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November 12, 2012

Oliver Stone's Untold, Unboring History of the United States

American history! Whose heart doesn't race when you remember being initiated into its excitement and mystery in high school? There's the Logan Act of 1799! And the presidency of Benjamin Harrison! And the Open Door Policy. And, uh, and the Fordney–McCumber Tariff of 1922...and "A Return to Normalcy"... and the Federal Aid Highway Aczzzzzzzzzzzzzptsphttzzzz.

Almost everyone in high school hates history, and they should. Just 7% of U.S. students say history is their favorite subject, and considering how schools grind American history into mush, it's amazing the number's that high. It's like 7% said their favorite food is unflavored semolina.

Schools accomplish this with one simple technique: leaving out every single thing about U.S. history that's interesting. In high school history classes there's never been any conflict in America – and no one filled with greed, or hate, or lust for power. In other words, no recognizable human beings. Everyone always wanted the best for everybody in the best of all possible worlds. It's been 236 years of interchangeable robots singing "America the Beautiful."

It's obvious why schools have to do this – real history is dangerous. If the people in charge 50 years ago were horribly flawed, students might consider the possibility that the ones in charge now are too. But all people, especially the kind that spend their lives seeking power, are horribly flawed, and its their flaws that make them human and interesting. So schools know they're being constantly monitored by the people currently at the top of the pyramid in case they slip up and accidentally let something interesting into the curriculum. (This is really no exaggeration – while Dick Cheney was doing horrible things in the present, his wife Lynne was constantly on guard against students finding out about horrible things U.S. leaders did in the past.*)

Young Americans have understandably responded to this with massive passive resistance, refusing to learn anything at all about the past. And that's fine with the people running things. Their first choice would be to have kids opening each school day with a hymn to the Rockefellers and ExxonMobil, but failing that they'd rather students know nothing. If kids knew how and why George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, they might ask questions in 2031 when George P. Bush invades Iceland.

That's why you're not going to see a glowing review of Oliver Stone's new book and 10-part Showtime series, The Untold History of the United States, in the New York Times anytime soon. It's just too interesting. Stone, together with the historian Peter Kuznick, has taken almost everything compelling about the last seventy years of American foreign policy and put it all in one place.

I'd recommend both to anyone, but it's probably easier for non-obsessives to begin with the TV show, which starts tonight and continues with a new episode each Monday. For a sense of what you'll get, here are the most important points of the first two shows – all of which would surprise most Americans, and some of which would be surprising for almost anyone:

• The United States played a minor role in winning World War II. The country that beat Hitler is the Soviet Union, and they paid a far greater price than anyone else. 20-30 million Russians died, and more were killed during both the Battle of Kiev and the Siege of Stalingrad than the U.S. lost in the entire war. You don't have to love Joseph Stalin and gulags to understand why this would make the Soviets extremely anxious after VE day to control a buffer zone between themselves and Germany.

Sophisticated adults – like the Los Angeles Times – scoff at the idea that this is "untold" history, but I guarantee you almost no one in the U.S. knows anything about it.

• This is covered in more depth in the book version of Untold History, but the first TV episodes do touch on how, before the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviets desperately tried to make an alliance with the U.S., Great Britain or France against Nazi Germany. This never happened largely because the corporate right in all three countries openly sympathized with fascism from the beginning; for instance, General Motors, Firestone and Texaco sent help to Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

• Roosevelt used the U.K.'s desperation as leverage to knock many of the pillars out from under the British empire. The show quotes Roosevelt telling his son, "British bankers and German bankers have had world trade pretty well sewn up in their pockets for a long time...America won't help England in this war simply so that she will be able to continue to ride roughshod over colonial peoples." Of course, since Roosevelt died before the war ended, we'll never know how much of this was due to principle on his part and how much to a desire to see the U.S. take the British Empire's place.

• Most importantly, Untold History focuses on how closely Henry Wallace came to becoming president, and how differently history might have turned out if he had. If you don't know much about Wallace (I didn't), just imagine Dennis Kucinich running the United States. But instead Wallace was pushed out at the 1944 Democratic convention after serving as vice president for four years, and we got Harry Truman, Hiroshima and the Cold War.

The show especially shines here, digging up a truly amazing 1940 letter from Roosevelt, in which he threatened not to run again if conservative Democrats blocked his wish to have Wallace join him on the ticket. Read it all – it sounds like it was written by an angry left-wing blogger, except it's actually by the greatest president in the history of the United States.

And as you'll see, there's much, much more to come. Tune in and get the book, both for yourself and for any high school history teachers you know who are independently wealthy and won't mind getting fired.


*In fairness to Dick and Lynne, this works the same in every country. According to Anne Elizabeth Moore, a journalist who's spent a lot of time in Cambodia, most younger Cambodians have no idea there ever was such a thing as the Khmer Rouge.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at November 12, 2012 07:56 PM

I watched the programme last night. Enjoyed it thoroughly, more so because I learnt something new specially about VP Henry Wallace..... I did not know ANYTHING about him. How sad and unfortunate it is that We, Americans do not recognise REAL LEADERS like Henry Wallace or Dennis Kucinich and fall for WARMONGERS!! Now I can say it. Mr Kucinich was my 'write in' candidate on Nov 6th.
Thank you Mr Stone.

Posted by: Rupa Shha at November 13, 2012 09:03 AM

Well, Howard Zinn's people's history was pretty good. He also has a graphic novel of the people's history of American empire. My son loved it.

Posted by: Pathman at November 13, 2012 09:52 AM

Thanks so much for posting, I keep checking your blog because it is always some inspiring/eyeopening truth-gem that I couldn't/wouldn't find anywhere else. I've missed your posts for awhile, but I'm sure this kind of reporting doesn't come easy so I keep checking until it appears and it is always rewarding, thought provoking, and penetrating. Of course, the comments are generally awesome as well.

Posted by: knowdoubt at November 13, 2012 11:13 AM

Thanks so much for posting, I keep checking your blog because it is always some inspiring/eyeopening truth-gem that I couldn't/wouldn't find anywhere else. I've missed your posts for awhile, but I'm sure this kind of reporting doesn't come easy so I keep checking until it appears and it is always rewarding, thought provoking, and penetrating. Of course, the comments are generally awesome as well.

Posted by: knowdoubt at November 13, 2012 11:14 AM

I don't remember now where I read it, but sometime in the 80s and 90s I read that many Russians thought Stalin had killed maybe 1 or 2 thousand people, and that maybe he'd made a few mistakes but what the Soviet Union needed was another strong leader like him. (I imagine some also thought that he might have disappointed some people, but you can't expect a leader to please you 100% because the perfect is the enemy of the good.)

James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me is also a good book on why students hate history because of the way it's taught.

Posted by: Duncan at November 13, 2012 11:16 AM

Today, the Financial Times called, in its lead editorial, for "Rethink on drones after Petraeus exit." They note that since the September 11 attacks, "the CIA has shifted from being an intelligence-gathering operation to a paramilitary organisation that kills terrorist suspects in Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa. Gen. Petraeus's appoint to the CIA in 2011 after 37 years in the military crystallised that shift. This year he reportedly ordered a big expansion in the CIA's fleet of killer drones to step up operations against jihadists. But such drone operations are increasingly questionable on legal, moral and political grounds....Such actions...ultimately act against US interests. As Kurt Volker, the former US ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush, has argued, they give foreigners the impression that the US is a country 'with a permanent kill list.' "

As a foreigner wrote, a couple of hundred years ago, in a poem inspired by seeing an insect on a hat on a lady at a church:

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 13, 2012 02:15 PM

I'll have to watch the show. I'm wondering if The Indians of the last 70 years are mentioned and what's about them. I'm wondering if all the science and weapon systems WE got as "spoils-o-war", ICBM's, stealth aircraft technology, jet aircraft technology, etc., the Nazi Scientists and Camp Guards/Gestapo, WE imported after the war, will be mentioned.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 13, 2012 02:27 PM

VOICEOVER (Schwarz): "a slave loves molasses; he steals some. His master, in many cases, goes off to town, and buys a large quantity; he returns, takes his whip, and commands the slave to eat the molasses, until the poor fellow is made sick at the very mention of it..., if he complains that he cannot eat it, he is said to be satisfied neither full nor fasting, and is whipped for being hard to please"




TEACHER: Mr. Schwarz, eyes up here. The reading is for homework, alone when it's not fresh on your mind and you would rather be asleep, you lazy teenager.

Alright then, class, now that you have had one week to read the book --

STUDENTS (bravely): "we need more time"




TEACHER (in background): You may begin.

1. What was Mr. Douglass's first name?
2. Mr. Douglass doesn't seem to like slavery too much. But since he believes in fairness, we should too. What is good about slavery?
3. Would you recommend this book to a friend? How many?

Posted by: Lewis at November 13, 2012 04:09 PM

Wallace was written out of the party's history after his Progressive Party run in 1948. It became apparent that the CPUSA was actually pulling the strings, which cost him votes.

Interestingly, Wallace's replacement in 1944 was self-inflicted. Frances Perkins, his friend and ally, tried to persuade him to return from abroad for the Democratic Convention, but he wouldn't listen.

There was one other occasion when a radical came very close to the presidency: had Andrew Johnson been impeached, his replacement would have been Benjamin Wade, a Radical Republican.

Posted by: Will at November 13, 2012 08:58 PM

Thanks for the rec.

Posted by: Batocchio at November 14, 2012 02:14 AM

I read an article on Huffpo, I believe, yesterday, about the 911 narrative being corrupted in an American History book now being taught in some schools.

Keep feeding the horses and the horseshit never ends.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 15, 2012 11:36 AM

The US played only a minor role in winning World War II? You might investigate the existence of something called "the Pacific Theater."

Posted by: William Burns at November 15, 2012 08:52 PM

This film is available for download at UseNet.

.MKV Format

"Oliver.Stones.Untold.History.Of.The.United.States.S01E01.720p.HDTV.x2 64-KILLERS.nzb"


Posted by: Calm at November 15, 2012 09:34 PM

The way I learned it, Russia lost 2 million to the Nazis (more than enough, in anybody's book), and 30 million to Stalin himself. Maybe the 2M were Russian soldiers, with 60M total between Hitler and Stalin? The majority could be in Stalin's column anyway, given his policy of executing effective officers. I'd better read it myself.

If you like killing people, you had better not stop at less than a thousand. With fewer, you're a monster; more, you're a Leader. Does Mao still take the prize, or is it Walter Raleigh?

Posted by: Nathan Myers at November 15, 2012 09:46 PM

"The way I learned it, Russia lost 2 million to the Nazis...and 30 million to Stalin himself."

You might have heard that, but it was wrong.

Timothy Snyder on Hitler vs Stalin, who was worse

Posted by: Donald Johnson at November 16, 2012 04:02 PM

Donald Johnson: EXCELLENT-THANX.

OT. They're burning Gaza tonight. Must be election time in Israel again. The whole world has learned much from Herr Hitler and Comrade Stalin---much.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 16, 2012 05:41 PM

More than 74 percent of the Wehrmacht’s total losses (10 million soldiers out of 13.4 million) resulted from battles with the Soviet army.

The Red Army eliminated and captured 607 enemy divisions in 1941-1945, compared with 176 divisions eliminated by British and American troops.

Nazi Germany had six times more personnel killed and wounded on the Eastern front than in the Western Front and in the Mediterranean Theater combined.

50 Nazi divisions took part in the battle of Kursk, twice as much as on the entire Westen front in 1943.

74% of Nazi Germany's causalties occured in battles with the SU. The other 25 allied countries combined accounted for the 26%.

21-27 millions Soviet citizens were killed in WWII. The exact number is unknown.

800.000 Nazi soldiers were killed at the Battle of Stalingrad, seven time more than on the African Front during the entire war.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “I find it difficult to get away from the simple fact that the Russian armies are killing more Axis personnel and destroying more Axis materiel than all the other 25 nations put together.”

Historians confirms that the Eastern Front was decisive in determinig the outcome of WWII, eventualy becoming the main reason of Germany's defeat.

Accutualy, SU alone could defeat Geramny alone!

Posted by: neretva at November 18, 2012 11:44 AM