Dirty Harry, The Dirty Hippie: Clint Eastwood Is Actually Anti-War

Whatever your political interpretation of American Sniper, it is somewhat surprising that the 84-year-old director has been labeled a warmongering propagandist whitewasher.

01.20.15 10:50 PM ET

Clint Eastwood: warmongering propagandist whitewasher.

That’s the gist of the pushback against Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film American Sniper, based on the memoir by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.

“A Republican platform movie,” New York magazine branded it. “I haven’t seen American Sniper, but correct me if I’m wrong: An occupier mows down faceless Iraqis but the real victim is his anguished soul,” tweeted author Max Blumenthal. “The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?” Lindy West wrote at The Guardian. “A neocon fantasy,” filmmaker Robert Greenwald said, noting that the movie has a “strong political agenda.”

Whatever your political interpretation of American Sniper, it is somewhat surprising that the 84-year-old director has attracted this kind of criticism, simply because Clint Eastwood is incredibly anti-war.

“I was against going into the war in Iraq since I figured we would probably trip over ourselves in some way,” Eastwood said following a screening of American Sniper in Beverly Hills. “I had a big question when we went into Afghanistan. Did anybody ever study the history of Afghanistan, not only with the British, but the Russians?…Contrary to public opinion, I abhor violence.”

When Eastwood delivered his bizarre chair-Obama speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, he somehow got the audience to applaud his dovish criticism of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

“I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that’s okay,” he said to invisible chair-Obama. “But you thought the war in Afghanistan was okay. You thought that was something that was worth doing. We didn’t check with the Russians to see how they did there for the 10 years.”

The Oscar-winning filmmaker has described his own politics as a blend of Milton Friedman and the famously anti-war intellectual Noam Chomsky. He identifies as a libertarian, and supports gay marriage and believes climate change is a problem.

His political image nowadays—hardly a GOP hardliner—is a remarkable shift from his position in popular culture in decades past, when you could have argued that he was a poster boy for right-wing, American toughness. “The movie’s moral position is fascist. No doubt about it,” Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the 1971 classic Dirty Harry—a film that looks none too kindly on civil liberties.

But Eastwood’s anti-war streak runs deeper than just Iraq and Afghanistan. “I was a child growing up during World War II,” he told the Toronto Star. “That was supposed to be the one to end all wars. And four years later, I was standing at the draft board being drafted during the Korean conflict, and then after that there was Vietnam, and it goes on and on forever…I just wonder…does this ever stop? And no, it doesn’t.”

His non-interventionist views also bleed into his work. “Clint Eastwood makes a huge anti-war statement with [2006’s Letters from Iwo Jima],” Fox News reported. His 2008 drama Gran Torino is vaguely anti- Korean War. He called The Outlaw Josey Wales, his 1976 Western set during the Civil War, an anti-war picture.

Still, both he and Bradley Cooper (who portrays Kyle) have insisted that American Sniper carries no political message, for or against war.

“My hope is that if someone is having a political conversation about whether we should or should not have been in Iraq, whether the war is worth fighting, whether we won, whether we didn’t, why are we still there, all those [issues], that really—I hope—is not one that they would use this movie as a tool for,” Cooper told The Daily Beast. “And for me, and for Clint, this movie was always a character study about what the plight is for a soldier…It’s not a political discussion about war, even…It’s a discussion about the reality. And the reality is that people are coming home [from war], and we have to take care of them.”