I spoke last Monday afternoon to the great Oliver Stone, director and co-writer of the new ten-part Showtime series, The Untold History of the United States, which premieres Monday night (11.12). Stone is also the co-author (with Peter Kuznick) of a book version — a sturdily researched and well-written complement to the series — that I’ve read about 65% or 70% of. If you ask me it deserves the same respect and attention as Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of the United States.
Oliver initially conveyed disappointment that I didn’t drop by the Aero last week for a screening of the first two or three episodes of his series. (I went instead to the opening night AFI Fest screening of Hitchcock.) But we got past that and enjoyed a spirited discussion.
Stone is an entrenched anti-corporate, antiwar-machine lefty from way back. I’ve come to know him fairly well through personal contact over the years and through mutual friends, and he’s always been extremely bright, engaged, inquisitive, insightful and bold-strokey in his thinking. The point of The Untold History of the United States is not to embrace or push along the usual homilies and rote history-class statistics that we all learne in high school and college. This is history outside the safety zone.
The first four chapters of the Showtime series focus on American history from World War II to the postwar Truman and Eisenhower years and the Cold War.
One of the more interesting points made is a debunking of the conventional belief that the United States and the Allies beat Nazi Germany. We triumphed, of course, but the war was really won by the damage brought by Nazi Germany’s war with the Soviet Union in ’41 and ’42. I first read this view in Albert Speer‘s “Inside The Third Reich” way back when.)
Stone’s doc is not very kind to Harry Truman, and in fact portrays Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s successor in much darker terms than David McCullough’s widely-referenced biography.
Stone and Kuznick also assert that if FDR had backed his third-term vice president, Henry Wallace, for his fourth term, President Wallace (who would have ascended after FDR’s death in early 1945) wouldn’t have dropped atomic bombs on Japan, the military-industrial complex would have been stymied or at least restrained, and the United States and the Soviet Union might have practically resolved differences and not been so adversarial in the late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.