The Untold History of the United States
By Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick
Simon & Schuster, 750 pages, $35
Oliver Stone, the lion of left-leaning popular culture in America, has done it again.
In the U.S., patriotic hearts are seething and patriotic teeth are gnashing.
In this polemic, the film director who gave the world Platoon, The Fourth of July and Wall Street has gone all out to convince Americans they don't know who they are, where they've been, or where they are going -- and that they'd better find out.
Fast, before it's too late to change. The book also answers the poignant question bewildered Americans asked after the shock of 9/11: why do they (strangers on the other side of the globe) hate us?
Stone, along with eminent historian Peter Kuznick, produced this 750-page volume as a companion to their 10-part documentary film series of the same name. It was introduced on Showtime in the U.S. late in 2012, and has aired in eastern Canada on premium cable, but is not yet scheduled for release west of Ontario.
Together, the two works "challenge the basic narrative of U.S. history... of American altruism, benevolence, devotion to liberty and justice," a myth Stone says is consoling and comforting, but only a small part of a much larger story, and one that is "harmful, noxious and polluted" leaving Americans in the dark and incapable of meaningful action.
Stone and Kuznick's bold counter-narrative actually covers much of the same ground as the late Howard Zinn did earlier in A People's History, but with infinitely more resources and much longer reach. Given Stone's proven power to capture and popularize the unthinkable (think JFK) the resulting cries of bias, propaganda, socialist drivel, etc., can be no surprise.
But Stone and Kuznick say the facts stand. Defending their work, they note that they not only checked the facts, they checked the fact-checkers as well, and hired only the politically antiseptic variety.
The facts, alas, read like the devil's checked-off to-do list. They include the unnecessary and indefensible atomic bombing of Japan in the Second World War, the secret funding of Islamic extremists, the overthrow of countless democracies, the assassination of unacceptable leaders, flaunting international law, and imposing poverty on millions in pursuit of oil or trade supremacy.
As many critics have said, these things are not entirely untold, in fact, since 9/11, they have become part of conventional wisdom, at least outside of the U.S.
Stone and Kuznick agree, but add that the truth has not been told in the right places at home: movie screens, schools, churches, and the local newspaper.
Stone describes U.S. media as "a giant missile shield."
Canada, whether as historical victim, opponent or accomplice, is scarcely mentioned.
Among the enthusiastic and vocal readers of The Untold History is Mikhail Gorbachev, who has praised it for its comprehensive overview of foreign policy. "At stake," he responds," is whether the U.S. will now choose to be the policeman of a 'Pax Americana,' which is a recipe for disaster, or partner with other nations on the way to a safer, more just, and sustainable future."
Stone writes that many of his compatriots have lost the ability to imagine a world that is different from, and better than what exists today. It is for them that The Untold History was written.
Whether it can fight its way past the initial deluge of denial, and into their hands, only time will reveal.
Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg-based writer and broadcaster.