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Spielberg’s War:
Saving Private Ryan & the Jewish Experience

[1]4,297 words

Saving Private Ryan is widely acknowledged to be one of the best war films ever made. Released in 1998, the film quickly became both a critical and commercial success, and was soon nominated for 11 Oscars – ultimately going on to win five (including both Best Picture and Best Director). Spielberg was praised for challenging both audience desensitization and the idea of World War II as some sort of “glamorous” or “romantic”[1] [2] affair, and said he “wanted to achieve reality”[2] [3] in his portrayal of the conflict. In particular, the first half-an-hour of the film has received especial praise for its brutally intense portrayal of modern warfare – and was reckoned to be so realistic that many PTSD-prone veterans were advised not to go see it.

Furthermore, in a society increasingly marked by its effeminacy and the specter of the ‘nu-male’, the film offers a refreshing glimpse of the rugged masculinity we associate with the ‘greatest generation’ – e.g. ‘when men were men’ (Spielberg claimed the character of Captain Miller was based on his own veteran father).[3] [4] This makes the film one of the few examples of positive male role models in modern cinema, and it is no doubt for this reason that (despite Spielberg’s liberal leanings) the film remains a conservative favorite.

However, regardless of the film’s technical proficiency and superficially conservative themes, we need to examine it a lot more critically – especially given Spielberg’s reputation as a curator of the public consciousness and the status of his films as ‘educational experiences’ – through which we can relive the worst episodes of our own history. Even many normie critics are puzzled by some of the film’s apparent contradictions – why is a film that ostensibly portrays the horrors of modern warfare bookended by nearly ten minutes of overt patriotism? Isn’t this a weird way to bookend a film that’s meant to portray war in an unheroic light?

This is where it becomes useful to be a race realist. Those of us ‘in the know’ realize that we cannot ignore the glaring issue of Spielberg’s ethnic heritage. To be cursed with the gift of understanding is a heavy burden, but it also gives us an inimitable advantage over the normie film critic: we have an appreciation of the millennia of collective experience that undoubtedly feed into and inform Spielberg’s artistic expression – without which any analysis of his work is fundamentally incomplete.

Now that we have the necessary analytical tools to deconstruct this film, let’s start digging into it a bit more critically. Though the film ostensibly strips away the aura of ‘heroics’ surrounding war, there are many other ways in which it subtly glorifies it. Yes, the film portrays modern warfare very realistically at times (“muh Omaha beach scene”). But as with all cinematic language, the issue is not just what the film shows, but what the film doesn’t show: i.e. the issue of ‘framing.’ The important thing is not that the suffering and brutality of war is shown, the important thing is where it is shown in the film, and what is shown before and after it.

It’s a given of cinematic language that a narrative doesn’t start off where you want to end – there is some sort of journey involved in reaching the moral message you want your audience to imbibe. War films are no exception. They take you on an emotional journey. Think about their typical structure. Most (think of All Quiet on the Western Front) start off from a high point of idealism, then gradually move to a low point of cynicism and personal tragedy as the film progresses. Our heroes, persuaded of the rightness of their cause and captivated by visions of personal glory, rush to enlist, only to come face-to-face with the grim reality of war. The film sets up expectations of glory and heroism, only to subvert them over the course of the film.

If Saving Private Ryan were genuinely an anti-war film, it would have followed a similar structure: it would have started by following the lives of our characters as war broke out, as they enlisted and went through basic training, as they reassured both themselves and their families of the rightness of their cause, only to see them mercilessly gunned down at the film’s climax, with the survivors questioning what it was all for.[4] [5]

This is why most anti-war films do not start with their biggest set-piece battle – they finish with it. Saving Private Ryan essentially does the opposite. By having the most gruesome and realistic depictions of war at the beginning, Spielberg neatly turns the classic anti-war formula on its head. In most anti-war films, war is set up as good, only to be revealed as bad. In Saving Private Ryan the opposite happens: war is set up as bad, only for us to be gradually persuaded that it is good. If the film had just been trying to show us the innate cruelty of war, it would have remained on the beach and dwelt upon the suffering of the wounded and dying – it would never have left the beach, because there would have been no more story to tell.[5] [6]

Instead, the Omaha Beach scene (which, if placed at the end of the film, would have caused us to be permanently repulsed at the brutality of mechanized warfare) simply serves to set up a film where war itself is ‘redeemed’. Spielberg has thus left himself more than enough time to challenge our initial perceptions in the film’s remaining two-and-a-half hours.[6] [7]

But surely, I hear you say, the opening scene is just there to set the tone for the rest of the film? After all, a cool war movie has got to start with a cool battle scene – isn’t that standard cinematic practice? Well, yes. But what’s more telling is that the rest of the film doesn’t really follow the tone that’s been set. As I said, if the film wanted to emphasis the true horror of war, it would simply have remained on the beach. Instead, the camera quickly moves away and accompanies our heroes on a more traditional action-adventure narrative. And since our view of the war comes through the eyes of our characters, it’s only natural that their experience of war is our experience of it. We see nothing beyond what they see, and have nothing else to base our conclusions on. Thus, when the film moves away from the beach, the carnage there quickly slips from our minds.

The drastic way in which the film departs from the tone it has set reveals the true purpose of the Omaha beach scene – to provide a sort of moral ‘momentum’ for the rest of the film. Again, Spielberg is very selective in what he shows and what he leaves out of the frame – he keeps the camera on the carnage of the battlefield as long as is needed to invest us in the narrative, and no longer. Despite the opening scene’s ostensible realism, the film’s cloyingly sentimental prologue has already been not-so-subtly trying to transfigure the fallen American soldiers as heroic warriors fighting for a righteous cause (remember that we must wade through five minutes of schmaltzy patriotism before we are even introduced to Tom Hanks’ character – yet another way in which Spielberg frames the opening scene), so we are naturally outraged when they are senselessly slaughtered on the beach. The point of the Omaha Beach scene is not just to get us to sympathize with their plight, it is to get us to subconsciously identify with their cause. Thus, when an American soldier falls, we feel the cathartic urge to take up the cause for which they died and continue the charge up the beach.

The flipside of this subconscious connection with the plight and cause of the American soldier is a corresponding hatred for the faceless enemy who mercilessly guns him down. This leads us on to the second issue of framing: the dehumanization of the Germans. It is here that Spielberg’s sublimated racial animosities start to become evident. While the American soldiers are portrayed as courageous, heroic and self-sacrificial, the same is rarely true of their German counterparts.

Consider also the way in which soldiers on both sides die. While American soldiers die in terrible pain while pathetically calling for their mothers or desperately trying to pass on notes to their loved one (i.e. in ways designed to elicit sympathy from us), German soldiers (perhaps sensing the moral qualms of the audience) invariable die obligingly and conveniently quickly. An anti-war film would emphasise the common humanity of soldiers under all flags, and the fact that they were ‘all in it together’ (think of the ‘Christmas Truce’ of 1914). Our hostility would thus be directed up the chain of command, against the ‘top brass’ that send men from both sides to their deaths.

But Spielberg allows us no such easy target. The single-minded steadfastness of our protagonists (who seem utterly convinced as to the morality of their cause) leaves us just one outlet for our pent-up rage: the hapless soldiers on the other side of the frontline. The film’s internal logic remorselessly drives us to the conclusion that the German must be destroyed for our negative emotion to be released – we need them to die.

Thus, the Germans become not people, but targets, to be gunned down like so many cardboard cutouts in a shooting gallery. The film basically becomes Skinner’s ‘operant conditioning’ in cinematic form: like Pavlov’s dog, we are trained (through the promise of emotional release) to metaphorically ‘shoot’ the German without even making the decision to do so – it becomes an unthinking reflex. The scene with Private Jackson in the bell tower thus assumes a more sinister meaning. When Jackson fixes a German in his crosshairs, we are not merely passive onlookers (Spielberg specifically noted that he “didn’t want … the audience to be spectators”[7] [8]) – we are emotionally present, and we will him to shoot. When he pulls the trigger, we are pulling it in our minds along with him.

At this point, many people might be objecting – “so what if the film doesn’t include a German perspective, surely the story is told from an American point of view? Not every German soldier needs a ridiculously long backstory and an exaggerated death scene – it’s a movie!” I get it. After all, we have few moral qualms about seeing gunned down en masse in more traditional action flicks like Where Eagles Dare.

However, the issue is, again, not merely the onscreen act of a German soldier being killed, but the way the act is framed. In Saving Private Ryan, by the time we see German soldiers being killed, Spielberg has been careful to build up such a sense of emotional impetus that we need a form of catharsis. Thus, when a German soldier is killed, it is not simply an act within the film, it is an act internal to our own subconsciousness as well – it has an effect in the real world.

In Where Eagles Dare, the henchmen are simply ‘there’. We harbor no particular animosity towards them – they are merely hapless goons who must be gunned down for the hero to reach his goal. They are merely plot points in action. Crudely put, their deaths mean nothing to us, because there is no negative emotion to release. Consequently, they can have no external emotional effect on us.

There is much more I could say on the dehumanization in the film, but would take it would take too long to express through the medium of the written word[8] [9], so for now I’ll restrict myself to focusing on just one of the film’s more disturbing subplots: that of Steamboat Willie and Upham. Unlike some of the other subtler methods we’ve talked about, this one is surface-level enough to disturb many of the film’s viewers.

When we first meet Steamboat Willie, he is reduced to literally playing the fool as he disowns his leader and his country in an attempt to appease his captors. Spielberg is sure to bring the camera right in and revel in the pathetic pleading and humiliation of the German. But again, he is careful to frame the scene so as to elicit the reaction he wants. Steamboat Willie begging for his life, a sight that might otherwise have attracted our sympathy (after all, he was just following orders) is overshadowed by the still-fading screams of the group’s medic, Wade, who has just spent several minutes begging to be euthanized as he dies in agony. This sequence is thus a microcosm of the film’s emotional framing in general. The humiliation of the German is preceded by the suffering of the American, so the former is simply seen as justly-deserved ‘payback’ for the latter.

Quite apart from this ritual dehumanization, though, is what the saga of Steamboat Willie represents: Captain Miller’s failure. Though “act of humanity”[9] [10] in freeing Steamboat Willie (against his better judgement) is ostensibly meant to convey the strength of his moral fiber even in the moral wilderness of war, this reading of the scene is confounded by the results that such an act reaps. When he gives into his humanity and frees the hapless soldier, we would reasonably expect that an act of goodwill will reap good consequences somewhere further down the line – perhaps Steamboat Willie will corner Miller at some future point, but decide to spare him. After all, isn’t this the basic lesson of moral reciprocity we have been taught since birth – ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’?

However, this is not what happens. Far from repaying Captain Miller’s compassion, Steamboat Willie is ultimately the one to strike him down. Thus, Miller’s act is transformed from one of kindness to one of naivety – and Steamboat Willie becomes a metaphor for the innate villainy of the German – who is apparently destined by his very nature to repay this act of mercy by stabbing his captor in the back as soon as he turns away. The German is thus stripped of one of the essential elements of humanity: moral reciprocity.

This is where the character of Upham comes in. Though his subplot is ostensibly your typical redemption arc (he begins the film as timid and inexperienced, and after his cowardice causes him to fail his comrades, must summon up the courage to do the right thing), the specifics of his actions have disturbing implications for the moral message we take from the film. He does indeed have to learn to do what the right thing, but what Spielberg considers to be the right thing is rather distasteful to our gentile sensibilities. But again, it may be instructive to compare his story to what might it might have been in a normal war film. If Upham’s story arc really was about finding redemption through courage, it would have gone something like this:

As in the film, Upham starts off as a timid and inexperienced character with little stomach for war. Thus, his nerve fails him when he is needed most, and he is forced to deal with the guilt of letting down his comrades. However, he redeems himself by saving his comrades during some retreat from advancing German forces, and gives his life to delay the advance long enough for his friends to get away.

This is just an example – but it would far better convey the message that most people attribute to Upham’s subplot. Instead, his story arc consists of learning to quash his moral objections to committing war crimes. Many gentile critics have found the scene where he puts down Steamboat Willie similarly disturbing (‘morally dubious’ is a common understatement in reviews of the film), but they cannot deny the logic that has led the story to this point.

Again, an act that might otherwise repulse us has already been framed – the agonizing death of Private Mellish[10] [11] that comes right before this scene has already stoked our desire for vengeance. Steamboat Willie was, of course, surrendering – the battle is essentially over by this point in the film, and his death accomplished next-to-nothing. Unlike the villains in Spielberg’s indictments of slavery and the Holocaust, he had committed no unforgivable act. But we find that we do not care. We demand that Upham pull the trigger. Like the intentions behind the real-life Kaufman and Morgenthau Plans, the German cannot be trusted even in defeat – and his existence is ultimately too dangerous to be allowed to continue.[11] [12]

Mellish thus becomes the counterpart to Captain Miller – he ‘succeeds’ where Miller ‘failed’ – and at the same time redeems himself for persuading Miller to spare Steamboat Willie in the first place. In many ways, he is the most important character in the film, because it is through him (rather than the film’s comparatively superficial protagonist) that Spielberg speaks most clearly.

Finally, we come to the central objective of the film – the eponymous Private Ryan himself. What does this character represent? Here a study of the rest of Spielberg’s oeuvre may prove beneficial. It is notable that, while Spielberg’s other two wartime films (Empire of the Sun and Schindler’s List) both depict the alleged atrocities committed against non-white peoples by Western nations (internment of the Japanese and the Holocaust, respectively), this seems not to be the subject matter of Saving Private Ryan – which appears to tell a smaller and more personal story. Or does it?

It seems odd that the same film that has been at pains to tell us that the sacrifice of 22 men to save one general was an unacceptable loss also tells us that the deaths of dozens of soldiers are worth it to save one lowly Private. The only way to justify this rate of exchange mathematically is to assume that Ryan’s life is simply worth more. But what World War II objective of negligible strategic value could Spielberg wish us think was worth sacrificing so many men over, if only so they could assuage their own guilt? The parallels with Spielberg’s own co-ethnics are too tempting to ignore. Ryan thus becomes an analogy for the Jewish people themselves, and the mission to save him simply a microcosm of the cause that makes the entire war moral in the first place – the task of ‘saving’ the Jewish race and destroying their historic enemy.[12] [13] By reaffirming our faith in the rightness of the mission, the filmmaker is reaffirming our faith in the rightness of the war.[13] [14]

The film thus essentially becomes a Jewish religious narrative.[14] [15] What other message can we take away than that the apparent purpose of gentile lives is to be sacrificed en masse to save the Chosen People? Yet this was the real impetus behind World War II. We did not have to go to war against our European brothers – we could have made peace with Hitler in 1939 (who himself tried to do so several times before and after the outbreak of war).[15] [16] In truth, it was not Hitler that was set on war, but Churchill.

Seen in this light, one of the more personal moments in the film – Miller’s injunction to Ryan at the film’s ending to “earn this” – becomes an interesting look into the Jewish psyche: it reveals the complex relationship they have with their experience of World War II. Unlike many of the world’s other ethnic groups, the Jewish people have existed as a diaspora for the last few millennia. Thus, one of the overriding drives in the Jewish mentality is the need to maintain their cohesion in a hostile culture – and one of the best ways of doing this is through shared experience. In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, around 70% of U.S. Jews said commemorating the events of World War II was an essential criterion of Jewishness (above even Jewish ancestry).[16] [17] This is why their relationship with the Holocaust is so complex – because, in a perverse sort of way, they need it.

The Holocaust also has a soteriological dimension – it has become a bizarre sort of post-Christian narrative, in which the Holocaust is the sacrifice (etymologically, the ‘burnt offering’) the Jewish people make to become worthy to rule over the goyim.[17] [18]

Miller’s injunction to Ryan thus assumes a dual meaning – Spielberg is both reminding his co-ethnics of the one of the foundations of their identity and exhorting them to become worthy of all the suffering they endured at the hands of the German – to claim their rightful inheritance as the Chosen Race. It also makes a mockery of Spielberg’s claim to ‘commemorate’ the death of all those U.S. servicemen in any meaningful sense – in his worldview, their sacrifice was only meaningful in that it was made on behalf of the Jewish race.

But why then, if this film is about the Jewish experience, is it told from a gentile perspective, and not from a Jewish one? This method of storytelling is nothing new for Spielberg. It is no coincidence that both of his definitive depictions of the Holocaust and slavery (Schindler’s List and Amistad) are told not from the perspective of their victims, but of high-status gentiles intimately connected with their perpetration.[18] [19]

But these conscientious whites are the very people that Spielberg wants to recruit – he realizes that only the European has the power to effect change in today’s world. Spielberg is realistic about the political process – he recognizes that, for all the moral efficacy of the tale of the underdog, they cannot ultimately effect change on a world-historical scale – they need a patron first.

This is also why Spielberg, in many ways, does not complete his story – we do not ultimately know if Ryan lived a good life, if Miller’s sacrifice was worth it. Through this final withholding of catharsis, the morally-sensitive white is forced to seek resolution for themselves, in the real world. Spielberg wishes us to be the authors of change.[19] [20]

And how does Spielberg wish us to seek catharsis? By atoning for the sins of our ancestors. Spielberg’s films should thus be taken not only as commentaries on the Jewish experience, but also as ‘instruction manuals’ on how their gentile ‘allies’ are to act. It is by watching these films that the virtue-signaling white knows what feasance is required of them to meet their racial obligations and relieve their burden of hereditary guilt. Spielberg thus hopes to recruit us into furthering our own dispossession.[20] [21]

I hope this analysis has been useful in exposing some of the more insidious anti-white themes present in today’s popular culture. Like so many normies out there, it would be so easy to just sit back and unthinkingly digest all the prolefeed society throws our way. Sometimes, like Cypher in the Matrix, we wish we could go back to that life. But we are called to a higher mission, a higher purpose – the task of reawakening our people. And this time, no amount of propaganda will divide us.


[1] [22] Paul Vercammen, “Spielberg aims to tell truth about war in ‘Saving Private Ryan’,” CNN, July 23, 1998, http://edition.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9807/23/private.ryan/ [23]

[2] [24] Jeff Gordinier, “Saving Private Ryan: Message in a Battle,” Entertainment Weekly, July 24, 1998, http://ew.com/movies/1998/07/24/saving-private-ryan-message-battle/ [25];

[3] [26] Ibid.

[4] [27] Naturally, pacifism (as well as being logically and morally incoherent) is not a message I endorse, but a film with an openly pacifistic message would be least be honest and transparent as to its intentions (and could be logically met and refuted). Spielberg, regrettably (but perhaps inevitably), is not.

[5] [28] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEKSCwA38L0 [29]

[6] [30] We must remember that the Omaha Beach scene, intense as it is, takes up only 20 minutes of screen time – and yet it is the only thing most people mention when talking about the film.

[7] [31] Roger Ebert, “Private Spielberg,” RogerEbert.com, July 19, 1998, https://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/private-spielberg [32]

[8] [33] If anyone is interested in a deeper analysis of these themes, check out Rob Ager’s analysis of the film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4FeyONCtfc [34]

[9] [35] Paul Bullock, “Saving Captain Miller: Spielberg, Private Ryan and the Morality of War,” Medium, May 14, 2017, https://medium.com/from-director-steven-spielberg/saving-captain-miller-spielberg-private-ryan-and-the-morality-of-war-55588de70663 [36]

[10] [37] Contrary to popular belief, the soldier that Upham puts down is not the same one that who kills Mellish, but it is perhaps not a coincidence that Spielberg chose to cast such similar-looking stony-faced and middle-aged men with shaved heads in both roles, rather than the youths with full heads of hair and familiar cuts who assuredly constituted the bulk of the Waffen SS by 1944 (still a subject of some controversy among re-enactors and history buffs) – a blank face is much easier to project our own fears onto.

[11] [38] It is also important to note where Saving Private Ryan comes in Spielberg’s filmography – unlike his previous two films, which served as indictments of Western atrocities, Spielberg here takes things a step further by justifying the killing of Germans. This marks a crucial shift in his thematic substance.

[12] [39] Though obviously Matt Damon is a model exemplar of the Aryan race, and is not very Jewish-looking (I tried to do some digging on any suspect ancestry, but to no avail), I suspect this is simply a clever ploy by Spielberg to dress up an otherwise unappealing imperative in a familiar aesthetic – hence the Nordic-looking Damon.

[13] [40] Spielberg is of course far too intelligent to believe that World War II was about securing our ‘freedoms’, and other such moralistic cant.

[14] [41] The way in which Private Jackson strikes down soldiers from above, like some Valkyrie from Germanic legend, while calling on the divine for help give his actions an explicitly religious quality.

[15] [42] Richard Tedor, Hitler’s Revolution (Chicago, 2013), 131-136.

[16] [43] http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/chapter-3-jewish-identity/ [44]

[17] [45] http://faithandheritage.com/2016/06/the-blasphemy-of-judeo-christianity-and-the-heresy-of-the-holocaust/ [46]

[18] [47] Biguenet, op. cit.

[19] [48] Bullock, op. cit.

[20] [49] This is also the reason Spielberg frames his film with such patriotic imagery – though, as a Jew, he obviously feels uncomfortable in a homogeneous society with a strong sense of national identity, it is his hope that he can weaponize a ‘toothless’ patriotism against its more muscular variants. In the same way, the film’s positive portrayal of masculinity is simply a way of weaponizing the instincts of the traditionally-minded against themselves.