Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States: Episodes 1-3

Let's make one thing clear first: I applaud Mr. Stone and his team for taking on the task of telling history from a viewpoint rarely seen in text books or any other form of media. This is something that should be done as often as possible from as many views as possible, because the truth is that no single viewpoint can tell us everything about history. For instance, I knew next to nothing about Vice President Henry Wallace before watching the first three episodes of this series. Now I do.

The first three episodes seem to lean toward a fondness for progressive politics. The almost loving way that Wallace is sketched (here is a less loving look) would lead to this conclusion just based on his run for president with the Progressive Party. However, the portrait of Wallace has left out some very important later-life revelations. Maybe they will come out later in the series, but just in case they don't I'll tell you about them here. Wallace is portrayed completely as a pro-Soviet communist sympathizer. He's characterized as a hero for being a part of our government and pro-communist at the same time. In reality, he bought into the propaganda machine that made Joseph Stalin seem like less of a monster than he was, and 70 years later Mr. Stone has joined him. Later in Wallace's life he wrote a book called Where I Was Wrong that detailed how he was duped into thinking more positively of Stalin and the communist system than he should have.

Stone portrays Soviet life the way that Wallace thought it was thanks to false information. The problem is we know better now. Or, at least, we all should. The idea that Soviet Russia was much the same as the United States is a fallacy built on propaganda. Mutual propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless. During World War II Russia was our ally and we treated them accordingly. We like to believe that our allies are good people. Sometimes, including Russia under Stalin, they are not. A simple read through of Russian history by any of the researchers on the show would have told them that portraying Stalin's regime as anything less than a tragedy for the Russian people is irresponsible.

Downplaying U.S. involvement in the Allied victories in both Europe and Asia is an interesting angle. If you rely on the information in this show, then you probably believe that England and the United States did practically nothing to fight the Germans until we landed in Normandy, leaving the U.S.S.R. to fight them alone. That's more bad history along side ignorance of how war is fought and won. American and British forces were bombing Western Germany within months after the U.S. entered the war in Europe. The American's first took weakly defended Northern Africa back from the Axis to make it possible to move into Italy and then on to France and Germany. If you've ever played Axis and Allies, you know this is a good tactic if you are on the Allied side. Getting a foothold was an important part of war then (it still is but to a lesser degree with our long range capabilities), and they didn't have the ability to gain that foothold before regaining Africa and then taking Sicily.

As for the victory over Japan, the main argument is that we didn't have any reason to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki other than a show of force to scare the Soviets. This is a topic that is still split, even amongst credible historians. The number of lives that would have been lost during an invasion would most likely have outstripped those lost in the two cities due to the use of atomic bombs, not by the huge numbers that many want you to believe though. And the cities were going to be firebombed anyway. (Plus, without the use of the bombs any forthcoming episodes about the Cold War may not exist.) However, unleashing this powerful weapon on the world will now always be a black mark on the United States, and Japanese surrender was eminent anyway with the rest of the Axis defeated and Russian forces joining the fight against them.

I can't begin to understand why something purporting to be history would make Stalin, a man who killed millions of his own people, seem like a misunderstood hero. It's flat out false. Although, if this plays out the way I think it will, the earlier episodes will set the stage for the idea that socialism is the way that the United States needs to go and that progress toward that has been thwarted by the evils of Reagan, Bush, and a crazy document called the Constitution. I can't wait to see what bad history episode 4 brings.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


  1. Thanks for reviewing this series as well. I've watched all the episodes and found the later ones less interesting, but would love to hear your opinion. I would like to cut Stone a break for not putting down Stalin, because he is trying to take the counter view, but it was pretty neglectful. I was struck by the death toll comparison of the US and Russia. And how insane the battle in Stalingrad was. I always knew Russia had lost tens of millions in the war, but had never really considered that they had essentially won the war more than the US did. Its hard to compare their defense to our offense, but I had not realized how small the US' war was compared to the soviets'.

  2. For starters, "Communism" was a Jewish idea which is centered around small self-governing community farms... it's similar to how the Amish live life today. It was vastly more efficient and organized in the 30's during the Famine of 1932. There was a major blight on ALL European crops, and people starved on all sides in all countries. The commune farms were a tool for that era for preservation, nothing more. Fast-forward to post-WWII, and "Communists" like my grandmother and grandfather had mostly office jobs in industries where merit/rank-based compensation was a major incentive for workers to work hard if they wanted a promotion... contrary to the misconception that all "Communists" just sat around all day long doing nothing and getting paid for it, in conjunction to the contradiction that was propagated in the West that people were forced to work or were put to death... the propaganda ignored the fact that the Soviet Union had social programs for disabled/veterans to take care of them while those that could, worked where they wanted. People were a LOT free-er than the Western media portrayed (and still does). Travel was a normal thing, with very few restrictions. As long as you were not trying to grab power by force or incite revolutions directly after the war, nobody was in danger of being dragged of by any secret police. Educational technical institutions were invested-in heavily, and the nation started cranking-out a new generation of Engineers necessary for the rebuilding process. During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain was always attributed to the Soviets, but in reality it was the USA that did not want the American population to see how Soviets rebuilt their society.

  3. Furthermore, Stalin had to be put on the same level as Hitler to make the American public not question why CEO's in their own country made millions while the rest of the people toiled for their profits... the income inequality gap that was growing, and only going to spread further under Trump was the thing being protected. The people with most of the money and power did not want to risk losing everything they took for so many years. Even the slightest inclination of Socialism was seen as a threat, and is still seen as a threat, to the income inequality. Entire news networks were created by the wealthy elites to spread the glorious word of the Capitalist... their word. So, back to my prior point about the dictators of WWII... Hitler was attributed the deaths of millions of people at gun point and torture/starvation in concentration camps. Stalin is attributed millions of deaths due to a bad harvest/natural disaster, limited historical accounts of his officers ACTUALLY shooting anybody for retreating (most refused the order and died at the hands of the Nazis), and the deaths of Nazi-sympathizers with-in his own nation that murdered civilians and sabotaged commune farms. In fact, there is only ONE historical account of a village in Ukraine being surrounded and forced to starve. Why? The village heads were selling their crops to Germany for profits instead of sending their food to the rest of the starving Soviet Union. It was unnecessarily brutal with around 200-300 people (including women and children) who died slow and painful deaths in order to send a message to the rest of the villages. Stalin was brutal, don't get me wrong, however he took power at a brutal time where people were already starving and those that were not were not willing to give-up their riches and local power to anybody... not voluntarily, anyway. So with all that said, it is believed that Stalin was directly responsible for issuing orders that killed 30,000-40,000 people for political/economic reasons, and the rest starved on their own or were murdered by Fascists. The scale and intent should matter here... but it doesn't for more than half of Americans today. Stalin also never "allied" with Hitler, he simply signed a Non-Aggression Pact, while the US simply signed a Neutrality Act (a Pact with itself more than anything), which meant the same thing... was the US also "allied" with Hitler because they did not want to get involved in the war?

  4. Any contrary view to the USA coming-in and saving the world from the monsters that were Hitler and Stalin is often ignored to preserve the national ego. In fact, even Oliver Stone glossed-over the battle of Kursk a bit (it was the single largest tank battle in history and changed to course of the entire war effort), failed to give any in-depth analysis of the 1.4 million Japanese land army in Manchuria, or the fact that Soviets had already started to island-hop into Japan at the time the bombs were dropped... sure, he showed some graphics with arrows on the map that showed how the Soviets progressed, but never mentioned the fact that the vast majority of the Japanese forces only saw the Red Army advancing on them from the West, not ships or planes from the Pacific. The potential loss of life of a land invasion would have been mostly the Soviet's to bear, however Truman and the US politicians mostly feared the Soviet union taking over the islands and keeping them, not Americans "maybe" having to lose their life. There was also little mention of the staging grounds for many US strikes on Japan being on Soviet territory in a joint effort. The US did help end the war 1-2 years earlier than what it would have probably taken, however the under-armored and under-gunned Shermans and such would have resulted in much more than just 400,000 US soldier casualties had they been on the Western front fighting the majority of the Axis forces. Sure, going-in through the back door was a viable tactic, however it gets far too much credit from most Western media as-is without you needing to defend it. I also feel that the British forces and efforts were portrayed accurately... they held-back the Luftwaffe and played a role at least as important as the US in securing Italy and at the final push through the Axis States, which is to say it was a fraction of the effort by the Soviets after they were targeted as the next target of genocide by Hitler.

  5. You and many others call this "revisionist history," however do not address the revisions that were made in the first place to make the story much more palpable to the US public which does not realize how many times we supported the various fascists trying to take power by force... we just did it again in Ukraine not that long ago... a country that was always part of Russia (in fact the root of the Slavic people). When will we finally set the record straight so that we don't have to keep poking at a nuclear power that has been assaulted from all sides for generations? When will we see the USA for the bully that it really was for years so that we can stop creating messes in the Middle East, Europe, and the rest of the world by following the same xenophobic policies that twisted the events of WWII to falsely give people a sense of moral superiority that drives them to continue to hate Russia (and its government) and get involved in parts of the world where the USA has not business being? The last few statements were probably confusing, because why did I use the term "we"? Was I talking about the USA or Russia (considering that I introduced myself as a Russian immigrant)? I was talking about the USA, because I am a US Citizen and I have gratefully lived my life in the USA for the vast majority of my life. I appreciate everything this land and its people has given me, however I also recognize that to this day most Americans have no idea how people lived or continue to live in places like Moscow. I am not a "proud" American OR Russian, I am an appreciative person who has lived in both and still has exposure to both to know when things I was taught in the USA did not make sense. I want peace for my Russian AND American people so that we have a future instead of mutually-assured destruction. The rhetoric that always places Communism on the same level as Fascism, same as Stalin always assessed "as bad as" Hitler, does nothing but drive our people apart. Those that traveled to Russia and talked to the people always had a different opinion of the country in the 50's and 60's than what was being broadcast. To this day, we only see Russia as an aggressor when it defends its neighbors or even itself... and it's not just the nationalistic Right pushing this rhetoric, most of the Left does the same exact thing because they have only been taught the propaganda-riddled "history" that applied rose-colored glasses on US involvement and non-involvement in WWII, over-stating US contribution and understating (and often demonizing) Soviet contribution. Mind you that learned the US-version of history in school here in the States... it's only around high school age that I started to see the holes, especially when my peers walked away from class thinking their ancestors bailed-out my Russian butt and should owe them a debt of gratitude. The intention may not have been there, but the way the limited information was presented had always implied that. It was hypocritical to say the least.

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