WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2013 ― When I first met with Oliver Stone, the three time Academy Award-winning director, and Peter Kuznick, renowned historian and professor of history at American University, they were just beginning to promote their new ten-part series and companion book, The Untold History of the United States.
As the name suggests, Stone and Kuznick’s project offers a history that is sometimes in direct contradiction to the great American story which most students are taught in the American school system. The series takes great pains in pointing out that we, as a nation, have had many pivotal points during our own history when we might have made different, arguably better, choices.
As the final installment of the series is set to air Monday on ShowTime, I caught up once again with the pair to get their thoughts on the road they have traveled with this project, the reviews that the series has received from the media, and their own feelings about the overall reception, effectiveness, and message of the project.
While much emphasis has been placed upon the ShowTime series, I wanted to know how Stone and Kuznick believed the substantial companion book might best be positioned. When asked whether they saw the book one day becoming part of an educational curriculum in which Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is often incorporated, Kuznick explained: “The book is really complimentary to Howard Zinn’s book. The two go hand in hand. In many ways, Howard is telling the untold history of the United States domestic policy, social policy, movements for domestic change, and we’re dealing with the broader questions of the empire. The two intersect because the same forces that are driving a lot of the poverty and misery domestically are also trying to run and control the rest of the world through our imperial policies. A good curriculum would include our book and Howard’s book, and also books that represent the opposite point of view.”
As the series draws to a close, some critics have been complimentary of the series; others have been blistering in their criticism of The Untold History of the United States. The New York Times described the show as “a 10-part indictment of the United States that doesn’t pretend to be evenhanded.”And the Daily Beast described the show as “junk history.” When I asked Stone and Kuznick if these attacks represent a fear that the establishment felt that their official American history was being challenged, Kuznick responded: “I think that people, if given the choice, will prefer our version. It is a much more hopeful version, and it’s a much more universal and all-embracing version. It’s not just from the standpoint of America; it’s from the standpoint of people everywhere.” He continued: “What you’re saying is right because we are challenging people who have that power, and they may not see it in the way that you’re saying it. They might just see it as a threat to the views that they’ve held their whole life. This is a part of what we are challenging.”
Stone expressed frustration over the media continuing to prop up the contemporary version of history, and their inability to spread their version of American history to a broader audience: “60 minutes will put David McCullough on in a heartbeat to give us a commentary on a ridiculously antiquated version of Harry Truman on the eve of the election of Obama, and they would never consider our show. They would never consider it. It’s impossible to get on a major network.”
Despite the resistance experienced by Stone and Kuznick in releasing The Untold History of the United States, they continue their fight to be heard, citing the project’s much deeper and important purpose: “The idea is that we want to get people to question, to think, to raise new perspectives, and to come up with their own understanding. What we are saying is a very important part of that dialogue.” Stone chimed in: “There is a brutal element to all of this. A lot of people don’t think. A lot of people don’t think, they follow, and they follow the noise. If we are going to change things in the United States, if we are going to get off of this imperial policy…some things have to happen.”
The Untold History of the United States has drawn both the intense praise and scathing criticism historically reserved for those who seek to challenge the status quo; regardless of whether one agrees with Stone and Kuznick’s adaptation of American history, their project has undeniably fulfilled its ultimate purpose in encouraging people to question policy and spurring long overdue debate on American history and current issues alike.
The final episode of The Untold History of the United States is set to air this Monday at 8 pm EST on ShowTime.
The companion book is The Untold History of the United States.
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