It may be a questionable expenditure of energy to attack Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie. For one thing, the film’s backstory, along with its troubled production, is already well known. According to biographer Andrew Morton, Cruise proffered the film as a Trojan horse to gain greater access to the German market for his Scientology racket, and, coincidentally or not, the German government recently relented its efforts to ban the organization. However, one need not fillip the sleazy machinations of Scientology or its poster child to discuss the greater and more disturbing elements of this latest version of "Good German" revisionism.

The film is based on the unsuccessful July 20, 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler. Co-conspirator Claus von Stauffenberg, an aristocratic and staunchly nationalist colonel who had been injured with the Afrika Korps in Tunisia, enters a high-level briefing room carrying a briefcase armed with a timed explosive. Shortly after excusing himself to make a phone call, the bomb detonates. Four people were killed, but not Hitler, who, thanks to being shielded by a heavy oak table, was not even seriously injured. In response, the regime executed the conspirators and an eventual total of some 200 people.

This story should properly be seen as a bit of skin-saving infighting among brutal reactionaries on the brink of ruin. But in the hands of Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, who are better known for superhero action films like X-Men and Superman Returns, motive, context, and relevance are distorted if not obliterated all together.

For starters, this assassination attempt occurred in 1944, after Stalingrad, after the fall of Mussolini, and after Normandy. The question of who would win the war had been long decided, and the pressing concern for the Germans—and the Allies—was how far west the Soviet counteroffensive would reach. Indeed, German resistance leaders like Stauffenberg were nearly as vehement in their opposition to the Soviets and communism as were the Nazis. Beyond their vacillating assassination plots, this German resistance also reached out to the Allies in attempts to arrange a conditional surrender in hopes of keeping the USSR off of German soil and winning immunity after the war. Eager not to alienate Stalin, who was understandably fearful of being betrayed and wary of leaving Germany less than thoroughly defeated, the U.S. and Britain ignored these haphazard efforts.

Members of this resistance, moreover, were informed by the same longstanding Greater Germany aims that inspired the Nazis. German war objectives of acquiring so-called living space in the east—and the demographic displacement this required—were not exclusive to Hitler or the Nazis as a whole. Rather, German dreams of intra-European colonialism stretched back decades and were informed by William II’s genocidal campaigns at the turn of the century in West Africa—campaigns that surely molded the values of the officer class that Stauffenberg personified. Stauffenberg et al. did not suddenly jettison the "survival of the fittest" mumbo jumbo that was a cornerstone of Nazi genocide, but rather applied its logic to their leader, determining that Hitler himself was now unfit to lead.

Just as German imperial aims transcended Nazism, so did anti-Semitism, a global phenomenon before and during World War II, and certainly prevalent in Germany apart from the Nazis. Accordingly, Stauffenberg was anti-Semitic. He wrote to his wife from Poland that Jews (and Poles) are a "people that is only comfortable under the lash. The thousands of prisoners will serve our agriculture well." But he was reportedly scandalized by some of the Nazis’ graver crimes after Operation Barbarossa and he did not condone exterminating the whole of world Jewry.

Twice in the film, Stauffenberg (played rather well by Cruise) earnestly cries, "Long live sacred Germany." This premise that the Nazis represented an anomaly in German history and that this small and self-serving resistance reflected the "real Germany" is as dubious as it is ubiquitous, composing the theme of popular films such as Sophie Scholl and constituting the wish fulfillment of Germanophile revisionists in general.

Stauffenberg and his cohorts were motivated by similar geopolitical principles as was Hitler and their ideologies were more alike than not. As far as his would-be assassins were concerned, Hitler’s main mistake, to paraphrase AJP Taylor, was losing the war.



Joshua Sperber lives in Seattle and can be reached at A version of this article appeared earlier in Tikkun.