misguided and lacking proper theological enlightenment.

Andrew Klavan has a thoughtful and engaging piece in City Journal titled, The Lost Art of War: Hollywood’s anti-American war films don’t measure up to the glories of its patriotic era. Klavan’s piece is powerful because it draws out much of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the left. A grave error is still being committed by foisting a moral relativism on American conflicts and defense, as if these conflicts are somehow no different than conquests by anti-democratic nations and despots. Klavan makes a case that contemporary liberals are actually anti-liberty, standing against the principles of the founding of our nation.

Perhaps what is most bizarre is the new moral relativism we see in places like Berkeley, where elected officials seem to be siding with the enemy rather than our own country. Hollywood is of course no exception, and the author dutifully traces their ideological transformation through the years and with various conflicts. Klavan states:

When warlike racial nationalism resurged in the thirties, only an answering “atavistic emotion of patriotism,” as Orwell wrote, could embolden people to stand against it.

Though European intellectuals and their left-wing American acolytes are loath to admit it, the U.S. had already provided an excellent new rationale for that emotion. Our Founding redefined nationhood along social-contract lines that Europeans can still only theorize about. Our love of nation at its best was ethical, not ethnic. Our patriotism was loyalty not to race, or even to tradition, but to ideals of individual liberty and republican self-governance.

Klavan also has much to say about contemporary Hollywood films:

In Redacted, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, and Lions for Lambs—as in more successful thrillers like Shooter and The Bourne Ultimatum—virtually every act of the American administration is corrupt or sinister, and every patriot is a cynically misused fool. Every warrior, therefore, is either evil himself or, more often, a victim of evil, destined for meaningless destruction or soul-death and insanity. These movies’ anti-American attitudes strike me not as the products of original vision and reflection but rather as the tired expressions of inherited prejudices. The films work the way that prejudice works, anyway: by taking extraordinary incidents and individuals and extrapolating general principles from them.

When I lived on a former Strategic Air Command Air Force Base in New Hampshire, I remember going out to the flight line with my dad, who was a KC-135 pilot, to watch all the different military planes land. Some people of course would see the planes as weapons of destruction funded by self-serving imperial interests. I guess I always saw it as an amazing and heroic response to those who threatened liberty and a magnificent freedom birthed out of the “the shot heard round the world,” words which are inscribed on the Minute Man statue in Concord, Massachusetts. Klavan sums up the sentiment well:

Liberty, tolerance, the harmony of conflicting voices—these things didn’t materialize suddenly out of the glowing heart of human decency. People thought of them, fought and died to establish them, not in the ether, but on solid ground. That ground has to be defended or the values themselves will die. The warriors willing to do this difficult work deserve to have their heroism acknowledged in our living thoughts and through our living arts.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • Guy Fain

    I don’t understand why you put The Thin Red Line photo up for this post. I am a Reformed Christian, politically Libertarian, and sympathize with the director Terrance Malick who is a Heidegger scholar. Upon reflecting on the film and your review of the article, and the article, I don’t think its fair to lump this film together with the likes of Saving Private Ryan (which is in fact discussed in the article). The Thin Red Line is not primarily a film about America or about war, but rather a film about what it is to be a human living in the world. It is more about the universal human condition, which only accidentally occurs in a modern American setting. In fact, this film may be my favorite of Malick’s, perhaps my favorite I have ever seen from contemporary cinema. I would suggest re-thinking the graphic or at least leaving a proviso that it was not chosen as one of these unreflective anti-american flicks that the article expressly analyzes. As an anti-war Republican, I think there are many things that this film depicts better than the others, and humanizes, to help us realize that if we are to be pro-American, or even pro-human, then we need to do our best to stay out of wars and entangling alliances within our own nation and abroad. In that way, our people will be encouraged to flourish in peacetime as they are acutely aware of the horrors of a hawkish military.

  • I haven’t seen the film, but I find it hard to believe that Jesus (Jim Caviezel) would star in a movie that is anti-American.

    We’re the new Israel, after all!

  • Ray Nothstine


    Thanks for the comments, they are genuinely appreciated. I saw the film and viewed it differently than you. It was one of the worse films I ever saw, cause it was totally disconnected from any reality of the Marines in the Pacific Theater.

    The whole film seemed to endlessly drone on about the futility of the actual conflict. Also, I never did get why that one guy was under water for half the film.

    While I know “A Thin Red Line” was not cited in Klavan’s article, the movie reminded me of one of the best examples of the depiction of complete futility in a conflict which was so essential and clear cut.

    But again, I appreciate you offering a counter view and analysis of the film. Thanks again for contributing to the discussion.

  • Ray Nothstine

    I am sure Sean Penn would never star in an anti-American film either.

    Anti-war films are of course not bad, and Klavan makes that point well. I see the moral relativism as a serious weakness in many of the contemporary films however.

  • Guy Fain


    Thanks for your response. I can understand how you might feel that way, specifically because I know others who have seen “The Thin Red Line” who were bored throughout the film, and some who like yourself that might dispute the historical accuracy it might be presumed to depict. However, the screenplay was adapted from a 1962 fictional novel by James Jones, perhaps a different genre than you were expecting when you approached the film. The genre is not that of documentary, biopic or historical realism, rather it fits more into the genre of poetry (true to Malick’s core). Malick weaves together the themes of man’s struggle against nature throughout his films, and uses voiceover to direct this meditation. He is none too thrilled about how “civilized” we have become with all of our sophisticated technology, and this critique might well be an indictment that is felt by all rich (and technologically innovative) nations who presume themselves to be ontologically superior and more civilized than their neighbors. In his review for the Washington Post, Michael O’Sullivan wrote, “The Thin Red Line is a movie about creation growing out of destruction, about love where you’d least expect to find it and about angels – especially the fallen kind – who just happen to be men.” Not only this quote, but the essays in the book “The Cinema of Terrence Malick: Poetic Visions of America,” show that Malick is especially concerned with the tacit implications of nationalism within the American space. Nationalism for its own sake is futility. The lines that separate the good guys from the bad guys is minor. The poetry of a primordial connection humanity shares trumps that of the superiority complex which dominates politics (especially right now as we’re witnessing in the election process). The messages Malick is able to evoke resonate poetically and more deeply in the human heart than party slogans, or syllogisms and propositions. I do not discount those, but want to draw attention to his genre, which perhaps you either do not find appealing or were not intent to listen to. When I watch a movie like this, I prefer to do it alone, because the distractions of others keep me from being able to enter into the sacred moments which the cinema was depicting. Finally, as a point of historical fact, I will gladly concede something that the film remains neutral to: the morality of WWII. No other war in the past hundred years was the US justified to enter into, and all should have been avoided. Had we minded our own business, there never would have been WWII. Yet, our entangling alliance in WWI precipitated an angry Japan who bombed Pearl Harbor. This was truly a just war, albeit an unfortunate one, but merited a strong US response. So, in practical terms, I agree that we went into it; it was the right thing to do, but this question should not relate one way or another to the genre and integrity of the film “The Thin Red Line.” I would encourage you to read further about Terrence Malick’s directing philosophy, particularly because of its enchanting depth that escapes the corpus of Hollywood cinema. Cheers to you!

    Guy Fain

    PS I have attempted to enclose 2 links: one for each book that I mentioned in my note, although your site seems to think that I’m either a bot or a spammer, so due to that censorship I have chosen not to include them in this final rendition.

  • Andrew Klavan will be my guest on News Talk Online on Thursday July 17 at 5 PM New York time.

    Please go to and click on the link to talk to Klavan. There is no charge.