The C-SPAN Book TV program After Words recently featured a conversation with controversial film director Oliver Stone and American University professor Peter Kuznick. The two are co-authors of a massive new book, The Untold History of the United States, which Stone has parlayed into a multi-part Showtime documentary (and which FrontPage Mag has addressed here, here, here, here and here). As you might expect, the hour featured Kuznick and Stone denouncing American imperialism and placing the blame for Cold War mistrust on the U.S., while only paying lip service to the notion that some responsibility lay with the Soviets.
The program was hosted by Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University and the co-editor of Dissent, a quarterly socialist magazine of politics and culture. As a Harvard student, Kazin was a leader in the Students for a Democratic Society and briefly a member of the Weatherman faction. Although he describes himself in this show as “an anti-Communist leftist, someone who thinks that Stalin was a horrible mass murderer, one of the worst in history,” and although he gently challenges his guests on a couple of occasions, for the most part Kazin is supportive of their Cold War perspective: “I agree with both of you that the United States was hardly blameless, and did a lot to exacerbate that rivalry and hostility.” What a less predictable and more stimulating program it might have been if, say, Ron Radosh or David Horowitz had been tapped to moderate the discussion.
Stone and Kuznick discuss at length the 1948 Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace, the unsung hero of their book. When Time publisher Henry Luce called for the 20th century to be “the American century,” Wallace responded by saying, in Kuznick’s words, “it shouldn’t be the American century. It should be the century of the Common Man. So what we need is a worldwide revolution.” Kuznick relates approvingly how Wallace “called for ending colonialism, ending imperialism, ending monopolies and cartels, and the economic exploitation.”
It is in the final minutes of the program that the participants begin to let their hair down and expose more radical opinions. Stone, for example, raises the specter of the so-called Red Scare: “Is it not convenient for the bosses, the owners, the elites, to deflect the tensions that exist in this era in American life by pointing to Stalin and the Communists and saying ‘This is the enemy’?” He goes on to add that “Stalin has always been a convenient boogey man for the right and the center, the Trumanites, up to today.” Kazin responded by agreeing but added that the Communists, by their heinous actions, did give some legitimacy to the right’s concerns – which the right then used “to scare people,” Kuznick hastened to add. So Communist brutality and repression were real, but pointing it out was paranoid fear-mongering?
Stone joked about finding it insulting that airports were named after two aggressive anti-Communists, former Eisenhower Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and former President Ronald Reagan. Kazin and Kuznick laughed along with him and the latter added, “At least we got [the first black Supreme Court Justice] Thurgood Marshall in there in Baltimore.”
Kazin brought the conversation into the present by asking, “Has American foreign policy changed at all now since the Cold War?... Is the U.S. still seeing the world as its own oyster to be cracked open?” Kuznick and Stone share a knowing smile at this, as if they have a lot to say on the topic – Kuznick in particular looks like he’s bursting to respond – but Stone merely says, “You’re answering your own question.” He and Kuznick go on to lament “the lost opportunities” for peace, particularly during the presidencies of both Bushes.
“What kind of foreign policy do you think the United States should have?” Kazin asks. Stone asserts that the world he would like to live in is one of “compassion and a love of mankind, a global purpose – in Wallace’s phrase, a ‘century of the Common Man.’” But instead, “no one acts worse than we [in the U.S.] do because we don’t trust anybody.”
“Yeah, because we’ve got the power to enforce it,” blurts Kuznick. He proceeds to put forth statistics about America’s unequal share of the world’s wealth, then Stone finishes the discussion with more anti-American blather: “We are this fascist force in the universe for control… Are we gonna follow our conscience, our good sense, our heart? Or are we gonna follow our baser instincts?”
“That’s probably a good way to end,” Kazin quips, and the program abruptly comes to a close.
Actually, a good way to end would have been to hear a countervailing voice challenging the perverse notion of America as a “fascist force in the universe.” Radical historians like Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick see American greed, paranoia and imperialism as the source of all international inequity and animosity; what their Untold History does not tell is that, on balance, America has been a greater force for good in its short existence than any nation or power in history. They want us to be more trusting and cooperative with the very forces that seek our destruction; but what their Untold History does not tell is that America has had, and continues to have, existential enemies with their own power-grasping agendas. What their Untold History does not tell is the whole truth.
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 1/11/13)