The event with Oliver Stone re his latest history epic! Stone has an illustrious and controversial career as a film maker and television producer/director has been a huge success.  At the Institute of Historical Research in London we participated in the screening and the Q&A organized by Scott Anthony for the IHR Public History Seminar.  We debated one of Oliver Stone'smost recent collaborations has been with the historian, Peter Kuznick.  Great questions were tweeted in from around UK and US, and we were really pleased with the numbers of people who joined in for the Twittercast on Wednesday between 6pm & 7pm after the screening.  It was a full house at the Beveridge Hall and although a bit heated in the discussion afterwards, everyone had the opportunity to meet Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick in person! Their forthcoming TV series: "The Untold History of the United States" : will be broadcast on Sky, commencing on 17th April 2013.

"The Untold History of the United States" re-examines America’s financial, diplomatic and military influence on the long twentieth century to produce a polemical account of the rise and fall of the American Empire. There are ten episodes (more info below)

The venue for the Stone/Kuznick event is at the IHR in London: The Beveridge Hall, Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU   To be involved, you can participate in the Historyworks competition to win tickets and/or £100 cash prize.  Or if you don't want to win a seat you can pay for a seat! Please book online; (usually, IHR events are free and open to all to show up on the day, but because space may be limited and to cover the costs of an auditorium, on this occasion registration is required) tickets £3.50

Click here to register online:


Historyworks is supporting this event organized by the Public History Seminar at the IHR, (Institute for Historical Research) because of our commitment to promoting the practice and theory of Public History in the UK.  The Public History seminar welcomes all interested parties, whether they be teachers, archivists, museum practitioners, students, acadmics, enthusiast members of the public. The IHR Public History seminar is new this year.  Please find out more about events & progamme here:



Historyworks wants to stimulate debate around 'Untold History', so we invite questions for Stone & Kucknick on the theme of turning research and academic endeavour into popular forms: film, television, radio, apps, web products &c.  

Please take part in the question comp by emailing or tweeting in your top questions about translating research into popular history, for Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick by 10pm on Tuesday  (if poss please tweet to @historyworkst) to win points. And points mean prizes! Your prize question will be used for Stone & Kuznick Q&A.  PLUS Six tickets are set aside as prizes, PLUS the top prize receiving £100 cheque which winner can use how they wish: designed to be inclusive for those beyond London to fund travel to the event/ or use for books &c.  Some have wanted to DM and Tweet in questions, just for the fun of it, to help stimulate the Public History discussion and engage with Stone/Kuznick, and that is fine too, the more Qs the better!

So if you can or cannot make it to meet Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick in person, please do participate in the Q&A event via twitter, by tweeting in a top question via  @historyworkstv -  We really want to hear from you!   if you wish for others to see your question to help stimulate discussion, tweet your quesiton publicly to @historyworkstv - but if you want to keep your top question private, you are welcome to DM your question to @historyworkstv.  Deadlne is midnight on 2nd April & your prize can be collected on the door of the event if ticket or mailed to you if £100 cheque!   Winners will be announced very soon after midnight on 2nd April via @historyworkstv.  Winners will also be sent a DM.  So obvs, to participate in the competition, you'll need to be on twitter and follow @historyworkstv.  Or else, you may email in your question to



“At last the world knows America as the savior of the world!”—Woodrow Wilson

The notion of American exceptionalism, dating back to John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon aboard the Arbella, still warps Americans’ understanding of their nation’s role in the world. Most are loathe to admit that the United States has any imperial pretensions. But history tells a different story as filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick argue in this riveting account of the rise and decline of the American empire.

Aided by the latest archival findings and recently declassified documents and building on the research of the world’s best scholars, Stone and Kuznick construct an often shocking but meticulously documented “People’s History of the American Empire” that offers startling context to the Bush-Cheney policies that put us at war in two Muslim countries and show us why the Obama administration has had such a difficult time cleaving a new path.

Stone and Kuznick will introduce readers to a pantheon of heroes and villains as they show not only how far the United States has drifted from its democratic traditions, but the powerful forces that have struggled to get us back on track.

The authors reveal that:

· The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were militarily unnecessary and morally indefensible.

· The United States, not the Soviet Union, bore the lion’s share of responsibility for perpetuating the Cold War.

· The U.S. love affair with right-wing dictators has gone as far as overthrowing elected leaders, arming and training murderous military officers, and forcing millions of people into poverty.

· U.S.-funded Islamist fundamentalists, who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, have blown back to threaten the interests of the U.S. and its allies.

· U.S. presidents, especially in wartime, have frequently trampled on the constitution and international law.

· The United States has brandished nuclear threats repeatedly and come terrifyingly close to nuclear war.

American leaders often believe they are unbound by history, yet Stone and Kuznick argue that we must face our troubling history honestly and forthrightly in order to set a new course for the twenty-first century. Their conclusions will challenge even experts, but there is one question only readers can answer: Is it too late for America to change?


  • Chapter 1: World War II
  • Chapter 2: Roosevelt, Truman & Wallace
  • Chapter 3: The Bomb
  • Chapter 4: The Cold War: 1945–1950
  • Chapter 5: The 50s Eisenhower, the Bomb & the Third World.
  • Chapter 6: JFK: To the Brink
  • Chapter 7: Johnson, Nixon & Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune
  • Chapter 8: Reagan, Gorbachev & Third World: Revival of Fortune
  • Chapter 9: Bush & Clinton: Squandered Peace - New World Order
  • Chapter 10: Bush & Obama: Age of Terror




NY TIMES, By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

Review: American history, as Oliver Stone sees it

The filmmaker offers an alternative mythology that relies far more on broad-stroke storytelling than rigorous analysis. Still, there's some value in this Showtime miniseries.

Had Oliver Stone not been involved in "Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States," which premieres Monday night on Showtime, would the 10-part miniseries have a less hectoring tone? Would voices of actual historians replace clips from Frank Capra and John Wayne movies to make points of fairly grave significance?

And perhaps most important, without the regular use of histrionic questions such as these, would the essentially reasonable warning against American nationalist preening have been less condescending and therefore more convincing?

History will never know.

"Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United," based on the book cowritten by Stone and Peter Kuznick, an associate professor of history at American University, plays precisely as the title suggests — a version of events curated by the controversial writer-director. It opens with Stone explaining that his shock over the simplistic version of America being taught in school moved him to make this series, so his children would have access to something "that looks beyond what I call the tyranny of 'now.'" He would tell the American story in a way "it had never been told before."

But the story of how the United States' actions, at home or abroad, have not always been noble or smart or superior to those of other nations is not quite as untold as Stone believes. That, for example, it was the Soviet army rather than the Americans that turned the tide of World War II has been dealt with in several fairly recent documentaries. That President Harry S. Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima had as much if not more to do with establishing America's dominance in the postwar politics than ending the war with Japan is something that activists, politicians and historians have discussed virtually from the moment he made it.

Narrated by Stone with no other voices (save actors filling in for various world leaders), "Untold History" is a hodgepodge of terrific if often disturbing historical footage and bizarre theatrical asides (including, at one point, the dictionary definition of "empathy" spelled out on the screen) that are almost overwhelmed by its invasive soundtrack. It seems, more than anything, a response to the notion of "American exceptionalism," though it's difficult to imagine that those Americans who do believe, as Stone puts it, that America is the center of the universe and always the good guy, will be swayed by him.

Which is not to say that there isn't value in the series. History demands constant reevaluation and certainly it is important to be reminded that the actions of our government can be tragically flawed. There are wonderful pieces of footage here and vivid glimpses of behind-the-scenes politicking, particularly regarding Franklin Delano Roosevelt's second vice president, Henry Wallace, a progressive liberal Roosevelt fought to get on the ticket, only to have him replaced by conservative forces during his fourth and final term by Truman. In early episodes, Wallace returns to Stone's narrative again and again as a lost hope for America, a man who might have saved us from the sins of the atomic age.

Not every historian sees Wallace as quite the tragic hero Stone considers him, but the narrative of "The Untold History" is too often just as one-note as the versions Stone seeks to replace. Indeed, the inclusion, at several points, of clips from Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is as telling as it is narratively jarring. Stone presents his case with little recognition of the social, political and psychological complexities that dominate much of human development, turning it, intentionally or not, into an alternative mythology that relies far more on broad-stroke storytelling than rigorous analysis.

And isn't that what he was angry about in the first place?



Oliver Stone Rewrites History — Again

“Come on, that’s such a canard, you know that,” Oliver Stone said. “ ‘The Greatest Generation?’ That was the biggest publishing hoax of all. It’s to sell books.” This seemingly sacrosanct term was coined by Tom Brokaw for his 1998 book of the same title, in which he recounted the lives of ordinary, World War II-era Americans. “I was in Vietnam with the Greatest Generation. They were master sergeants, generals, colonels. They had arrogance beyond belief. The hubris that allowed Henry Kissinger to say North Vietnam is a fourth-rate power we will break. The hubris of that!”

We were discussing Stone’s latest project, a 10-part Showtime series and a 750-page companion volume called “The Untold History of the United States,” which begins with World War I and ends with the first Obama administration. It’s an Oliver Stone version of a History Channel documentary, one guaranteed to raise the ires of both left and right and where all roads lead to Vietnam. From where Stone sits, World War II begot the cold war, which landed us in Vietnam, a manifestation of American imperialism, which led inexorably to our current battle in Afghanistan. We have, Stone says, been sold a fairy tale masquerading as history, and it is so blinding it may ultimately undo us. “You have to understand what it was like to be a Roman empire and to find some barbarian tribe riding into Rome in 476 A.D.,” Stone said. “It’s quite a shock. And that’s what will happen to us unless we change our attitude about what our role in the world is. Every story out of most newspapers is ‘the Americans think this, the administration thinks this.’ It’s always about our controlling the pieces on the chessboard. I think what the Arabs have shown us is that we don’t control the chess pieces. And this is a shock to many people. But it’s definitely in ‘The Greatest Generation.’ And it’s in Spielberg’s World War II film, and it’s in Ridley Scott’s ‘Black Hawk Down.’ These are wonderful-looking films, but the message is perverted.”

It was a late September morning, and Stone was sitting on the terrace of his hotel suite in San Sebastián, Spain, where his latest film, “Savages,” was being screened as part of the city’s 60-year-old film festival. The sun was peeking through some late-morning clouds, glinting off the river below, and Stone shielded his eyes with a pair of sunglasses that could have been part of Kevin Costner’s wardrobe in “JFK.” At a news conference he gave the day before, he suggested that the former Spanish president José María Aznar should be tried at The Hague on war-crimes charges for his participation in Bush’s Coalition of the Willing during the Iraq War. The remark presumably only enhanced his status in San Sebastián, where he was presented with the Donostia, the festival’s lifetime achievement award. Before the premiere of “Savages,” Stone walked the red carpet with John Travolta and Benicio Del Toro, waiting, a bit impatiently, as Travolta, Bill Clinton-like, shook the hand of every fan reaching out to him from behind the barriers, kissed old ladies and posed for innumerable cellphone pictures; Stone shook some hands, too, but demurred when asked to kiss a small dog. “Allergies,” he explained, pointing to his nose.

“Savages,” based on a popular 2010 novel by Don Winslow about a couple of boutique marijuana growers who are drawn into battle with a brutal Mexican drug cartel, covers terrain that is near to Stone’s heart. To promote the film, he appeared on the cover of High Times, puffing on a thick joint. I mentioned to Stone that the reporter who interviewed him for Playboy in 1987 later wrote that the drunkest he’d ever gotten was with Stone, in Southampton, where Stone was filming the beach house scene in “Wall Street.” The reporter remembers several bottles of bourbon, and then little else until he woke the next morning, soaking wet. He’d passed out on the hotel lawn and was roused when the sprinklers started up. Stone chuckled. “That is funny,” he said. “Because we’ve all had moments on lawns where we passed out. One time I was in the Bel-Air Hotel. I woke up in the bushes, and I couldn’t find my way back. And my new wife was waiting. It was kind of a honeymoon. I remember stumbling in and her face when she saw me.” Was the look on her face one of horror? I asked. “Well, it was like she was in for something with the marriage here,” he said. This was his first wife, Najwa Sarkis, he clarified (he has been married to Sun-jung Jung, his third wife, since 1996).

But Stone isn’t a kid anymore. He’s 66, sometimes wears hearing aids and can’t shake off hangovers the way he used to. (“Two vodkas or two tequilas and a few glasses of wine, that’s the edge for me,” he said.) It has been more than 25 years since his greatest critical and commercial success, “Platoon,” an autobiographical retelling of his Vietnam experience, which won best director and best picture and harvested almost $150 million at the domestic box office. And now he’s at the age where he’s considering his legacy. “A lot of people when they get older they write autobiographies or memoirs,” he said. “But my priority would be to ask, What did the times I lived through mean? And did I understand them?”

Stone modeled his new series on the landmark 1973-74 ITV series “The World at War,” which, at 26 episodes, is considered as exhaustive and authoritative a study of World War II as could be offered on television. Stone’s “Untold History” jams almost 75 years of American history into just 10 hours, so that may kill the exhaustive angle, but Stone is certainly hoping for the authoritative bit. “This,” he pronounced, “is truly the meaning of these events.”

Spend any time with Stone, and you’ll soon discover that he lacks what you might call the deliberation gene, whatever prevents us from saying things that will get us in trouble, lose us friendships, even jobs. Years ago, a producer on “Nixon” related that when he first introduced Stone to his mother, Stone declared, “You look Chinese.” (She was not.) At dinner, I watched Stone jokingly tell two female Spanish film executives that he missed the days when attractive Spanish women, with little economic opportunity at home, served as maids in wealthy French households. The day we met, I mentioned that my family would be leaving Brooklyn for Connecticut, where we don’t know a soul. “But, really, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” I said, offering the kind of throwaway phrase used to move from one topic to the next. Well, Stone postulated, quite earnestly, you could end up going through an acrimonious divorce and then be forced to wage an expensive battle over custody of your children.

Stone often comes to understand, too late, the consequences of his words. In Spain, he talked openly about the furor that ensued when, in 2010, a British journalist asked him why people were so fixated on memorializing the Holocaust, considering, as he told her, that “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians” than he did to the Jews and that the Russians lost “25, 30 million” in the war. It was, Stone claimed, because of what he called “the Jewish domination of the media” and Israel’s “powerful lobby in Washington.” As reported, this did not go over well with some in Hollywood, notably with the entertainment magnate Haim Saban, a promi­nent supporter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who personally lobbied the president of CBS, Leslie Moonves, to kill the series on Showtime (owned by CBS). Soon after, Stone apologized to the Anti-Defamation League, retracting his claim that Israel and the pro-Israel lobby were to blame for America’s “flawed foreign policy.” “Of course that’s not true, and I apologize that my inappropriately glib remark has played into that negative stereotype,” his statement read. In Spain, I asked if he stood by this abject apology. “I don’t know about the word ‘abject,’ ” he said. “I did use the wrong word, and I had to apologize because I should not have used the word ‘Jewish.’ That was the only thing that’s frankly wrong in that statement. I was upset at the time about Israel and their control, their seeming control over American foreign policy. It’s clear that Jews do not dominate the media. Rupert Murdoch, Clear Channel, Christians dominate much of the right wing. But certainly Aipac has an undue influence. They were very much militating for the war in Iraq. They got it.”

A few days after returning from Europe, Stone sent me a long e-mail, clarifying a few of the more inflammatory things he’d said. He also requested that I not call CBS to inquire about the seeming retraction of his retraction, concerned that Showtime might flinch and pull his as-yet unbroadcast “Untold History” series. “Feel free to write about it, but why go now and wave a red flag in front of bulls?” he wrote. It had happened before. In 2003, HBO was set to broadcast his first Fidel Castro documentary, “Comandante,” in which Stone showed the Cuban leader speed-walking around his office, mooning over Brigitte Bardot and basking in the love of ebullient Cubans. When Castro executed three hijackers of a ferry to the United States and imprisoned more than 70 political dissidents, HBO pulled the program two weeks before airtime. “I was heartbroken,” Stone said.

Considering his occasional disregard of others’ feelings, Stone is surprisingly sensitive about his work. “He’s always experienced self-doubt because he’s so often trying to break the rules,” says Edward R. Pressman, who produced four of Stone’s movies, including “Wall Street.” In Spain, Stone mentioned “Heaven and Earth” (1993), his third film about Vietnam, which, I admitted, I hadn’t seen. “No one has seen it,” he lamented. “It was my biggest financial failure. But I don’t regret it. It was an amazingly beautiful movie, and I hope you see it one day.” Sure I would, I told him. “Will you?” he said.

When I returned home, I received a package from Stone’s Ixtlan production company that, in addition to “Heaven and Earth,” included his three Castro documentaries, as well as a 3-hour-34-minute version of his epic “Alexander.” He can’t stand the 2-hour-55-minute theatrical edit he made for Warner Brothers. “It was really a two-part roadshow movie,” he said. “If I had had the confidence I would have made it that.”

A few weeks later, he looked genuinely pained when I needled him about the Connecticut divorce comment he made in Spain. When he met my wife, he took her hands in his and told her, apologetically, “I love Connecticut.”

Last month, on the afternoon before the premiere of three episodes of “Untold History” at the New York Film Festival, Stone and Peter Kuznick were bickering in a conference room at Stone’s publicity firm. Kuznick is the history professor at the American University in Washington who helped write the Showtime series and, even Stone admits, most of the book. At 64, Kuznick is Stone’s contemporary, and the two men in their identical outfits of black jackets and pressed blue oxford shirts might suggest some sort of cosmic parity if their personal backgrounds weren’t so dissimilar. Whereas Kuznick was raised by left-leaning, politically active Jews and joined the N.A.A.C.P. at age 12, Stone’s political evolution has been a gradual but radical departure from his upbringing in the Upper East Side household of Louis Stone, a stockbroker and Eisenhower Republican, who instilled in his son an almost-paralyzing fear of Russia’s global military and economic ascendancy. “I remember crying, practically, and saying why aren’t we doing anything?” Stone said. He infuriated his father by dropping out of Yale after his first year (George W. Bush was in his freshman class) and later joined the Army and served in the infantry in Vietnam. Not long before enlisting, he tried, unsuccessfully, to sell a novel, an event he has said left him in a suicidal mood. He wanted to make his military experience as difficult as possible. “I insisted on the infantry, and I insisted on Vietnam because I didn’t want to end up going to Germany,” he said. “And I got that, which was good for me, because it woke me up.”

In a very small way, the challenges of objectively documenting history are made manifest when you ask Stone and Kuznick how they came to work together on “Untold History.” Kuznick was a huge Oliver Stone fan, so much so that in 1996, he started teaching a course called Oliver Stone’s America, which attracted, in its very first year, a visit from the only guy he considered an indispensable guest lecturer. Over dinner that evening, Kuznick regaled him with his take on Henry Wallace, vice president during F.D.R.’s third term, whom Kuznick considers a brilliant progressive and an unsung hero. During the 1944 Democratic convention, thanks to some conservative power players, Wallace, instead of being renominated for vice president, was at the last moment tossed aside for Harry Truman, a senator of limited experience who was only briefed that the United States was building the atomic bomb after Roosevelt died. If Wallace rather than Truman had become president, Kuznick told Stone, the United States might not have dropped atomic bombs on Japan, and the cold war might never have started.

Stone commissioned Kuznick to write a treatment. Kuznick, convinced that he’d been ushered into the movie business, got himself a William Morris agent, who lobbied for Kuznick to write the script. But the screenplay suffered the same fate as several of Stone’s pet projects — the C.I.A.-hunting-Bin-Laden project, the Manuel Noriega project, the My Lai project. That is, it died. And this is where Kuznick and Stone’s versions of history diverge.

Stone: “It was a great idea. I’d never heard the story, and I wanted to do a ’40s kind of movie. It was perfect. And he [expletive] up the screenplay.”

Kuznick: “Don’t believe that, because Oliver told a mutual friend of ours who told me, ‘Oliver said it’s a work of genius, I’m dying to make it.’ ”

Stone: “Nooo!”

Kuznick: “Well, you did. You forgot.”

A decade later, Stone told Kuznick he wanted his help on a 90-minute documentary about Wallace, Truman and the birth of the atom bomb. Soon after, the 90-minute documentary morphed, Kuznick was never sure how, into a 10-hour Showtime series that he was on the hook to write and research. Both men make the four years it took to put together the series sound about as much fun as the siege of Leningrad. Stone missed his deadline by two full years, and his foreign distributor almost ditched the project. It was one of the many bumps that didn’t go unfelt by Kuznick. “Oliver is always good about sharing the pressure,” Kuznick told me. “Whatever pressure Oliver is feeling, I would get a double dose of.” As we talked, Kuznick’s cellphone rang. It was Stone, who was about to be interviewed for the Carson Daly show and needed stats on how much the United States committed to pay the U.S.S.R. in reparations after World War II, and how much, per year, the United States spends in Afghanistan per Al Qaeda member who actually resides in Afghanistan.

Kuznick is not the first expert Stone has relied on in making his films. “JFK” was based on “On the Trail of the Assassins,” by Jim Garrison, a former Orleans Parish district attorney who, in 1969, unsuccessfully prosecuted Clay Shaw, a New Orleans businessman, for conspiring to kill the president. Kevin Costner played Garrison as an Atticus Finch type fighting an ingrained power structure, though Garrison is dismissed by many mainstream historians as a con man. In researching “JFK,” Stone also relied on L. Fletcher Prouty, a former Air Force colonel who, before becoming disillusioned with government, was chief of special operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy administration. Prouty never actually met Garrison except in Stone’s film, where he is Donald Sutherland’s Colonel X, who lays it all out for the D.A. in the shadow of the Washington Monument — how the military deliberately underprotected the president in Dallas, how defense contractors, big oil and bankers conspired with the military to make sure the president died because he didn’t intend to go to war in Vietnam. Costner is a kind of stand-in for Stone, soberly shaking his head as X says: “Does that sound like a bunch of coincidences to you, Mr. Garrison? Not for one moment.”

In advance of the film’s release, Stone pronounced “JFK” “a history lesson.” Prouty, however, who died in 2001, turned out to be extremely problematic. He had many theories in addition to his theories on Kennedy, including that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had foreknowledge of the Jonestown Massacre and that greedy oil barons invented the fiction that oil is made of decomposed fossils. And it was Prouty, Stone said, who turned him on to “The Report From Iron Mountain,” a 1967 document ostensibly written by a secret panel of military planners. The document is a favorite among conspiracy theorists, who, like Prouty, seem unaware that in 1972 the satirist Leonard Lewin admitted he wrote it. “I’ve acknowledged when I’ve made mistakes,” Stone said of the movie now. “There were a few mistakes, but nothing that changes the big story.”

It has been more than 20 years since Stone made “JFK,” a film that he now says should be looked at not as history but as a dramatized version of it — “the spirit of the truth.” “It’s called dramatic license,” Stone said about his approach in “JFK.” “It’s a noble tradition. The Greeks did it, Homer did it, Shakespeare did it.” Increased historical rigor may explain why his portrayal of Nixon’s life was deemed judicious by comparison, and even why, to the great chagrin of his liberal fans, “W.” was judged a sympathetic portrayal of Bush. (“It’s empathy,” he said, clearly irritated by that take. “It’s not sympathy. I repeat, I did not like George Bush, nor did I like Richard Nixon.”) This time, perhaps, having a bona fide tenured professor on his side will silence his many critics.

The screening of “Untold History” during the New York Film Festival early last month suggested that he might have a hit. At the end of the third hour, the crowd roared its approval. The cheers got only louder when Stone sauntered onstage for a postscreening panel discussion. “So much of what I saw today is what we try to do at The Nation,” said Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher and editor of the left’s beloved 147-year-old weekly. “To challenge the orthodoxy, challenge the conformity of our history and to speak truth to power.” Jonathan Schell, a journalist who also writes for The Nation, concurred.

Stone didn’t seem particularly riveted by the conversation at first, leaning back in his chair, gripping the bridge of his nose as if he had a sinus headache and sometimes closing his eyes so that, owing to his bushy Brezhnev eyebrows, he looked like a Russian premier lying in state. Just when the panel started to feel like a wonky meeting of Park Slope Food Coop members, the historian Douglas Brinkley stirred things up. Even though Brinkley provided the authors a nice blurb, calling the book “a brave revisionist study which shatters many foreign policy myths,” he had a few bones to pick with the project. Brinkley, who has written several notable histories, said he thought the series had gone too far in demonizing Truman. “Truman is one of the most popular presidents in American history, and he’s popular for doing a bunch of things,” he said. Brinkley mentioned how Truman presided over the end of World War II, racially integrated American troops, helped create the state of Israel and airlifted supplies into Soviet-blockaded West Berlin. “The only opening you’re giving him is that he was a naïf,” Brinkley said. This perked Stone right up. He shook his head. “If he’d done something noble, believe me, we’re not looking to cut it out,” Stone said, earning him a round of applause. “I just don’t see any nobleness.”

But Brinkley has a point. If the only thing you ever learned about Truman was from “Untold History,” you might conclude he was a virulent racist, mentally unfit for office and suffering from a gender confusion that led to mass murder. “He was bullied by other boys who called him ‘Four Eyes’ and ‘sissy’ and chased him home after school,” Stone narrates. “When he arrived home, trembling, his mother would comfort him by telling him not to worry because he was meant to be a girl anyway.” This, the series implies, might explain why Truman dropped atomic bombs on Japan — not to end the war but to flex his muscles and intimidate Stalin, as he himself had been intimidated as a boy.

While Stone glancingly acknowledges Stalin’s mass murder of his own people, Stalin, compared with Truman, still comes off as heroic, as an honest negotiator who, following F.D.R.’s death, was faced at every turn with Truman’s diplomatic perfidy. (Stalin promised that after he defeated Germany, he’d invade Japan, but Truman dropped the bomb anyway.) Stone also sees America’s role in the war as exaggerated. “The Soviets were regularly battling more than 200 German divisions. . . . The Americans and the British fighting in the Mediterranean rarely confronted more than 10,” Stone narrates.

If Truman represents the black hat of “The Untold History,” the white hats belong to those whose promise was unfulfilled — F.D.R., who died before he could make peace in Europe and Asia humanely, and Kennedy, cut down before he could stem aggression toward Communist elements in Southeast Asia. (The cold war, the series posits, was mostly a product of American paranoia and imperialist ambitions. Stalin was essentially pulled onto the dance floor by the United States, and Russia’s continued domination of Eastern Europe mainly a defensive response to our nuclear program and the establishment of American military bases throughout Europe.) The biggest hero of all, though, is the man who inspired the whole project: Henry Wallace. In the series, Wallace is treated to reverent orchestral music when his face appears on-screen, intercut at times with clips from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” “Wallace stuck out like a sore thumb on Capitol Hill,” Stone narrates. “He studied Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. . . . He liked to spend evenings reading or throwing boomerangs on the Potomac.”

Onstage, Kuznick said that he and Stone wanted to highlight pivotal moments in history when better decisions could have been made. “We actually came very close to having a very different kind of history,” he said. “We want to give people the ability to think in a utopian fashion again.” I asked Stone what would have happened had Wallace, not Truman, become president. “There would not have been this cold war,” he said. “There would have been the continuation of the Roosevelt-Stalin working out of things. Vietnam wouldn’t have happened.”

While to his fans Stone’s alternate histories are provocative, his detractors see them as grossly irresponsible cherry-picking. The conservative historian and CUNY emeritus professor Ronald Radosh said he found himself wanting to do harm to his television while watching the first four episodes, which he reviewed for the right-wing Weekly Standard. Radosh had been blogging skeptically about the Stone project since its announcement in 2010, but now that he’d actually seen it, he said, it was the historian rather than the conservative in him who was most offended. “Historians can have different interpretations, but based on evidence,” he said. “What these other guys do is manipulate evidence and ignore evidence that does not fit their predetermined thesis, and that’s why they’re wrong.” According to Radosh, Stone and Kuznick’s take on the United States’ role in the cold war mirrors the argument in “We Can Be Friends,” a book published in 1952 by Carl Marzani, who was convicted of concealing his affiliation to the Communist Party when he joined the O.S.S., the precursor to the C.I.A. This Stone-Kuznick film could have been put out in 1955 as Soviet propaganda,” Radosh said. “They use all the old stuff.”

Radosh, who grew up as a Red Diaper baby in Washington Heights and only later turned to the right, thinks of himself as intimately familiar with the “old stuff.” But fearing he might be dismissed as partisan, he insisted I reach out to Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian who, owing to his strident defense of Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearings and to his 2006 Rolling Stone cover article on George W. Bush, “The Worst President in History?” is regarded as decidedly left-leaning. When I spoke to him, Wilentz said: “You can’t get two historians more unlike each other than me and Ronnie Radosh. But we can agree about this. It’s ridiculous.” Wilentz was in the middle of writing a review of Stone’s book. “Always beware of books that describe themselves as the untold history of anything, because it’s usually been told before,” he said. “It sets up this thing that there is some sort of mysterious force suppressing the true facts, right? Glenn Beck does this all the time. It’s the same thing here, except this is basically a very standard left-wing, C.P., fellow traveler, Wallace-ite vision of what happened in 1945-46.” It’s not, Wilentz continued, that the questions raised aren’t worth raising. “Is there a legitimate argument to be made about the origins of our nuclear diplomacy or the decision to build the H-bomb?” he said. “Of course there is. But it’s so overloaded with ideological distortion that this question doesn’t get raised in an intelligent way. And once a question gets raised in an unintelligent way, then you are off in cloud-cuckoo land.”

But for some, Stone’s work, though flawed, does succeed in reorienting our perspective. “What Stone makes you rethink, which is very valuable, is why later in life did Truman have to take on such a macho posture?” Brinkley said after the screening. “I would think you’d be a little bit concerned about wiping out a civilian population and being the only president to use nuclear weapons.” Brinkley was referring to a clip Stone included from a 1958 interview Truman did with Edward R. Murrow, in which he was asked if the bomb was really necessary. Truman answered, chillingly: “We had this powerful new weapon. I had no qualms about using it.”

“Untold History” wants to present itself as the whole truth and nothing but. Yet Stone has always fared best as a provocateur. “JFK” may not be particularly good history, but so many people believed his film to be a document of the actual conspiracy, and so many others dismissed it as hooey, that Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act in 1992, which precipitated the release of millions of pages of documents. We would never discover that L.B.J. had a hand in the killing — as Colonel X’s monologue in the movie would have us believe — but we did find out that L.B.J. thought preposterous the Warren Commission’s “magic bullet” explanation for how one bullet could have passed through the bodies of Kennedy and John Connally only to emerge pristine. And all the talk of forged autopsy records, which to many seemed like cloud-cuckoo land, didn’t seem so crazy after documents revealed that the pathologist who performed the J.F.K. autopsy had burned his original notes and replaced them with an edited version. This is unimpeachably good history that is directly attributable to Oliver Stone’s not being a great historian.

On Nov. 10, two days before the premiere of “Untold History” on Showtime, Kuznick was onstage at the 92nd Street Y, crowing a bit about the project’s reception. (He hadn’t yet heard the excoriating opinions of Wilentz and others.) “It’s interesting to see the early reviews,” Kuznick said. “They’re all glowing, really. I mean, nobody’s challenging anything we’re saying, either our facts or our interpretations.” Stone, sitting next to him, gestured with his hands, as if to calm him down. “Well, it’s early,” Stone said.




Oliver Stone's #UntoldHistory

A summary of the live-tweeting at the Institue of Historical Research, where Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick introduced their new documentary series and book. Thanks to those who tweeted!

  1. #untoldhistory is Oliver Stone's new TV history series & accompanying book, in which he faces the USA with uncomfortable truths
  2. That's what I shall find out! #untoldhistory “@Long_Tailed_Tit:@HistoryNeedsYou uncomfortable truths or unfounded conspiracy theories?”
  3. In #untoldhistory Oliver Stone has faced the US with the story of the Soviet-Japanese War of 1946…
  4. This afternoon we shall ask Oliver Stone if #untoldhistory is history or just a new myth.
  5. Oliver Stone has stated that the format of #untoldhistory is inspired by the epic docu 'The World at War'
  6. We are waiting for the screening of an episode of #untoldhistory, Oliver Stone's new project
  7. The clips that I have seen of #untoldhistory also remind me of 'The Rock n Roll years' - no talking heads. Rapid edits
  8. There's a full house at the Senate House for the screening of
  9. The story of #untoldhistory has begun with WW2 in the Pacific and the lead-up to the dropping of the atomic bombs - US suzerainty
  10. Screening of the first episode of Oliver Stone's #untoldhistory. Unlike the Germans "the Japanese were looked upon as coachroaches"
  11. Japanese Americans lost the modern equivalent of $5 billion when they were interned during WW2 #untoldhistory
  12. Oliver Stone is pulling no punches - facing the US with the grim reality of their own racism in WW2. #untoldhistory
  13. "Americans moral threshold was lowered by the Second World War" #untoldhistory
  14. The music in #untoldhistory is excellent but a little intrusive, playing through the v/o, luckily it is paused for archive sound clips
  15. Stone has taken a risk in editing together archive reportage, drama and reconstructions without clear differentiation. #untoldhistory
  16. Many people watching #untoldhistory will be disturbed at seeing graphic footage of the effects of area bombing in WW2
  17. Half a million French, German and Italian civilians killed by British and American bombers #untoldhistory
  18. A few titles/labels have been applied to archive clips in#untoldhistory but a more consistent application would improve clarity
  19. Oliver Stone has stated that #untoldhistory is squarely aimed at a younger audience so he really should add clearer labels to the clips
  20. #untoldhistory marshals evidence that the Japanese were looking to surrender before the dropping of the atomic bombs.
  21. Stone is describing the negotiations for the surrender of Japan in 1945 but has made an erroneous parallel with Italy #untoldhistory
  22. Eisenhower dubbed the atomic bombings "unnecessary" and did not want his country to be the 1st to use such a terrible weapon#untoldhistory
  23. Stone is describing the rapid advance of the Soviet-Japan war in Aug 45 - all too often a forgotten not just #untoldhistory
  24. #untoldhistory claims that it was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria was a greater blow to the Japansee than Nagasaki
  25. Japanese were worries the Soviets would execute their Emperor like they had murdered their own Tsar #untoldhistory
  26. Useful quotes from Mil Int assessment of Japanese cabinet minutes from Aug 45, primary fear was Red Army not A-Bomb.#untoldhistory
  27. Stone's point is that the US people were 'sold" the bomb on an untruthful premise, that it had won the war #untoldhistory
  28. Stone is now concluding his point with the historiography of the A-bomb in the US #untoldhistory
  29. Interesting that Public History controversy over the Enola Gay Museum Exhibit is tackled by Oliver Stone/Peter Kuznick#UntoldHistory
  30. Oliver Stone is presenting President Truman as a surprisingly weak figure, dominated by hawks #untoldhistory
  31. Churchill asked Truman what they'll say when St Peter when asked about bringing the bomb into the world #untoldhistory
  32. Somewhat curiously, Stone has had Churchill's quotes read by Jeremy Irons, not @pastafa #untoldhistory
  33. The use of clips of a drama about George Bush is somewhat nauseating #untoldhistory
  34. #untoldhistory was great but seemed quite opinionated. I don't mind opinion but I suspect historians watching it might not like it.
  35. Aha @theoliverstone is in the house - his #untoldhistory chapter that we have just watched was totally devastating
  36. Remarkable hearing @theoliverstone explain the background to his #untoldhistory TV series
  37. Oliver Stone has cast Henry Wallace as the lost hero of#untoldhistory - a somewhat unlikely thesis
  38. #untoldhistory was started after critical Enola Gay Smithsonian exhibition was pressured into closure.
  39. Stone & Kuznick have been asked if #untoldhistory is gonzo history or a serious continuation of their work
  40. Absolutely stunned to hear of the role played by Henry Wallace in trying to stop 'the bomb' being dropped on Japan #untoldhistory
  41. Kuznick: Response to #untoldhistory has been well received by some histories, more critical by mainstream media.
  42. Fascinating alternative #untoldhistory of 'the bomb' & WWII. Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick now on stage.
  43. Peter Kuznick: Iraq and Afghanistan were not aberrations butpart of a continum of American History. #untoldhistory
  44. Oliver Stone is explaining how he was motivated by his opposition to Bush & the Hawks. #untoldhistory
  45. Interesting to hear @theoliverstone say that '*control* is more important than any other wealth' #untoldhistory
  46. #untoldhistory Stone: "woke up in his forties" to role the US military played in Central America, despite his role in Vietnam.
  47. #untoldhistory Stone never questioned Vietnam as a patriot.
  48. @theoliverstone says 'when you start to question the atomic bomb, you open Pandora's Box' #untoldhistory
  49. Good question tweeted in, relayed by @historyworkstv - what is the balance between history & entertainment. #untoldhistory
  50. Stone's answer to the history/entertainment balance question is that he judged it on the need to keep audience engaged.#untoldhistory
  51. @theoliverstone says 'it is the hardest thing... to make a documentary *exciting*' #untoldhistory
  52. Oliver Stone again praises World at War. Example how you can reconcile historical complexity and entertainment #untoldhistory
  53. Stone confirms my suspicion that he was influenced by Adam Curtis. He "cut through free association". #untoldhistory
  54. Kuznick: [USA] has not the learnt the lessons of wars on terror#untoldhistory
  55. Kuznick is speaking out against the 'war on terror' - describing it as a mistaken continuity of US post-war suzerainty. #untoldhistory
  56. Kuznick: USA invades without knowledge of the country it is invading. From Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan. #untoldhistory
  57. Kuznick: "at least the British had some knowledge of the countries they were invading" #untoldhistory
  58. Kuznick: Making a good documentary is recognising the patterns throughout history. #untoldhistory
  59. "The Cold War needn't have happened" - imagine that!#untoldhistory
  60. Kuznick is stating that Eden was critical of Truman & Churchill and that FDR would have avoided US-Soviet conflict. #untoldhistory
  61. Wow, Peter Kozniak is totally fascinating about Henry Wallace#untoldhistory
  62. Kuznick said if Wallace had not been passed over at the end of WW2 the A-bomb may not have been dropped & Cold War averted.#untoldhistory
  63. Kuznick: Truman was VP for 82 days. Nobody bothered to tell him about the atomic bomb being worked on #untoldhistory
  64. Kozniak is asked how much Truman knew about Japan being about to surrender prior to dropping 'the bomb' #untoldhistory
  65. #untoldhistory audience member: "do you honestly believe Stalin had no ambitions in Eastern Europe and it was just fear of the bomb?"
  66. Kozniak says the obstacle to Japanese surrender was that they cd 'keep the Emperor' #untoldhistory
  67. Kuznick said that Truman was, like Æthelræd, Unready and ill-prepared for office when FDR died. #untoldhistory
  68. Kuznick is stating how much evidence he has for #untoldhistoryand that much more detail in the book
  69. Stone is stating that the Cold War froze at Potsdam and Yalta but it need not have happened if comms had remained open.#untoldhistory
  70. Please be aware that although I am reporting on Stone & Kuznick's Q&A, I do not agree with everything that they have said.#untoldhistory
  71. It does appear that Stone & Kuznick are describing a war that began in 1941 not in the 1930s. #untoldhistory
  72. Audience getting heated in questions to Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick #UntoldHistory: podcast will be soon available via@IHRPublicHist Yeah!
  73. Kuznick is making much of events of Aug 45 but has not referenced Molotov-Ribbentrop pact - Stalin's ruthlessness. #untoldhistory
  74. Kuznick: This is not Stone's history, this is our history.#untoldhistory
  75. Kuznick & Stone have not referred to the importance of ULTRA &@bletchleypark in guiding policy. #untoldhistory
  76. Question/statement from floor, A-Bomb started in UK & Germany. Wasn't originally intended for Japan. #untoldhistory
  77. Kuznick does not seem to be aware that the A-bomb project started in Birmingham UK, not the USA. #untoldhistory
  78. Kuznick said that he is uncertain about what Heisenberg thought. Excuse me whilst I try not to laugh. #untoldhistory
  79. Kuznick: "Obama is a massive disappointment to us"#untoldhistory
  80. Kuznick has accused Obama of caving in to the hawks, not standing up to them like JFK! #untoldhistory
  81. Stone has said that he and Kuznick have described Obama as a wolf in sheep's clothing. #untoldhistory
  82. Oliver Stone/Peter Kuznick Q&A ends saying they want to be criticising Empire of present USA political regime + in USA's past#UntoldHistory
  83. Stone has described how Gorbachev 'came from nowhere' - he can't have read his biography. #untoldhistory
  84. & frustrated “@CllrWalshaw: @HistoryNeedsYou Am sensing MW you are by turns interested & bemused by this Q&A?#untoldhistory
  85. That concludes the Q&A with Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick on#untoldhistory - I shall read the book with a critical eye