Writing in the American Spectator, James Bowman finds some things to like about Dinesh D’Souza’s new documentary, America: Imagine the World Without Her, and some things to dislike as well. Bowman starts with the compliments:
The exhortation in the title of Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie — America: Imagine the World Without Her — suggests that it is going to be an exercise in what they call “counter-factual” history. In other words, imaginary history. History as it didn’t happen. And the opening of the film appears to bear this out, since we watch as an actor (John Koopman) portraying George Washington is shot and killed by a British sniper. Thereafter, however, the alternative history of our country, a history in which (presumably) the Revolutionary War was lost and the United States as we know them never came into existence as a single country, is forgotten, along with all other forms of idle speculation. Instead, we are taken straight into quite a different movie, one consisting of a rapid survey of real American history, organized so as to constitute a refutation of the late Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.
It should be said that Mr. D’Souza’s movie is all the better for abandoning the counter-factual. Every unfortunate student who has been assigned by some left-wing professor to read Zinn’s deplorable and politically tendentious book should see this movie in order to detox. It takes up and answers, one by one, five heads of the progressive indictment of America, as popularized by Zinn, according to her supposed victims. They are, in order, the Indians, Mexico, African slaves — who, after slavery, were also victims of segregation — and the worldwide multitudes suffering to this day under the yoke of American “colonialism” and “capitalism.” Together, they make up what Mr. D’Souza calls “the Zinn narrative of American shame,” and he’s here to prove to us that there is no need for us to be ashamed of it after all. On the contrary, America’s history is something for us to be proud of, just as it was once usual for people to think before the ideologues began writing it.
Bowman then brings the hammer down, arguing that D’Souza ventures unnecessarily into conspiracy theorizing:
If he had stopped there, I would have no hesitation in recommending this film as an excellent introduction to what had much better be called the shame narrative of American historiography and, thus, to real American history. But he does not stop there. Instead he goes on to yet another movie which bears remarkable similarities to his earlier film, 2016: Obama’s America (2012). In fact, that movie and the second half of this one really belong together under some such title as “Obama’s Secret Plan for America.” And my review of the earlier film could also serve for the latter part of America: Imagine the World Without Her. It boils down to approximately this: since we already know what Mr. Obama’s non-secret plan for America is and since, further, we also know how damaging that plan already has been and is likely to be in the future, why are we dissipating the energies that ought to be expended in opposing the known plan in order to expose what must remain the rather dubious unknown one?
I don’t think that this part of the film is annoying or destroys the credibility of the rest of the movie, but I agree that the structure of the film makes it less successful as a movie than it would otherwise be. I would have preferred that the entire film consist of D’Souza’s countering of the Zinn narrative, as that is the heart of the film and what makes it definitely worth watching. The ventures into counterfactual history and mild conspiracy theorizing are hardly optimal, but in no way do they ruin the film.
In fact, I would go rather farther than Bowman does and say that America: Imagine the World Without Her is essential viewing despite its structural flaws. Howard Zinn’s distortion of history, which Bownam aptly refers to as the “shame narrative” of American history, has been immensely influential over the past several decades and has been the impulse behind much of the political and cultural mischief of the post-Reagan years—political progressivism, educational decline, cultural relativism, and so on and on. It is a disgraceful lie, and one that did not fully originate with Zinn but which he conveyed with great effectiveness by aiming it at the nation’s schoolchildren.
It is important that this American shame narrative be countered and rooted out of its central position in the nation’s culture, and D’Souza is to be praised for doing so in this powerfully inspiring film. Despite its flaws, America: Imagine the World Without Her is a must-see for anyone who wants to help preserve what is great about the United States of America while fostering a future of positive change and reform in the years to come.