Like every other urban white person on the planet, I’ve been watching a lot of Homeland this season, and since Homeland is on Showtime, it’s hard to miss promos for Oliver Stone’s upcoming 10-part series, The Untold History of the United States (above, just in case you haven’t seen it). I want to puke every time I see it, because even if it did tell an actual untold history of the United States, no one would take it seriously because it has Oliver Stone’s name above the title. What real historian wants his theories presented by Oliver Stone? You associate it with Oliver Stone, you might as well call the show “Preaching to the Choir.” Anyway, Michael C. Moynihan from the Daily Beast decided to fact-check the show, or rather, the book by American University professor Peter Kuznick on which the show is based (which provides its sheen of legitimacy). And if you read the headline of this post you can already guess how that went.
The Bush and Obama years provided ample fodder for the revisionist, those interested in explaining the long arc of American imperialism or, in the case of cranks like Glenn Beck, the ever-present threat of Marxist subversion. The latest example of swivel-eyed, ideological history, this time from the left, is a collaboration between American University professor Peter Kuznick and filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose new book The Untold History of the United States, and attendant 10-part companion documentary series on Showtime, is a marvel of historical illiteracy.
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”? But the Soviets surely blockaded Berlin, right? No, they “attempted nothing of the sort.” In fact, the 1961 Berlin crisis was also precipitated by the United States, but “the Berlin Wall defused the immediate danger” of war. 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.” Why did the Soviet Union invade Afghanistan in 1979? Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, an “obsessed anti-communist” who, the authors note darkly, was a member of the Bilderberg Group and Trilateral Commission, “set the trap for the Russians in Afghanistan.”
Ooh, the Bilderberg Group? My crazy sense is tingling. (*puts on tinfoil hat*) Tell me more.
There are hints at dark forces throughout the book: business interests controlled by the Bush family that were (supposedly) linked to Nazi Germany, a dissenting officer in the CIA found murdered after disagreeing with a cabal of powerful neoconservatives, suggestions that CIA director Allen Dulles was a Nazi sympathizer.
There are likely readers who will find this book revelatory, though mostly those who, like Stone and Kuznick, came to a conclusion first and only later sought out supporting evidence. But others should be warned that this isn’t a book of history, but of ideological faith. There are indeed many dark epochs in American history, but there are plenty of well-rendered and honestly-researched books that address these without sliding into moral equivalence between the policies of the psychotically brutal Soviet Union and the frequently flawed policy of the United States.
If I was Oliver Stone, I’d think Oliver Stone was some kind of right-wing puppet, their perfect straw man for whom the “blame-America first” insult is actually sort of true, a real-live Hollywood guy with an overwhelming political agenda. But since I’m not as conspiracy-minded as Oliver Stone, I just think he’s sort of an idiot. The kind of idiot who thinks a good line to put in a movie is “I know it sounds like Star Wars, love, but… this could be your chance to be Captain America!” The kind of idiot who tells a black guy “all n*ggers love Scarface.” The kind of idiot who knows half the country think he’s a coot but puts his name on a history show anyway.
If you hate Glenn Beck so much, stop acting like his mirror image. It makes us all dumber.