Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick on America's untold history

America will decline; all empires do. Whether it takes the rest of the world with it is the question. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2013 ― Oliver Stone, three-time Academy Award winning filmmaker, and Peter Kuznick, professor of History at American University, collaborated on the documentary series The Untold History of the United States for nearly five years before it appeared on the ShowTime network this year. They appeared recently at Washington’s Newseum to promote the release of the series, both in blu-ray and as a paperback companion book.

In a discussion at the Newseum, Kuznick and Stone focused on the escalating relevance of The Untold History project in the face of Washington’s increasingly brazen concealment of information, its unrelenting prosecution and narrowing definition of whistleblowing, and the ever-enlarging cracks in the foundation of America’s overseas empire.


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The Untold History series, which originally aired 10 episodes, covers the period from the Second World War to Obama’s ascent to the presidency. Contained within the blu-ray set are two new episodes that detail America’s baby steps toward empire, from its decision to “liberate” the Philippines and Cuba from Spanish influence to the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Stone and Kuznick resurrect historical figures within the two episodes who had been long relegated to the ashbin of American history, including Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Party candidate for president who was imprisoned during the First World War under the Sedition Act for speaking out against Wilson’s war, and Major General Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in American history, whose pamphlet, War is a Racket, exposed American corporate influence in foreign affairs.

Critics of the duo’s project have proclaimed it too soft on the brutality of the Soviet Union. However, the two newly released episodes devote significant time to highlight Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s savagery. “We were very critical of Stalin, as we always have been,” said Kuznick. “Although we get attacked by people because we give Stalin credit for what he did during World War II for … peaceful cooperation, we point out that that was in the Soviet’s interest to maintain peace with us after the War was over because they wanted the reparations. Roosevelt had thrown out the figure $20 billion and the Soviets would get half of that, and Stalin wanted to maintain friendly relations.”

The Obama Administration has used the Espionage Act more times than all previous administrations to silence whistleblowers, and The Untold History is one of the first historical narratives to include and discuss in great detail this current crackdown. The series and book provide examples of those who have prosecuted to the fullest extent within our lifetime, including Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning.


SEE RELATED: Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick tell The Untold History of the United States


Asked whether he thinks that the prosecution of whistleblowers will continue post-Obama, Stone explained, “It shows you how difficult it is to bring any kind of charges or accusations against the covert branches of the United States government. So, these people have done that and look at where they ended up … maybe now people can understand that it is hard to bring this to the light of day. We have a secret government … a shadow government in this country and we don’t have any consultation rights on that.”

Stone expounded upon the veil of secrecy that has crept over the proceedings of much of the federal government’s operations, “We don’t even know the reasons why Obama’s — the legal reasons for what he is doing. He won’t even reveal those because that’s top security.”

As a meticulously documented history of the rise of the American empire, the series takes pains to explore covert, philosophically inconsistent operations conducted by American intelligence which led to the overthrow of democratically elected governments throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In the context of the undeniable decline in America’s overseas influence, Stone predicted of the American empire, “It’ll decline. All empires do. How long it takes and the means by which it will decline is subject to question.” Kuznick chimed in, “I agree in terms of the broad picture, but we see it every day.”

Kuznick went on to cite numerous examples, such as the increase in Iran’s influence over Maliki’s Iraqi government, moves for independence within Latin America, and developments in Europe. “The American empire — we still have a lot of economic power and Oliver was saying we have a lot of military power, but what we don’t want to see is the United States bringing the rest of the world down with it, and that’s one of the real dangers.”


SEE RELATED: Noam Chomsky: ‘We are seeing a decline in American power’


What is next for Stone and Kuznick? In keeping with the primary mission of the series — education — they are now taking the message of The Untold History to the classroom. “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.” So that educators may more easily integrate The Untold History into their current curriculums and offer students this new narrative of American history, Stone and Kuznick have developed educational plans and an assistive website.

Although the classroom initiative is still in its infancy stage, Stone and Kuznick are encouraged by the excitement of educators who have already committed to incorporating the thought-provoking, orthodoxy-challenging program. According to Stone, “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.”


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is currently a college student majoring in History and Political Science. His writings have appeared in The Daily Local, Lew Rockwell.com’s blog, The Washington Times, Antiwar.com, and Freedom’s Phoenix Online Digital Magazine. He has been a popular guest political contributor to numerous national radio shows across the country, offering his perspective on a wide array of issues. 

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