Skip

Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States
December 23, 2013 7:49 AM   Subscribe

"Untold History of the United States challenges the basic narrative of the U.S. history that most Americans have been taught.... [Such history] is consoling; it is comforting. But it only tells a small part of the story." Instead of clips of modern people pondering the past, Oliver Stone's ten-part series relies heavily on archival footage and clips from old Hollywood films, with narration by Stone. Towards the end, he gets into the assassination of JFK, "but that should not detract from a series that sets out to be a counterweight to the patriotic cheerleading and myth-making."

For more on the Showtime series, you can read the New York Times piece, "Oliver Stone Rewrites History -- Again" by Andrew Goldman (Nov. 12, 2012), which provides a review of Stone's career, and interviews him at length; and An Interview with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick by Satoko Oka Norimatsu and Narusawa Muneo for Counterpunch, in which the two men talk at length on their thoughts on war in general, and specific wars.

Episodes:
1 - World War II (alternate source)
A review of pivotal but underreported events that shaped America's history over the 20th century begins with an exploration of key strategies that impacted the tide of World War II, and a study of major decision makers, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Henry A. Wallace.
2 - Roosevelt, Truman, & Walace
A look at the impact of Harry S. Truman replacing Henry A. Wallace as Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president during FDR's fourth term.
3 - The Bomb (alt. source 1; alt. source 2)
An exploration of the strategies behind the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
4 - The Cold War: 1945-1950 (alt. source)
As the Cold War intensifies, Winston Churchill makes his Iron Curtain speech, civil war erupts in Greece and the Red Scare ushers in McCarthyism.
5 - The '50s: Eisenhower, The Bomb & The Third World War
Despite Stalin's death, relations with the Soviet Union do not improve and the Cold War turns colder. Also: the H-bomb and the threat of nuclear annihilation are explored; the U.S. policy toward Third World nations is examined; and Eisenhower's impact as president is assessed.
6 - JFK: To The Brink (alt. source)
Examining the Bay of Pigs invasion; the early stages of the Vietnam War; John F. Kennedy's efforts to make peace with the Soviet Union; and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
7 - Johnson, Nixon & Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune (alt. source)
The war in Vietnam reaches a turning point; President Nixon's involvement in Watergate comes to light.
8 - Regan, Gorbachev & Third World-Rise of the Right (alt. source)
Ronald Reagan succeeds Jimmy Carter; Reagan and the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev powwow; and Reagan's legacy is examined.
9 - Bush & Clinton: Squandered Peace-New World Order (alt. source)
Included: George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the U.S. economy; the end of the Cold War; and national security in America.
10 - Bush & Obama - Age of Terror (alt. source)
In the Season 1 finale, the war on terrorism and the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama are examined.
Bonus: Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick Discuss "The Untold History of the United States" at the Illinois Institute of Technology Department of Humanities (1:12:35)

Counterpoints and Criticism:
* Oliver Stone’s Junk History of the United States Debunked, by Michael Moynihan (Daily Beast, Nov. 19, 2012)
* Oliver Stone’s Untold History Is Neither Good History Nor Quite Untold by Michelle Dean (Slate, Nov. 20, 2012)
* Cherry-Picking Our History, by Sean Wilentz (The New York Review of Books, Feb. 21, 2013)
posted by filthy light thief (66 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wish Showtime had spent the money on Thaddeus Russell's book instead. Stone's series was hardly "untold."
posted by Ideefixe at 8:07 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's no denying Oliver's a bit kooky (he was on the Nerdist podcast recently and still doesn't understand the "Magic Bullet" mockery of the single-bullet theory has been thoroughly debunked), but anything that encourages people to look beyond the simplistic myths and narratives promulgated by the infotainment complex is okay by me.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:08 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


All the same, I hope that the younger generations benefit from this excellent series.
posted by planetesimal at 8:11 AM on December 23, 2013


You know it's not like I had actual Stuff to do but even so man, between this and the Iron Chef post I'm going to just wreck the shit out of my bandwidth caps and get absolutely nothing done for the next, I dunno, month or two.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:16 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stone & Kuznick wrote a response to Willentz's critique. Willentz wrote back: 'Untold History': An Exchange.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:17 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


In college, I took a course titled "Oliver Stone's Cold War". One thing I learned about Stone is that he benefits hugely from his detractors. "Stone contra Ambrose" is an easy fight to win. There's actually a lack of real criticism of his work, because his critics tend to be awful.

Here too, the criticisms tend to be sloppy. Dean says he has "megalomania", and she gets one of JFK's plot points wrong. One of the characters (who should not automatically be assumed to be Stone's voice, especially since it was based on a real person who suggested it) says that Johnson may have something to do with a cover-up, not the actual assassination of Kennedy. Stone's lionizing of Wallace is indeed silly, but Dean's takeaway from that is "Stone is imagined as some radical leftist, but every hero in his work turns out to be a white man, usually a quite successful one of good education and breeding." That's seriously weak-sauce. Stone is supposed to admire the all the black Vice-Presidents we had in the 1940's? The remainder of the piece descends into just calling Stone an "angry old white man".

Moynihan is little better: "Did you know that the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II too was an anti-Soviet provocation, which “exacerbated Soviet fears of both a rearmed Germany and capitalist encirclement”?

This is, in fact, true. It did provoke the Soviets; saying it didn't puts a former Reason editor in the weird position of defending Stalin's prudence. I personally think it was still a good idea- if Stone doesn't, you could surely attack his naivete about Stalin- but Moynihan doesn't make an argument, he just points to an out-of-context quote and hopes we'll agree. We're not told where Stone goes with making this point; Moynihan is really just hoping we'll make an assumption.

He continues in this vain: "North Korea invaded the South with Moscow’s blessing, but “believing that a South Korean attack on the North was coming, Stalin decided to act first.” Do we know Stalin didn't think this? I don't know, because Moynihan doesn't do anything; he just hopes we'll assume Stone meant Stalin was merely defending himself.

Look, Stalin was evil and the Soviets were bad news, but that doesn't mean they didn't think America was out to get them. We were!

He goes on: "Exhausting their supply of weasel words, the authors write that “the Soviet economy appeared to be booming”, “Soviet society seemed to be undergoing an incredible transformation,” and there were “indications of Soviet success.”

Yes, all of this was false. Except conservatives scaremongered with just such assertions for the entire Cold War!

And again: "Stone and Kuznick argue that the United States must shoulder almost all of the guilt, offer the stunning conclusion that “the Soviet Union had more often than not exercised restraint upon their allies [sic]”

We know this to be true in many cases. Stalin told Mao to wait. We know now that the Soviets were trying to reign in Fidel during the Missile Crisis.

I have a lot of problems with Stone; but many of his critics employ the same sloppiness they accuse him of. I haven't read Wilentz's review yet, I hope it's a fair take.
posted by spaltavian at 8:18 AM on December 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering, for what it's worth, this series is on DVD and BluRay, so you might be able to find it at your local library and save your bandwidth. And the BluRay comes with a bonus disc for a few additional hours of information/ entertainment/ whatnot.

Going To Maine, thanks for that!
posted by filthy light thief at 8:19 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


My mother handed me the book that goes along with this when I was visiting a while ago. The hagiography of Wallace was a bit off putting and was the bit on the use of the atomic bomb was, at best, historically tone deaf. After skimming those parts, I put the book down. I must admit that I don't trust anything historically that Stone has to say after JFK and this did nothing to change that bias.

My response to my mom was that they should have simply made a series out of A People's History of the United States. Better book, better history, better historiography.
posted by Hactar at 8:20 AM on December 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


My response to my mom was that they should have simply made a series out of A People's History of the United States. Better book, better history, better historiography.

That would also have the benefit of not being a "History of the United States" that starts with World War II.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:43 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, the titles is a bit inaccurate, I'll give you that. Then again, everyone whose high school US history teacher dragged ass all year through the 18th and 19th centuries and covered the 20th century in the last week of the year, raise your hands...
posted by entropicamericana at 8:54 AM on December 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


The DVDs are wrapped and under the tree for my son.
posted by COD at 8:54 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


the "Magic Bullet" mockery of the single-bullet theory has been thoroughly debunked

Can you restate as I don't understand if the mockery is considered "thoroughly debunked" or the explanation of how 1 bullet did all it did (sometimes called "magic bullet") is considered "thoroughly debunked". Simple mocking of an historically important event should be left to fake news shows run by comedians who are also doobie-based movie stars.

Identifying who did the "debunking" and their actual arguments would also be useful rather than just declaring something to be so. If I want to hear something is so because we say it is so I'll go dig up the CSPAN re-runs of statements about how wonderful the NSA is. (Because the NSA is wonderful and truthful. I'm sure no one would ever violate any law in front of Congress let alone violate the rights of the Citizens to hear the truth when people speak in front of Congress. I'm sure there has to be a fundamental right for the citizens to hear the truth when such statements are made as part of the law-making process, right? )

Stalin told Mao to wait

OSS (the group turned into the CIA) has ex-staffers who claimed they helped Mao into power. Didn't the good Chairman owe 'em a little sum'n-sum'n?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:03 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I saw the first three episodes of this before it came out, at Lincoln Center. It was pretty devastating... the first two were interesting, but you could see people crying at the third one (including me).

I'm not seeing many arguments against his viewpoint here, frankly. "The hagiography of Wallace" was very interesting to me - as a non-American, I didn't know much about him at all, and it's pretty amazing how close someone deeply on the left, a real "communist sympathizer", got to the Presidency. I don't think you can argue with Stone's fundamental point here - that Wallace got robbed of the Veepdom by the Democratic machine, and that things would have been dramatically different if we'd had Wallace instead of Truman, who was not particularly well-informed or intelligent.

His other point out of the first three was that Japan would have surrendered when Russia entered the conflict and that the US knew this. He presents a great deal of evidence about this and he convinced me...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:14 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anybody know where this video can be viewed freely? I get a popover demanding I disable my ad-blocker to look at it which I ain't gonna do unless the documentary maker is my boss.
posted by bukvich at 9:15 AM on December 23, 2013


oops never mind I see the alternate source is there in the post and it works!
posted by bukvich at 9:17 AM on December 23, 2013


The "magic bullet" theory's straw man of the single-bullet theory alleges the bullet changed trajectory multiple times in mid-air. The problem is that their straw man argument assumes a seating configuration that did not exist in the limousine. Connally's jumper seat sat lower and more inboard than JFK's position on the rear benchseat. Once this is accounted for, the bullet's trajectory is perfectly plausible.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:17 AM on December 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm always delighted when I hear Vincent Bugliosi mock Oliver Stone. Anyone who thinks there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK should read Reclaiming History (although I will grant that it's quicker, easier, and more outrageously fun just to watch Stone's JFK).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:23 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not seeing many arguments against his viewpoint here, frankly.

There are plenty of arguments against his viewpoint. Some are based on age, others on his skin colour and perhaps one based on his gender.

The others are based on 'other people say he's wrong'. (Oh wait now there is an actual discussion about the 1 bullet and seat configuration.....about time someone does better than just saying "its wrong".)

Under the Rule of Law, the "Truth" is supposed to be what is shown in a courtroom or perhaps in front of Congress and this right to truth is reflected in statutes like perjury and codes of conduct some professions like Lawyers are supposed to adhere to per the ABA model rules. Not a whole lot of what is being said in this thread about Stone is that kind of "truth".

Stone is an [entertainer or propagandist] so why not look upon his works as just that and [enjoy or don't enjoy] them as such.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:26 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not seeing many arguments against his viewpoint here, frankly.

The Willentz article in the NYRB is excellent.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:28 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stone's some kind of comsymp, right?
posted by acb at 9:32 AM on December 23, 2013


"Comsymp"? What is this, 1953?
posted by blucevalo at 9:39 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


bukvich: Does anybody know where this video can be viewed freely? I get a popover demanding I disable my ad-blocker to look at it which I ain't gonna do unless the documentary maker is my boss.

I don't know what that message is about, as I'm pretty sure I don't run an ad-blocker, yet still see that message. Anyway, there's a 10 second count-down, and once it hits zero, you can click "OK" and view the videos. Anyway, the Dailymotion source is missing a few episodes, otherwise I would have considered those the primary source. And you can view these through Showtime and probably other streaming services.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:50 AM on December 23, 2013


OK I am halfway through the first episode. He has audio of Truman saying (in 1941) he wants the Russians and Germans to kill a combined maximum. I knew people thought that but I had not seen good documentation of people actually saying that.
posted by bukvich at 9:51 AM on December 23, 2013


All I know of Stone is his biopic of Shrub Jr., and it was weak sauce. Kind of ruined him for me.
posted by jsturgill at 9:58 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


bukvich- In the museum of the Great Patriotic War in St. Petersburg, there is a newspaper clipping with that exact quote in it. The Soviets were not incredibly fond of Truman. (While it has been over a decade since I visited, that place felt like I had stepped back into the Soviet Union with the propaganda posters and all the stuff about the great sacrifice. I wonder if it's still like that.)
posted by Hactar at 9:59 AM on December 23, 2013


Hold on, what Iron Chef post?
posted by humboldt32 at 10:07 AM on December 23, 2013


> The Soviets were not incredibly fond of Truman.

The Americans shouldn't be very fond of him either. Stone really skewers him here.
posted by planetesimal at 10:12 AM on December 23, 2013


"Comsymp"? What is this, 1953?

With the founders of the John Birch society dead and Russia in an upswing due to gasprom - someone's gotta re-stoke the fires of liberty.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:13 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


haven't watched any of this stuff yet but I can't help but feel that there's nothing America needs more than a comprehensive Oliver Stone revision of the history of the past sixty or seventy years -- not because he's right, but because he seems to be no less wrong than the "official story" that's currently circulating. So maybe in a few years, once all the foo-furrah has settled, we'll be able to view all this history for what it is: competing arguments, neither of which are squeaky clean.

and so on.
posted by philip-random at 10:19 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stone has revealed that there was a conspiracy to make people think there was an Iron Chef FPP on Metafilter. Wake up sheeple!
posted by happyroach at 10:32 AM on December 23, 2013


Anyone claiming that Stone's critics are failing to engage with the specifics of his account is either wilfully ignoring or has failed to read the devastating account by Wilentz linked above.
posted by yoink at 10:32 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, the titles is a bit inaccurate, I'll give you that. Then again, everyone whose high school US history teacher dragged ass all year through the 18th and 19th centuries and covered the 20th century in the last week of the year, raise your hands...

This. Understanding WWII and the Cold War are so crazy important for understanding the state of the world right now that I really have no idea why high school level world history tends to focus on, say, 1500-1750. I am still stumbling upon major events post-1939 that I had no idea existed, and it's shocking.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:50 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


> that I really have no idea why high school level world history tends to focus on, say, 1500-1750

Well, I think that's because the narrative that's been put out there for the past 40 years in US high school history (and undergrad college) has become so ingrained that if we start to have a remotely objective modern history taught then it would seem anti-American in comparison.
posted by planetesimal at 10:54 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cherry-Picking Our History

Wait, isn't all History cherry-picked? The quality of the cherries depend on who's doing the picking, is all.
posted by davejay at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


the devastating account by Wilentz linked above.
posted by yoink


Devastating feels a bit strong, but this is definitely worth noting:

They fail to say that in 1952 Wallace published his article “Where I Was Wrong,” writing that he had been inadequately informed about Stalin’s crimes and

"... did not see…the Soviet determination to enslave the common man morally, mentally and physically for its own imperial purposes….

More and more I am convinced that Russian Communism in its total disregard of truth, in its fanaticism, its intolerance and its resolute denial of God and religion is something utterly evil.11..."

He supported Dwight Eisenhower and, in 1960, Richard Nixon for president.


His switch to the right end of the spectrum is strange, but maybe not given the madness of McCarthyism etc. As for underestimating Stalin, well so did very many others on the left in those years. Indeed, I've come to read much of western history of the middle fifty years of the 20th Century (1930s-1980s) as a pile of confusion informed by

A. the ongoing collapses of various monarchies and aristocracies (the old order),
B. an ongoing distrust by many of this experiment called democracy,
C. an ensuing tendency toward taking extreme sides (Right or Left).

With regard to C, look no further to various supposed champions of American greatness who fell for Adolph Hitler (in his early days anyway). Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford come instantly to mind. Not to mention a literary heavyweight like Ezra Pound. I'm sure if you could interview them about it today, they would make it clear that they honestly felt it was necessary embracing of the lesser of two evils.

and so on ...

I do seem to conclude a lot of my posts in history threads with those three words; the damned thing (history, that is) just seems to keep on revising
posted by philip-random at 11:13 AM on December 23, 2013


The history of the US is just another iteration of the inhumanity that has prevailed since the Sumerians. We have learned nothing in 6000 years, despite all the flailing arms of an endless supply of pretentious clowns. What is the purpose of it then?

The bloodbath of the 20th century continues, the bleedership never changes. Unless we can throw off the baggage of the past completely, history will be static until the end of man. Skip the endless retellings. Show me something new.
posted by Twang at 11:13 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like what?
posted by planetesimal at 11:16 AM on December 23, 2013


Unless we can throw off the baggage of the past completely, history will be static until the end of man. Skip the endless retellings. Show me something new.

Put as simply as that I'm reminded of nothing so much as Pol Pot and Year Zero. As well as the fact that the first thing totalitarians do is denounce, imprison or execute the historians, as well as anyone else capable of propounding a narrative that might conflict with the official one.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:21 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


The bloodbath of the 20th century continues, the bleedership never changes. Unless we can throw off the baggage of the past completely, history will be static until the end of man.

Twang, bad as shit may be on planet E right now, I can't help but think you need to take a closer look at 1939-45 ... particularly in Europe and the Pacific. Culminating with the final exclamatory obscenities of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

Nothing has been remotely as bad since. Which isn't to say that the threat of much worse doesn't continue to loom (all those weapons of mass destruction lying around), but the fact that it's now been almost seventy years since then, and such weapons have not been used again, has to rate as one of the most significant facts of recent history.
posted by philip-random at 11:26 AM on December 23, 2013


Stone's some kind of comsymp, right?

That would seem to be the conclusion of Wilentz's piece:

his book is less a work of history than a skewed political document, restating and updating a view of the world that the independent radical Dwight Macdonald once likened to a fog, “caused by the warm winds of the liberal Gulf Stream coming in contact with the Soviet glacier”—but now more than twenty years after the dissolution of the Soviet empire.

It is also pretty rich when Wilentz says this:

In making this case, Stone and Kuznick simply ignore the scholarship that contradicts their basic assumptions.

Which is the SOP of any establishment historian and/or history teacher....and has been since WWII.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:31 AM on December 23, 2013


His switch to the right end of the spectrum is strange

Eh. Wallace was a nutter. Nutters are always attracted to paranoia, and nothing could be more paranoid than Nixonism, or at least the Cold War paranoia that Nixon exploited, personalized, and was eventually consumed by. His "conversion" makes perfect sense to me.

If you want to know why FDR dumped Wallace, all you have to do is read Wallace's letters to his "guru" Nicholas Roerich, the man he sent on a government mission to Mongolia to look for proof that Christ visited Asia. The profoundly political FDR knew he had to dump this idiot before Henry Hopkins was done telling him what was in those letters.

Oliver Stone just strikes me as a pompous gasbag and exactly the caricature of every left-wing piety that right-wingers believe us all to be. Wilentz demolishes him. There are plenty of excellent popular histories that demolish the "standard narrative" of the perfect America without sinking into the idiocies of Oliver Stone.
posted by Fnarf at 12:04 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nutters are always attracted to paranoia

So the supporters of the NSA and its actions are nutters?
posted by rough ashlar at 12:13 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


If A then B does not necessitate if B then A. If it rained then the grass is wet, does not imply if the grass is wet it rained. It could have been the sprinklers this time. That being said, I think some nutters are no more attracted to paranoia than the next guy.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:19 PM on December 23, 2013


>In making this case, Stone and Kuznick simply ignore the scholarship that contradicts their basic assumptions.

Which is the SOP of any establishment historian and/or history teacher....and has been since WWII.


What exactly is an "establishment" historian or history teacher? Someone with whom you happen to disagree?

I used to teach high school social studies, and I have to say it's harder than one thinks transmitting historical "facts".

Truth is, the reason why Oliver Stone and conspiracy theorists are so popular is because opening a book (or a number of books) and reading different points of view is too much damn work.

Oliver Stone does it all for you, in 1-hour serving portions.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:20 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


New retro developments in postwar Japan.
posted by telstar at 12:58 PM on December 23, 2013


> I used to teach high school social studies, and I have to say it's harder than one thinks transmitting historical "facts".

This explains my experience with Americans whose only exposure to history was a US high school - that a lot of teachers (not you, I'm sure!) don't actually bother to transmit the historical facts at all.

Forget about the Spanish-American War - they aren't even teaching the facts about the Vietnam War. I remember one acquaintance of mine, a bookish woman studying library science, had an embarrassing moment in university when she made a comment and everyone laughed at her - and at that point she realized that the US had not, in fact, won the Vietnam War.

Heck, when it comes to social studies, my first serious girlfriend in the US, someone with top marks in high school and university, didn't even know the capital of Canada (where I'd just come from) when we first met! She was mortified, but when I asked, "Did Canada ever come up in your history or social studies classes at all?" the light dawned - even though US-Canada trade is greater than any other pair of countries trading at any time in history, US schools simply don't teach fact one about Canada.

> Oliver Stone does it all for you, in 1-hour serving portions.

And I personally think this is an excellent antidote to the jingoist, sanitized history that US students are fed. Yes, there are problems with his story, but just as many problems with the official courses.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:04 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


This explains my experience with Americans whose only exposure to history was a US high school - that a lot of teachers (not you, I'm sure!) don't actually bother to transmit the historical facts at all.

If you expect teachers to transmit facts to your children instead of helping kids learn tools to think critically for themselves and evaluate information, then you deserve Oliver Stone and Alex Jones.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:11 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


"the US had not, in fact, won the Vietnam War."

But, we DID win! Only it was a double top-secret victory.
posted by Chitownfats at 1:15 PM on December 23, 2013


BTW, speaking of "facts", it may interest you to know that in Canada students are taught that American Fenian militias were considered a mortal threat to our original colonies, and were one of the major reasons behind Confederation.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:15 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


the reason why Oliver Stone and conspiracy theorists are so popular is because opening a book (or a number of books) and reading different points of view is too much damn work.

And here I was thinking it was because the "leadership class" has shown by their own actions to not be trustworthy.

The availability of mass produced books in the time of the electric age along with advances in mass production is the timeframe Oliver is covering (along with still being able to talk to witnesses) help allow for err "alternative narratives" Mr. Stone can use.

Things like TV allow for a mind to be placed in a receptive state - but every one of these videos is using source material cited in books. So one could get to the same place as the Oliver Stone version via the medium of books. The simplest way to stop theories about conspiracies is to have the action of the "leadership class" be open and honest VS complaining that the idea is being delivered via moving pictures.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:19 PM on December 23, 2013


> Oliver Stone just strikes me as a pompous gasbag and exactly the caricature of every left-wing piety that right-wingers believe us all to be.

In ep. 3 he quotes LeMay "We have to kill people. If you kill enough of them they stop fighting."

Wikiquote has this, unsourced: "If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting."

Does he have a list of sources and footnotes some place?
posted by bukvich at 1:27 PM on December 23, 2013


Well, you might say Ollie is trying to take us... *sunglasses* back, and to the left.
posted by gimli at 1:46 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Stone's some kind of comsymp, right?

That would seem to be the conclusion of Wilentz's piece:


You're, um, not familiar with Wilentz's work, are you?
posted by yoink at 2:51 PM on December 23, 2013


In ep. 3 he quotes LeMay "We have to kill people. If you kill enough of them they stop fighting."

That gets quoted all over the place in slightly different forms. It's a reported conversation, so there may be no strictly canonical form. The version that seems to get quoted by the most reputable sources is: "I'll tell you what war is about: you've got to kill people, and when you've killed enough, they stop fighting." Which is actually the sort of thing you could imagine being said equally by an anti-war dove or a pro-war hawk. The statement as it stands is basically a truism--that is, after all, what war is about. The moral issue is how you feel about war in the light of that fact.
posted by yoink at 2:58 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


bukvich: Does he have a list of sources and footnotes some place?

The book has 100 pages of notes, but I can't view them on Amazon's preview of the book, and I don't see such a quote in the the Google books preview of the book. That particular quote sent me through a few sources, and in Walter Russell Mead's book Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World, that line is cited as coming from Richard Rhodes' article "The General and World War II," from The New Yorker, June 19, 1995. I only see the introduction, as I'm not subscribed to The New Yorker.

On preview, yoink knows more about it than I do.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:02 PM on December 23, 2013


It's amusing that people who venerate Zinn's A People's History... should be praising this effort from Stone. Stone's history is precisely the "great man" view of history Zinn abhorred. If only we'd had Wallace as VP, America would have been lead into a glorious new future as a worker's paradise (just like Soviet Russia!). If only JFK had served out a second term, he'd have changed his mind about everything and made the world All Better etc. etc.

This isn't a bold new revisionist history, it's a bizarre throwback to Carlylean hero-worship.
posted by yoink at 3:38 PM on December 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Richard Rhodes chooses that quote to introduce Curtis LeMay in The Making of the Atomic Bomb, where his importance has more to do with the bombing of Japanese cities than his later role with SAC nuclear forces. Rhodes doesn't attribute the quote; considering that his research for TMOTAB involved interviewing just about everybody who was still alive who had a role, it's likely that he was told this firsthand by someone who heard it directly from LeMay.

The thing that makes that quote so interesting is that this ruthless efficiency undoubtably made LeMay's bombing campaign a success and contributed to shortening the war. But it was a dangerous trait for a man in charge of a nuclear arsenal, who thought nuclear war was inevitable and that the sooner it occurred the better our chances would be to prevail.
posted by localroger at 3:45 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're, um, not familiar with Wilentz's work, are you?

I've read The Age of Reagan, but I don't see what "being familiar" with his "work" has to do with the obvious implication of the last sentence of his essay.

Wilentz himself seems to fall prey to his own criticisms when he says:

It is hardly clear, for example, that the Japanese government was close to surrendering on the Allies’ terms in the summer of 1945. American analysts believed that, short of a bloody invasion of its shores, Japanese leaders would fight hard, holding out for a much milder negotiated settlement, which negates Stone and Kuznick’s contention that Truman was misleading about his motive for using atomic bombs: that they would spare the lives of untold thousands of American GIs.

Talk about ignoring scholarship that contradicts basic assumptions. But of course Wilentz doesn't provide us with any details, and he just assumes we will once again accept the official justifications for our atomic atrocity. There is plenty of evidence to support the story as laid out by Stone. It's easy to claim that what happened is "hardly clear," but quite another to make a convincing case.

Wilentz's piece is a perfect example of a hit piece by an establishment historian using his position in academia to try and discredit "unofficial" interpretations of history. It's a pretty shoddy attempt at that, and I am confused as to why some here think it is so "devastating."

This isn't a bold new revisionist history, it's a bizarre throwback to Carlylean hero-worship.

Have you already watched them all, or are you just cribbing from Wilentz's essay?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:49 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you expect teachers to transmit facts to your children instead of helping kids learn tools to think critically for themselves and evaluate information, then you deserve Oliver Stone and Alex Jones.

Since you're a teacher, as I am, you know that this "teach them to think critically for themselves" line is too often used by the weaker angels in our noble profession not to teach content in a balanced way, that also models critical thinking. From my experience as a learner in classrooms taught by critical thinking professionals who model it, versus classrooms where we seek to guide our charges through a series of exercises where they are asked to read suggested texts and then discuss them with their peers, who are equally "in the dark," I'll take the engaging lecture method any time. Humans will, for the most part, engage any lecture critically. My experience says that students are by definition in the mode of critical response when coerced to be in the classroom, and I think I can use this naturally-occurring anti-establishment attitude to encourage good critical thinking. Any method that claims that it can turn a public school classroom into a non-coercive environment wherein students can and will think freely and critically and explore issues at a high level, is naive.

BTW, speaking of "facts", it may interest you to know that in Canada students are taught that American Fenian militias were considered a mortal threat to our original colonies, and were one of the major reasons behind Confederation.

This statement itself, is quite wide of the "facts," in my experience as a Canadian high school teacher, and in my experience as a Canadian high school student. The Fenians are a factor, to be sure, but they are not central. The British and French-flavoured upper and lower-Canadian politicians used the threat of American expansionism (manifest destiny) as a threat to move people toward confederation. The Fenians were a radical and volatile group that needed to be managed, and that's about it.
posted by kneecapped at 7:35 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's easy to claim that what happened is "hardly clear," but quite another to make a convincing case.

It's worth bearing in mind that Wilentz provides quite a few sources to back himself up in the NYRB piece. Stone & Kuznick apparently do too? But it seems incorrect claim that Wilentz isn't sourcing his own allegations. Of course, if you believe that Wilentz is some kind of establishment tool you'll probably prejudge his own cites as bad and go with those by Stone. Round & round we go...

To the extent that Wilentz is devastating, I'd say that by pointing out all of the parts of the Wallace story that Stone & Kuznick ignore he makes the series' writers look like chumps. Their attempted ad-hominem in their rebuttal regarding both Willentz's Reagan book and his support for Hillary Clinton does them little credit either. OTOH, since much of the rebuttal consists of both camps claiming that they have better source material than the other, I'm not sure that anyone would be swayed to an opposite viewpoint.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:40 PM on December 23, 2013


His other point out of the first three was that Japan would have surrendered when Russia entered the conflict and that the US knew this. He presents a great deal of evidence about this and he convinced me...

I just finished a most enjoyable book about this - the author's thesis - backed up by lots of primary and secondary sources - is largely the same. Chiefly, Russia's entry into the war was the primary reason for surrender; roadblocks to surrendering were the US's insistence on "unconditional" surrender and ambiguity on whether they would let the emperor or imperial house persist as an institution; the naval blockade would have led to eventual surrender regardless; and consequently there were many other options available than dropping the bombs - they were ignored for various reasons, and the idea of the only alternative being tens of thousands of dead GIs is basically nonsense. The book also goes into detail about the outrageous lies regarding radiation poisoning and its affects and censorship the US govt engaged in post-war.

I really enjoyed it, but it's not for the faint-hearted.

I'm not a huge fan of Oliver Stone, but am prepared to accept he could stumble across some truths every now and then.
posted by smoke at 10:32 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not a huge fan of Oliver Stone, but am prepared to accept he could stumble across some truths every now and then.

The "base truths" seem to come from published works and post-Nixon FOIA requests. In theory they are the same "truths" anyone can get. Now if what one gets in a FOIA request isn't true...what then?

As the tools he has in his toolbox are FOIA - this may be why the history range covers his toolbox range.

the outrageous lies regarding radiation poisoning and its affects and censorship the US govt engaged in post-war.

Those who care can watch 'in real time in your lifetime' Navy sailor Lindsay Cooper knew something was wrong when billows of metallic-tasting snow began drifting over USS Ronald Reagan.

Oh and more on Mao - Mao was a Skull and Bonesman. (Don't like the source? Ok, then what should be the source?)
posted by rough ashlar at 4:04 AM on December 24, 2013


(Don't like the source? Ok, then what should be the source?)

Hum. Well, I'm no historian, but here are some passing observations.

The first link in the article takes me to a website that talks about how modern civilizations are being controlled by Saurian races via networks of underground tunnels. I'd like the source for a conspiracy theory to not do that, and the fact that this one does instantly casts it in doubt.

The article doesn't really get to its spicy thesis ("It is the purpose of this article to show how a plan has been effectuated for nearly a century to bring to global power and domination an Oriental Antichrist , likely from China through the auspices and assistance of an evil secret society network based in Yale University, which effectively uses its status as a center of learning as a cover.") until the author is multiple paragraphs in. This is terrible essay style, and suggest that this isn't a well-written document by someone who cares about the material. Rather, it's a screed written at 3 AM. If the author wanted to convince me, they'd go to the trouble of making a well-structured argument.

Similarly, the essay is terribly formatted. That's fine for a random forum post, but this person is trying to convince people of a very serious and terrible thing! If you don't care enough to edit, why should I think you care that much about this topic?

Instead of telling a story, the author seems content to list a bunch of quotes from other sources. Further, many of these sources are other conspiracy theory websites. This is a terrible way to lay out an argument, and it suggests that the authors are continuously consuming the same diet of junk facts. You've got to get out of the same circle of bum citations! Even folks who try to insert bogus articles on Wikipedia know you've got to get out of the same circle of references.

Speaking of Wikipedia, there's no mention of words like "Yale" or "opium" on Mao's Wikipedia page, or on the associated talk page - and neither one is locked for editing. If this theory is reputable, why aren't folks even trying to get it onto Wikipedia, likely the most common lay person source for information about Mao?

When I google for articles about "Mao Zedong Yale-In-China", I mostly see reposts of this exact same essay. There doesn't seem to have been a serious discussion on any kind of mainstream news site or elsewhere. If a place that uses good fact checkers won't write about something, why am I trusting this account? A search on Google Scholar nil traction with anybody, so I will trust that academics who make it their job yields no results save for a 2008 book published by a vanity press. This theory seems to have no traction with folks who make it their profession to study history.

Basically: this is an article that is poorly written, uses bunk sources, and its thesis has no traction with any sort of mainstream source or any community of historians. There is no reason for a lay person to trust this article.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:29 AM on December 24, 2013


From rough ashlar's link:

According to geopolitical and economics researcher, Dr. Antony Sutton in his book 'The Patriot Review', not only did the Skulls and Bones help to build up the Communist movement in China, but they gave financial aide to the Soviet Union communists as well.

I cannot find any book by Dr. Sutton called The Patriot Review. However, some googling indicates that would have written to "The Patriot Review" in order to receive his books, which are primarily in the conspiracy and alternative history genres.

Bad citation practices are bad. How am I supposed to know what is this person citing? It sure would be nice if I could check these claims.

That's not even getting into any of the other truly bizarre tangents in this article. Who cares if Dennis Hopper's dad had been in the OSS, and that Hopper would later shoot a portrait of Mao?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:07 AM on December 24, 2013


(I feel I should add a rider apologizing for the poor formatting of my own comment, since I rather heavily criticized the article's form. Too many italics, bad grammar at the end due to some poor cutting and pasting... ick. Not my best work. But perhaps the bad formatting itself helps to make my point?)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:04 AM on December 24, 2013


I got through Episode 6 so far.

1. ) I mis-spoke when I said he had audio of Harry Truman arguing for combined maximum German + Russian body count. He has actors at various points in the segments speaking historical lines. That is an actor there doing Truman's line.

2.) Episode 6 has the JFK assassination. He does not say anything more controversial than "we may never know the truth". He does not say Oswald was not a lone gunman. He does not say there was a conspiracy for which Oswald was the patsy.

3.) It's interesting how he uses movie clips of fictional stories to illustrate many of his points. And his documentary has got loads of style. His Hitler clips are the best.

4.) The best thing I have seen in the six episodes is a clip in number five of a real Harry Truman speech from Red Scare time where Truman tells the American Bar Association:

That is the way this administration is fighting communism. That is the way it is going to continue to fight communism. Now I am going to tell you how we are not going to fight communism. We are not going to transform our fine FBI into a Gestapo secret police. That is what some people would like to do. We are not going to try to control what our people read and say and think. We are not going to turn the United States into a right-wing totalitarian country in order to deal with a left-wing totalitarian threat.

In short, we are not going to end democracy. We are going to keep the Bill of Rights on the books. We are going to keep those ancient, hard-earned liberties which you lawyers have done so much to preserve and protect.


A transcript of Truman's whole speech is here.
posted by bukvich at 3:21 PM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


« Older the olfactory arts   |   "I invented it for the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post