Monday, January 07, 2013

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States

I switched my cable contract to an updated package which cost less and gave me more channels. As part of the change I got access to Showtime which has an associated video streaming service called Showtime Anytime very similar to HBO Go.

Anyway, I was exploring the Showtime stuff and was intrigued to find a Showtime series directed and narrated by Oliver Stone called “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.”

Now my warning radar went up immediately. I mean, we’re talking about Oliver Stone here of the movie “JFK” infamy. I saw JFK and it was total nonsense. Still, I couldn’t resist.

The show is comprised of Stone narrating over vintage newsreel footage and is intriguing to say the least. It begins with World War II and, so far, appears to extend through the Reagan era with a promise I believe of two more shows to come.

Stone’s main premise is “what you know to be true ain’t necessarily so.” It also has a secondary premise of “there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know that maybe you should.”

I would never argue with either premise and especially not with the second one. The problem with the first one is often it’s a matter of opinion rather than one of fact. The same events can be interpreted different ways by different people. I might also point out that the same two premises apply to people doing documentaries on Showtime.

The first premise is also subject to the level of education of the individual. I’ve watched two episodes so far and there was nothing in Episode 1 that I didn’t know. Stone’s big revelation was that it was the Soviet Union that defeated Hitler and not the Western Allies. Anyone with a decent knowledge of World War II understands that.

The second episode was a bit trickier and focused upon the relationships between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill and the internal politics of the Democratic Party approaching the 1944 convention.

It’s hard to believe today but in 1944 the most Right Wing elements in the country were Democratic Party stalwarts from the so-called solid south. The political landscape consisted of Democrats to the Left, Republicans in the Center and more Democrats to the Right as opposed to today’s landscape of Democrats to the Left and Republicans to the Right with a growing gap between them.

Stone’s basic premise is that Truman was a political hack of limited imagination and intelligence that didn’t follow through on the agreements between Roosevelt and Stalin. Stone paints Roosevelt and Stalin as seeing eye to eye on the emerging future while Churchill held onto obsolete visions of colonial empire. He implies that Wallace, quite possibly the closest thing to a Socialist the country has ever had in high public office, would have followed through.

Stone then implies that history would have been drastically different if the reactionary and big business elements of the Democratic Party hadn’t managed to get Henry Wallace replaced on the ticket by Truman and Wallace, rather than Truman, had become president.

Yeah, I agree things would have been different but I’m not sure they would have been better.

Wallace strikes me as a terribly naïve and trusting sort and I suspect Stalin would have wrapped him around his little finger. Things would probably have gone along to Papa Stalin’s satisfaction until Wallace realized that he’d been had as he did shortly after the invasion of South Korea.

That day did come and, like all naïve and trusting types, Wallace appears to have had a penchant for turning viciously upon those he felt betrayed by. It’s not at all clear to me that Wallace would have been a better choice regardless of any shortcomings that Truman may have had. When Wallace did realize he’d been had all he could do was write about it in his book “Where I was Wrong.” As president he would have had other options.

Wallace was a left wing nutcase. I don’t think he would have been good for the country in 1945 or anytime shortly thereafter. Hell, I don’t think he’d be good for the country now.

The next episode is entitled “The Bomb” and Stone has hinted at “other reasons” beyond the fear of massive casualties resulting from an invasion of Japan for dropping the A-Bomb.

Yeah, I don’t doubt there were; the question is what were their relative importance? If they didn’t exist, would the A-Bomb still have been dropped?

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