After seeing K-19: The Widowmaker, Holly McClure ( Crosswalk) wrote, "Before going to this movie, I realized I was a bit prejudiced about seeing a story that would require me to root for a communist Russian submarine and its crew. As a child, I remember the Cold War propaganda that viewed Russians as 'the enemy,' and even though that mindset in this country has clearly changed, I have to admit, I didn't think I would care about the story."

But McClure was impressed with the film and stirred by its suspenseful story. Should we be concerned if we find ourselves cheering for nuke-bearing Communists? The soldiers on board the K-19 submarine—the subject of director Kathryn Bigelow's new summer action/suspense film—are clearly committed Soviets who live in fear and hatred of America. We even see them watching anti-American propaganda films. Why then are audiences, even American moviegoers, rooting for them?

It's not the first time this has happened. The predicament of German sailors in Das Boot (still the greatest submarine film yet made) makes audiences hold their breath as the sub comes under attack. Perhaps our distance from World War II allows us to think more sympathetically of those who opposed us.

But there is more to it than that. War films that take us outside the usual good-guy/bad-guy dynamic can cultivate in us an ability to sympathize with our enemies. The metal confines of a sub's fragile and claustrophobia-inducing space remind us of how much we have in common with those of different political and religious convictions. Such sub-surface limitations reveal fears familiar to us, and the intensity of the drama inspires virtuous heroics that cannot help but move us. Our feelings about their political orientation become ...

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