America: Imagine an America without Her

What might world history have looked like if there had never been a United States, or if it ceased to exist before the 20th-century? Is “America” an “exceptional” nation, an “idea” even, that stands as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world? Is “America” largely innocent of the crimes of genocide, slavery, and theft? Are the domestic enemies of “America” part of a conspiracy, like the kind that propelled a “socialist” Obama to office? Are we able to keep track of the differences between each of these questions? Can we even see the kinds of assumptions that are smuggled into each one? Dinesh D’Souza is betting you cannot.

Previously, I critically reviewed John Pilger’s documentary, The Coming War on China, and even gave it a failing score despite the fact that I normally agree with most of Pilger’s assessments and have benefited from his informative and insightful work. To control for bias, I was determined to give Dinesh D’Souza a charitable hearing, particularly because there is so much on which we normally disagree. D’Souza however made such charity nearly impossible, as he is committed to calling a “documentary” that which is patently a propaganda film, and not a particularly clever or original propaganda film at that. Before we even get to the final score for this film at the end of the review—readers can already imagine what it is going to be—let me say that this film is not entirely without value: it could serve very useful purposes in classrooms where students are challenged to describe and analyze how this film is propaganda for American exceptionalism, i.e., the ideology of US imperialism. In fact, the book review that is coming after this film review will point readers to an outstanding antidote to this film. However, if intended as an aid for the study of US history, then this film has no place in any classroom.

America: Imagine the World without Her

America: Imagine the World Without Her is a 2014 film by Dinesh D’Souza, based on his book which carries the same title, and runs for one hour and 45 minutes. Distributed by Lionsgate, the movie grossed over $14 million, and cost around $5 million to make—therefore way beyond the monetary reach of most documentary films, which points to the fact that powerful interests with deep pockets were directly invested in making this film. The film features numerous actors in sometimes lavish re-enactments, figures in period costumes filmed in well-constructed movie sets, as well as sweeping aerial footage and rousing music, and it incorporates interviews with many US public intellectuals and politicians, on the left and right. As a professionally-made commercial venture, it is at the very least stimulating to watch the film, sometimes. The music in the film is particularly good, stirringly patriotic you might say, and even sweet and melancholic. However, if the review that follows strikes some readers as excessively negative, then it has an abundance of company, and the commentary here is restrained.

Here is one of the trailers made for the film:

At a minimum, the chief shortcomings of the film stem from the absence of a logical argument, a lack of narrative consistency, an aversion to treating subjects it raises with sufficient honesty, and inadequate factual support. It also seems driven by partisan vendettas, while conveying to audiences some particularly atrocious assumptions about the objects of America’s many conquests.

One has to ask how D’Souza thought that this would do any service to his side. Is the right combination of sounds and images enough to flatter powerful patrons and blinkered supporters? At a minimum, a major problem with D’Souza’s film is that he does not understand what makes a successful documentary (hint: it’s not box office proceeds), and that his work is guided by an ultra-partisan, ultra-conservative faith in a system that is clearly sinking under the weight of its own violence, inequalities, and injustices. D’Souza’s weak narrative skills will not sustain it either.

These comments are not motivated by any personal animus. In fact, I do not dislike D’Souza in the least. He comes across as someone who could have produced something very bright and thought-provoking, if not for the partisan constraints under which he chose to work. D’Souza is not unintelligent and untalented. He is also not afraid to at least discuss the strongest critiques made against American exceptionalism, and to speak respectfully and face-to-face with some of the most prominent proponents of those critiques. We thus see in the film figures such as Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill speaking with D’Souza—why they chose to participate is another matter. Yet D’Souza is an inferior version of the conservative public intellectual of the past, showing us how steep is the general US cultural decline and the collapse of its public discourse.

Let’s move on to discussing the substance of the film, especially for those who have not seen the film, and likely will not see it.

“Forgetting” Your Own Question, Masking Your Aims

If you come to this film expecting it to actually address the question in its own title—what would the world be like without America—you will be immediately disappointed as the film abandons that question almost entirely. Yet that question is why I innocently chose to watch the film in the first place.

To answer that question, about the world, one would at least have to ask the world. There is no survey of global public opinion about the US’ role in the world. There is no recapitulated history of US interventions, invasions, and regime changes overseas, apart from the briefest summary mumbled by Noam Chomsky. There is no discussion of the role of the CIA, US banks and US-based transnational corporations. We hear nothing about squads of US mercenaries committing atrocities across the planet. There is no confrontation with the fact that the US has military installations in 75% of the world’s countries, and has been engaged in several wars simultaneously for the past two decades. There is not even a hint of an attempt to come to terms with the aftermath of the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have cost Americans so much and deeply altered their political landscape. There is no world in the film—hence my rewriting the title of the film for this review. It’s another film about how some Americans talk to themselves about themselves, while ignoring others. I would say that the US has had far too much of that already. For such global leaders, they are remarkably introverted.

However, asking what the world might have looked like without America would not have been a good question either: how can one prove what world history would have looked like if some of the elements that made world history as we know it were taken out? Predicting what might be, is hard enough; predicting what might have been, is at best idle speculation, and one does not make documentaries stuffed with idle speculation because it would mean that they literally fail to document anything (apart from one’s wandering mind). What is a question deserving consideration is this: What could the world look like without American dominance?

Thinking that film viewers are easily distracted or unintelligent, D’Souza quickly shifts the focus of his film to a totally separate and different question than the one implied by the film’s title. The question becomes: why do some Americans condemn the history of the US? This occupies the bulk of the film.

Once D’Souza is finished with the question above, which he broke down into five sub-questions, he moves on to the final question of the film which is the one furthest removed from the title. Here he engages in a sinister, conspiratorial exposé of Saul Alinsky, in order to explain that Alinsky was the figure motivating Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In the case of Obama, D’Souza goes as far as accusing him of engaging in wealth redistribution and then—incredibly—he implies that we are to blame Obama’s imaginary socialist wealth redistribution for the collapse of Detroit. It’s not capitalism that demolished Detroit, it’s “socialism”. Revisionist history just went completely bonkers.

That takes us to the real aim of the film: it is merely an overly long, not particularly smart, and transparently partisan ambush against Clinton and Obama—two figures who can be abundantly criticized on grounds that are only too numerous, without having to resort to any fabrications. To teach audiences that the only way to attack elites like the Clintons and Obama is with hyperbole, distortions, and tall tales, does an immense disservice to critique, to audiences’ minds, and to democracy.

This film is driven by the now clichéd US conservative refrain about the dangers posed by “the failures of socialism”. A bit more sober reflection and less incantation would do Americans some good. It was capitalism that was the clear failure in the 2008 financial crisis, when the entire system nearly came to complete extinction. What was used to save failed capitalism? The methods of the much-aligned “socialism”: government-led bailouts using public money, and nationalizations of companies. No wonder libertarians went crazy: the manner in which capitalism was saved further proved the failure of capitalism. Had none of those measures taken place, there would be little of the capitalism left for the likes of D’Souza to cheer as triumphant. And were capitalism such a clearly successful triumph, D’Souza would not need to worry so much about marginal critics who instead seem to drive him over the edge.

Simply summarized for Twitter: D’Souza’s film is about why America is exceptionally good, its domestic enemies are more wrong than ever, and Saul Alinsky is the Democrats’ evil invisible hand.

In what follows, I take issue with some of the chief failings of D’Souza’s arguments. But first, one observation is necessary.

You Want Identity Politics? Coming Right Up!

Dinesh D’Souza, who has written about race and ethnicity in the US and is deeply immersed in the everyday partisan struggles that are his society’s fixations, is obviously keenly aware of the identity politics at the centre of the US “culture wars”. His positioning in the film expertly deflects and yet exploits the identity politics obsession of the politically correct “left” and liberals.

Dinesh D’Souza

D’Souza, after all, is an immigrant. And not a white immigrant at that. If you wanted brown immigrants to change America for the better, to save it from the stifling oppression of white privilege—what you end up getting is Dinesh D’Souza, smiling.

Skin colour and place of birth neither signify nor solve anything. D’Souza is able to exploit such emptiness, allowing him to capitalize on his Most Favoured Indian Status. On the other hand, a dignified, courageous and intelligent figure like Ilhan Omar is the subject of the most racist, hate-filled expressions of violence by some in D’Souza’s own ideological camp.

This was perhaps the “revolutionary” aspect of D’Souza’s film, in that it quickly demystifies the bourgeois, narcissistic superficiality of focusing on an individual’s skin colour and place of birth, as if these things, in and of themselves, meant something profound, and offered fundamental difference. That is the basic error made by the New Victorians and the privileged “decolonial” class, with their fanciful etiquettes of colour and nomenclature—they reform nothing except the aesthetics of dominance. Thus what we have is the brown immigrant upholding American exceptionalism, neoconservative foreign policy, and unbridled capitalism, while riding rather roughshod over the US’ history of slavery and genocide. Here is Global America come home to National America (p. 42)—to teach it a lesson about itself, which is the same lesson that has been taught to the US’ global extensions.

For more of this, hear Dinesh D’Souza in the wonderful little music video that appears in this film:

Incomprehensible is when D’Souza states in his film, “I came from India to America 30 years ago…I know a world without her”. What does that mean? How does it make any sense? Is it that the world is “without” America if it is not an exact copy of America? Short of annexation, or total imitation, is the world “without” America? Unless you are in America itself, does it mean that America is absent from the rest of the world? Yes, it’s a preposterous statement on one level, poorly constructed at the very least, but quite revealing on another: D’Souza is a proponent of total global Americanization on every level—only he does not have the courage to come out and say so directly in this film. For the world to have America in it, America must have all of the world.

America as Cultural Evolution

US anthropologists would quickly detect the underlying paradigm guiding the film’s philosophy, just from the opening credits. That is when we see D’Souza’s imagining of what America means—and it is shown in a quick succession of animations showing a transition from coal-powered trains of the Old West to a series of bicycles, each design an improvement on the previous one, to a motorcycle, followed by the evolution of the American automobile, and then the development of airplanes, ending with space flight. Also featured are icons of Americanism: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, a diner, and a drive-in movie theatre. The symbols are easy enough to understand—they are the classics, the basic symbols known by everyone, including non-Americans, and could easily be deployed by anyone.

The point is that D’Souza’s America is an evolution of technological mastery and high consumption. It is fundamentally a progressivist perspective, that places America at the pinnacle of human achievement, reaching as high as the Moon (the final sequence of images in the opening shows the first landing on the Moon).

Americans Imagining America without America

Dead Washington, still from the movie

The film begins by exploring the question, for Americans, of what America might be like if there had been no America. Thus the film opens with a re-enactment of a battle featuring George Washington, only his life is terminated on the battlefield thanks to a particularly sharp British sniper. The date is September 11th, 1777. D’Souza asks viewers to “imagine the unimaginable” and the films shows Mount Rushmore’s surface turn to dust, revealing natural rock only.

Thus, imagine America if: George Washington had been killed and the British won the war; the Civil War had torn the US into two or 10 pieces; or, Hitler got the atomic bomb first. D’Souza asks: “What would the world look like, if America did not exist?” And then the question is dropped. It was only meant to stir an emotional response to soften and open viewers to what follows.

Erroneous Predictions and Partisan Jabs

D’Souza takes credit for making three predictions in his previous “documentary,” 2016: Obama’s America, which he apparently thinks were correct. One of these is that America’s role in the world would shrink, as its government expanded. This is incorrect or misleading. First, how do you measure the “expansion of government”? Is it in terms of number of employees, budgets, number of agencies, number of regulations? Do cutbacks in welfare and other social services count as “government”? If so, then the US has had a shrinking government, just as it has expanded its role overseas, fighting on average seven simultaneous wars continuously since 2001, while overthrowing several governments by other means.

His other predictions target Obama, for expanding national debt (which did happen), and for purportedly “undermining allies” while “strengthening adversaries” (partisan propaganda). It seems that the latter are now stock accusations that Americans throw at each other—and they are accusations of being insufficiently imperialist.

However, what this marks is the first pivot in the film, which involves turning away from imagining the world without America, while turning against what D’Souza sees as America’s domestic enemies. He openly worries about America’s future if it “chooses the wrong path,” while he believes that it can be “strong again”. An actor, playing the role of a young Abraham Lincoln, is then shown lecturing a class on how the only way America can be destroyed, is if it destroys itself. This passage from his speech of 1838 was memorable:

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide”.

Thus D’Souza’s key question now becomes: “How do you convince a great nation to author its own destruction?”

One way, apparently, is by reading Howard Zinn. Another is by telling Americans “a new story”—here he shows Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren reminding Americans of what they all knew already: many of the rich became rich in part thanks to public subsidies, public infrastructure, and public education. Then we hear the voices condemning American genocide, slavery, and expansionism: Michael Eric Dyson, Ward Churchill, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Michael Moore, and so on. Righting historical wrongs is, for D’Souza, tantamount to self-destruction. Is the lesson one he would teach his children?

“There are people in America, who want a world without America”

Thus we arrive at the core of D’Souza’s film, and the words in the subheading are from his own narration in the film, with his emphases maintained. D’Souza lists their indictments against America:

  1. Theft of Land. Additional crime: Genocide. Victim: Native Americans.
  2. Theft of Mexican Territory. Victim: Mexico.
  3. Theft of Labour. Further crime: Segregation and Racism. Victim: African Americans.
  4. Theft of Resources. Victim: The World.
  5. Theft of the American Dream. Victim: The American People.

There is another victim: Dinesh D’Souza. He is the apparent victim of having to listen to these indictments, at the risk of his hotdog going down sideways. I almost felt sympathy for him, and wanted to appear in the scene below myself, put my around D’Souza’s shoulder, and comfort him: “Don’t worry, Dinesh. I won’t let them take either America or that hotdog away from you. Freedom is the sovereign right of every American, and so is an excess of calories”.

D’Souza’s list of indictments is actually quite good in capturing the essence of a wide range of critiques. Even if intuitively, he is aware that the common root to all five is theft. Other terms for theft are extraction, dispossession, displacement, exploitation, and accumulation. This is primarily a materialistic critique of the history of American domination.

D’Souza says the five indictments have come together into “a single narrative of American shame”. By stating “American shame,” D’Souza is clearly signalling to his audience that his answer is American exceptionalism. One should strive to be without any shame, apparently.

What is not as good as the list above, is the manner in which D’Souza answers these indictments. In some cases, the impatience in his concluding thoughts on each one might actually strengthen the appeal of the given indictment.

D’Souza’s “American Enemies of America”

First, D’Souza tries to do a quick takedown of Howard Zinn. D’Souza hates how Zinn was applauded by Hollywood celebrities like Matt Damon and Woody Harrelson. D’Souza’s chief accusation? Zinn was not a “real historian”—and D’Souza brings in experts to say so (the chief testimony coming from the same person who severely criticized D’Souza himself a couple of years later). Ironically, when D’Souza turns to the history of Texas in this film, his chosen “historian” is none other than Senator Ted Cruz.

Second takedown: Ward Churchill. D’Souza seems to know which statements will provoke particular responses from Churchill, and he manoeuvres Churchill into saying that dropping nuclear bombs on the US would be justifiable. D’Souza knows that most of his viewers will wince, and thus Churchill will yet again be buried under a steaming pile of American exceptionalist sentiment. However, the fact remains that the only country to have dropped atomic bombs on another, is still just the US—does that fact make D’Souza wince? As a matter of fact, not once in the whole film does D’Souza ever refer to the US’ atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So much for an honest encounter with American history.

Third, D’Souza follows this up with a series of interconnected yet faulty assumptions. If America’s wealth is stolen, then it must be given back, and doing so would be suicide for America—this, according to D’Souza. When it comes to American Indians and African Americans, why would wealth transferred to them be “lost” to the American economy? Why is it that the wealthier they become, the closer America moves toward “suicide”? D’Souza is neither an economist, obviously, nor someone particularly adept at masking some nasty ethnocentric biases that he apparently harbours. Instead, wealth transferred to those who have virtually none would result in a massive spending boom, which would propel US economic growth far beyond anything currently conceived as possible. Note how the lowest rates of growth have been registered in countries with the greatest wealth transfers to the already rich.

The additional problem of funnelling the discussion of history into a series of claims on cash, is that it depicts African Americans and American Indians as a mass of louts with outstretched hands and very big mouths. We thus move from reformism to reductionism to racist vulgarity. There is little recognition of the wealth created and generated by exploited and dispossessed peoples, little regard for their dignity and their history of resistance and survival, and even less consideration about the need for equitable access to productive resources themselves, not just some of the cash such resources might produce.

Otherwise, African Americans generally vanish from D’Souza’s history of America. This is nothing less than white-washing, and being so transparent it’s not even clever. Having told us how nasty Howard Zinn was, D’Souza points us to Alexis de Tocqueville instead, a French aristocrat writing nearly a century and a half before Zinn. He says that de Tocqueville “observed how no one bows or scrapes before another in America. America is the only country where we call the waiter ‘sir,’ as if he were a knight”—this is rubbish. Clearly, as slavery still existed when de Tocqueville wrote, there was a great deal of bowing and scraping in America…and waiters were more likely to be called “boy” well into the late 20th-century.

D’Souza does not discuss imperialism as such, instead he turns his attention to what he thinks is a “universal conquest ethic”. Imperialism goes well beyond one or a series of conquests, and it is in fact neither universal, nor have all peoples in the world engaged in imperialist ventures—most have instead been subjected to empires, and there is no “ethic” to this.

One of the biggest intellectual flops of the film, where it degenerates into the purest form of dishonesty, is when D’Souza asserts—contrary to all evidence, including evidence provided in the film itself: “America is based on a different idea [other than conquest]: the idea of acquiring wealth not by taking it from someone else”. Thus, conquest of American Indian lands, disappears. Also disappeared: African slavery. Then D’Souza conveniently ignores known cases of US plunder from war. Yes, wealth can be created through means other than theft—but D’Souza sets up a false binary opposition where wealth is either created through innovation, or it’s created through theft, and both somehow cannot coexist in the same society.

The question becomes a simple one now: if the defence of your ideology requires spinning so many falsehoods while ignoring wide swathes of historical reality, what does that have to say about your cause?

Answering the Five Indictments

Finally, almost mid-way through the film, D’Souza returns to the five indictments he laid out, and sets about answering them. One can already predict the answers from the foregoing.

(1) Did Americans steal land from the Native Indians? D’Souza says that is the story of Columbus, and since Columbus never landed in America, it is not America’s story. D’Souza then rushes through the history of the US and Indigenous nations since 1776, “some restitution is due, and some has been made”. Wait: why is restitution due? D’Souza just finished telling us that the US was not built on the conquest ethic—no conquest, no theft, no injustice, and therefore no restitution. D’Souza’s narrative falls apart here because it was based on misrepresentation to begin with. Just as bad is D’Souza’s condescending dismissal: “I understand the pain of Charmaine White Face and others over the loss of an old way of life, but the Native Americans, if they wanted, can return to that way. Instead, they have exercised the right of tribal self-government and many have chosen to build resorts, casinos and other entrepreneurial businesses”. American Indians themselves are thus blamed for centuries of white assimilationism and capitalist incorporation.

(2) Did America steal half of Mexico in the Mexican War? Instead of just answering, “basically, yes,” D’Souza speaks through a Mexican-American law student so that we can come away with this message: Who cares? This is America now, and we have a shot at the American Dream. D’Souza then stages a very sarcastic, very silly exchange with a border patrol agent, asking him how many millions of people try to cross the border surreptitiously, from the US to Mexico. (D’Souza forgot to thank “illegal immigrants” for the service of inflating his national sense of self-worth.) The border agent, choosing his words carefully, replies: “I’ve never seen one illegally try and cross back into Mexico, no, never”. Why would they need to enter Mexico illegally? The fact of the matter is that return migration is a well-established phenomenon documented by anthropologists and others over the past three decades. At the very least, D’Souza should familiarize himself, and his viewers, with the research of US anthropologist Michael Kearney.

D’Souza concludes this second dismissal on his part with imperialist slander: “I wonder how many people in Mexico today wish the United States had kept all of Mexico?” The question is, however, why did the US keep any part of Mexico if, as he asserted earlier, the conquest ethic is not a part of American history?

(3) The enslavement of African Americans was theft: theft of life and labour”—these are D’Souza’s own words, in a film in which he denied that theft played any part in American history (“America is based on a different idea: the idea of acquiring wealth not by taking it from someone else”). D’Souza sidesteps any discussion of reparations. Instead he devotes time to folding the civil rights movement into the great American exceptionalist mystique, replete with segments re-enacting moments in the life of Abraham Lincoln, speaking with an obviously grateful and admiring Frederick Douglass. D’Souza tries to blur the picture of the oppression and exploitation of Africans in America by reminding us that there were also freed blacks who owned slaves, while white soldiers died to free the slaves—and indentured servants from Ireland outnumbered slaves “for many years”. Everything possible is done to salve the conscience of his white viewers, lest they feel discomfort even for a moment.

To accommodate the history of slavery into his narrative, D’Souza resorts to retelling the “universality of the conquest ethic”—that there was nothing exceptional about slavery in America, since slavery had existed in many other societies around the world. But then what happened to American exceptionalism? To what, then, is American history an “exception”? D’Souza tries to say that what is uniquely Western, and uniquely American, is the abolition of slavery. He might have a point, if he had emphasized abolitionism as an ideology—but in none of the other societies he lists in his film is slavery practiced today, having ended at some point in each of them.

To counter “American shame,” which he sees in Howard Zinn’s account, D’Souza then does something quite remarkable, even atrocious: “Meet Sarah Breedlove,” he says triumphantly, “also known as Madam C.J. Walker. She started selling her own hair care products door to door…”.

Slavery you say? Oh go put on a happy face why dontcha! American history is thus twisted out of shape by a petty mercantile fable that prizes the magic of individual responsibility and entrepreneurship. If not every black woman in America is like Oprah then it’s due to a personal failing, and perhaps Howard Zinn. Finally, D’Souza is able to white out not just African Americans, but also the history of slavery: “We are all in this country a minority of one, and how we succeed or fail depends on our efforts”.

(4)Did America get rich by simply stealing from other countries?” We already know that D’Souza is unwilling to give this question an honest answer. Quite preposterously, D’Souza’s response to the charge that the US is an imperialist power is to feature the suffering of an American fighter pilot in Vietnam, thus trying to blind his viewers with militarized moralism into missing the point. D’Souza then proceeds to rewrite the entire history of US military interventionism as a grand act of charity. The Pentagon is just another humanitarian NGO. The US bombed Afghanistan in order to deliver food rations, and massacred Vietnamese so that they could stand on their own two feet. The narrative is as cruel as it is idiotic.

“Far from stealing, America rebuilt Germany…,” D’Souza says, either ignorant or dishonest about the US plundering German and Italian gold reserves. Then D’Souza adds: “As Colin Powell said, ‘the only land that America asks for abroad is land to bury our dead’”—yes, that and enough real estate that just to house US military bases equals the total surface area of Belgium. Again, the basic working assumption behind this film is that it is preaching to a singularly gullible and uneducated crowd of rubes.

(5)Capitalism: does it rip off the consumer?” Assuming that the answer is going to be “no,” why did D’Souza leave out the producer? In his capitalism, there are no workers. He also assumes consent in the absence of actual choice: “capitalism works… through the consent of the consumer”. There is undoubtedly some truth in that, but the fact of the matter is that none of us ever voted on whether we wanted capitalism. Predictably, D’Souza also eliminates any consideration of the 2008 crash and its aftermath—capitalism works so well, but we are nonetheless required to forget its failure, even when it happened mere moments ago.

D’Souza digresses into a discussion of how much Americans give to charity, and shows scenes of soup kitchens in the US. But if capitalism works so well, lifts people out of poverty (as he has the economist Jagdish Bhagwati say in the film), and is not a producer of injustice—then why the need for charity? Where did poverty come from? Did it come from Howard Zinn and Bill Ayers?

D’Souza returns at this point to flatly asserting that American wealth was never stolen, it was created—despite all the times even his own film showed otherwise. He also asserts that the US is “the answer” to the world’s problems, and brings in U2’s Bono to preach to us how America is an “idea,” one that apparently sucks up all the world’s goodness and humanity into itself.

Summary: American Indians can go back to roaming the wilderness but they prefer casino life, thanks to us; Mexicans wish we had stolen their entire country, even though Americans never steal; African Americans should start up their own hair care product lines; American bombs are a type of charitable donation; capitalism is all about consensual consumption.

Thus, at the 70 minute mark, the film could have ended. Instead, it swerves into slamming Saul Alinsky for the next unnecessary and remarkably uninteresting 30 minutes.

Something about Saul Alinsky

By this point, I had lost all patience and even interest in the film, which I forced myself to watch for the usual number of times (four). More than that, I lost all confidence in D’Souza as a competent and honest story-teller. Though it would seem easy enough to indict Alinsky with his own audio recordings, as he appears to have been a particularly sly and sinister political entrepreneur—D’Souza appears to have nothing new to add that countless others have already said. Instead, he seems to be driven to nurturing a conspiracy theory, one so powerful that we have to wonder why he wasted our time talking so much about Howard Zinn. Ultimately, this section of the film is the one that has to do the least with the topic of the film’s title, and the fact that it found a place in the film speaks to D’Souza’s urge to use his film for narrow, partisan point-scoring. The film was never about America; it was about securing Republican victory at the polls. We can now move on to the conclusion quite safely.


Since along with this film I also borrowed a copy of Dinesh D’Souza’s more recent film, Death of a Nation, I have serious doubts about losing time even viewing it once. One should not write a review having lost all patience with a film, and all respect for the filmmaker, but this is what D’Souza has provoked.

This film is not a documentary, contrary to the manner in which is categorized and how it represents itself to audiences. The film would have no place in any classroom, except as the object of a critical study of elite propaganda and myth-making. The film suffers from a dearth of honesty, accuracy, or even basic respect for its viewers. Given the grave nature of this film’s abundant failings, and again because it does not meet even minimal standards for consideration as a documentary, it deserves a score of nothing higher than 0/10.

(This documentary review forms part of the war and geopolitics series on Zero Anthropology. This documentary was viewed four times before the written review was published.)

8 thoughts on “America: Imagine an America without Her

  1. Ivo

    Geez Max. I am amazed you could sacrifice the brain cells to watch this four times, if I understood you correctly. Certainly appreciate the self-discipline and detailed effort to set the record straight but I am afraid its a futile effort. Don’t know if you get out much and travel south of your border but I would safely say that the overwhelming majority of my follow citizens believe this kind of clap trap in one form or another – liberal, conservative, whatever – the centerpiece being that we are ‘special’ and the rules do not apply to us and that we are the envy of the world because we are so good, that our personal intentions are all that matters.

    Living in Vermont you’d think a state that is supposedly progressive and liberal that there would be some of level of critique and resistance to empire, but no ho, god forbid you publicly state anything unpatriotic about American capitalism or critical of the military. The media, even the ‘alternative’ hipster media never breaths a word of critical thought, never questions the larger narratives and openly colludes in keeping people cheerfully ignorant and consumed with their own middle class morality play. The state of bullshit bernie – people here barely even know who Assange is and why he’s in jail, much less care. New brew pubs are more important.

    1. Maximilian C. Forte

      Thanks Ivo, at least for suffering through the review and then watching your comment apparently vanish thanks to the wonders of WordPress.

      I do listen to talk radio from Vermont in fact, almost daily, enough to have become very familiar with the usual routine of Brian Kilmeade, Rush Limbaugh, and Howie Carr. I don’t know if there are any talk radio shows from the left, because the radio stations I get never have any–and again, these are broadcasting from Vermont. The level of de facto censorship that occurs in both the US and Canada is reaching unprecedented levels.

      Anyway, thanks for your comment because it also helped me to decide to skip any review of D’Souza’s latest film (especially after reading some of the other reviews that are already out there).

      1. Karl Kolchak

        Max: the only counterweight to Rush Limbaugh, etc., is NPR (or National Propaganda Radio as I think of it). What you’ll hear on NPR is the ideological equivalent of what Ivo is describing about Vermont. The true leftist talk shows have mostly been consigned to the Internet–the Jimmy Dore show being one of the best:

      2. Maximilian C. Forte

        NPR is almost unbearable. Jimmy Dore is new to me (just this year), and I have enjoyed what I have seen/heard so far. What I was hoping for was more diversity of news talk radio shows, which currently offer such a narrow band of opinion that it does not seem reflective of anything that we might expect in an actual “democracy”. The best solution I have found is a substitute to the shortwave radio that I used to own, and that is free Internet radio that allows one to select channels from all over the world.

  2. Karl Kolchak

    I’m a 54-year-old American, and not being an academic I’ll admit that it probably wasn’t until the 2008 election that I had ever before the name “Saul Alinsky,” and that was when unhinged conservatives like D’Souza and his ilk began trying to tie him to Obama. Having thus learned a bit about Alinsky thanks to his ideological enemies, I came to the the view that while the guy might have been no saint he was at least eminently preferable to them.

    All kidding aside, I really wonder who D’Souza’s intended audience is for this screed. I’ll bet no more than a tiny fraction of Americans have ever heard of Alinksi or Zinn or even Chomsky, and what’s more they don’t care. As for the Five Indictments, given how most Americans are not even trained to consider such ideas, D’Souza is almost risking doing more harm to his cause than good by even bringing them up. My hope is that some young libertarian whose brain hasn’t yet completely melted into mush might watch this “documentary” in earnest and the very exposure to such notions might plant the seed that causes him to start questioning his ideological faith.

    Well, I can dream can’t I?

    1. Maximilian C. Forte

      That is an interesting possibility, that D’Souza may be providing free advertising for critiques that his viewer base might not normally consider. In that case, it would be a propitious accidental outcome.

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