Skip to main content

The New York Times Takes on Oliver Stone

Ronald Radosh

Oliver Stone and his co-author Peter Kuznick are not going to be happy this week. After making scores of media appearances in which he heralded the supposedly great reception for his new TV series and accompanying book, Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, which airs each week for 10 episodes on the CBS-owned network Showtime, Stone is finally getting the negative response he feared.

First, Stone was hit hard by Michael Moynihan [2] at Newsweek/The Daily Beast. Declaring Stone and Kuznick’s film “junk history,” Moynihan called Stone’s work “swivel-eyed, ideological history,” based on “dubious quotes and sources,” a veritable “marvel of historical illiteracy.” Coming on the heels of my own debunking of Stone, “A Story Told Before: Oliver Stone’s Recycled History of the United States,” [3] Stone and Kuznick received two substantive critiques in one week.

Stone, of course, completely ignored my own substantive article, alluding to it without naming me as an example of “a few far-right diatribes” that do not warrant response. Stone bragged [4] that “the majority of reviews and articles have been positive,” until that is – the piece by Moynihan that he had to answer since it appeared in what he considers a mainstream media venue. Since the original author has the last word, Moynihan hit Stone hard in his own answer, that appears after Stone’s response as an update. Moynihan easily further demolishes Stone and Kuznick, concluding after presenting more evidence that their work “is activism masquerading as history.”

This Sunday, however, Stone and Kuznick will be even more upset. The New York Times Magazine [5] features a story by editor Andrew Goldman, “Oliver Stone Rewrites History-Again.” Goldman’s story, which summarizes Stone’s theory behind the TV series and has many vignettes based on his own interview with the director, notes among other things that Stone never really took back his incendiary comment that there is “Jewish domination of the media” and that Israel’s “powerful lobby in Washington” controls U.S. foreign policy. The apology he supposedly made to the Anti-Defamation League was forced on him to avoid cancellation of “Untold History,” and Stone now told Goldman that he should not have used the word “Jewish,” but that Israel has “seeming control over American foreign policy” and that AIPAC has “undue influence.” He accuses them of “militating for the war in Iraq,” completely ignoring that in fact, Israel did not favor the war, considering Iran its major enemy, and that AIPAC in particular never lobbied on its behalf. Each time Stone explains himself, he further puts his foot in his mouth.

When Goldman eventually gets to the new Showtime series, readers learn that Stone’s accolades come mainly when he presents his film to sympathetic viewers from the far left Nation magazine, as in a forum held in New York after the annual New York Film Festival. Referring to the magazine as “the left’s beloved 147 year-old weekly,” Goldman quotes its editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, as saying that Stone’s film “is what we try to do at The Nation,” which if anything, is more of a giveaway about its reliability than she imagines. That she sees the film as challenging “the orthodoxy” and the “conformity of our history” is a statement that should, if anything, be very embarrassing to those who think she has any credibility.

Indeed, Goldman goes on to point out that to Stone and Kuznick, “Stalin…still comes off as heroic, as an honest negotiator who, following F.D.R.‘s death, was faced at every turn with Truman’s diplomatic perfidy.” Truman is to Stone and Kuznick, Goldman puts it, the “black hat” while the “white hats” belong to F.D.R., John F. Kennedy and most of all, “the man who inspired the whole project: Henry Wallace.”

Readers of my own article will find the real truth about Wallace, who as I argue, was the very epitome of a Communist dupe, a man whom if he had become president, would have enabled Stalin to fulfill his plans for takeover of more than Eastern Europe, and perhaps even succeeded in the Stalinization of the entire European continent.

What will really irk Stone and Kuznick, however, is that Goldman turns to me as an example of the sharp criticism Stone gets from those who know something about history. He writes the following:

While to his fans Stone’s alternate histories are provocative, his detractors see them as grossly irresponsible cherry-picking. The conservative historian and CUNY emeritus professor Ronald Radosh said he found himself wanting to do harm to his television while watching the first four episodes, which he reviewed for the right-wing Weekly Standard. Radosh had been blogging skeptically about the Stone project since its announcement in 2010, but now that he’d actually seen it, he said, it was the historian rather than the conservative in him who was most offended. “Historians can have different interpretations, but based on evidence,” he said. “What these other guys do is manipulate evidence and ignore evidence that does not fit their predetermined thesis, and that’s why they’re wrong.” According to Radosh, Stone and Kuznick’s take on the United States’ role in the cold war mirrors the argument in “We Can Be Friends,” a book published in 1952 by Carl Marzani, who was convicted of concealing his affiliation to the Communist Party when he joined the O.S.S., the precursor to the C.I.A. ‘This Stone-Kuznick film could have been put out in 1955 as Soviet propaganda,” Radosh said. “They use all the old stuff.’

Moreover, Goldman took my suggestion that Stone’s distortions of history were something that bona fide liberal historians who respect historical truth understand, and that he get in touch with Princeton University’s distinguished historian, Sean Wilentz. Wilentz had e-mailed me that Stone’s book was “misinformation,” and that anyone with a respect for history knew it was trash. When Goldman spoke to Wilentz, he stuck to his guns. Goldman writes:

Radosh, who grew up as a Red Diaper baby in Washington Heights and only later turned to the right, thinks of himself as intimately familiar with the “old stuff.” But fearing he might be dismissed as partisan, he insisted I reach out to Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian who, owing to his strident defense of Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearings and to his 2006 Rolling Stone cover article on George W. Bush, ‘The Worst President in History?’ is regarded as decidedly left-leaning. When I spoke to him, Wilentz said: “You can’t get two historians more unlike each other than me and Ronnie Radosh. But we can agree about this. It’s ridiculous.” Wilentz was in the middle of writing a review of Stone’s book. “Always beware of books that describe themselves as the untold history of anything, because it’s usually been told before,” he said. ‘It sets up this thing that there is some sort of mysterious force suppressing the true facts, right? Glenn Beck does this all the time. It’s the same thing here, except this is basically a very standard left-wing, C.P., fellow traveler, Wallace-ite vision of what happened in 1945-46.’ It’s not, Wilentz continued, that the questions raised aren’t worth raising. ‘Is there a legitimate argument to be made about the origins of our nuclear diplomacy or the decision to build the H-bomb?’ he said. Of course there is. But it’s so overloaded with ideological distortion that this question doesn’t get raised in an intelligent way. And once a question gets raised in an unintelligent way, then you are off in cloud-cuckoo land.

There is much I said to Goldman he left out, obviously because of space concerns from his editors at the magazine. I recommended to him in particular two books on the dropping of the A-Bomb that answer in detail the rehashed revisionist view Stone and Kuznick argue as if nothing has appeared to answer them since Gar Alperovitz’s first statement of the “atomic diplomacy” theory in the 1960’s. I told Goldman to consult Wilson D. Miscamble’s new book The Most Controversial Decision:Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan [6], and Robert James Maddox’s earlier collection, Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism [7].

If he did, there is no indication of it in the article. Both of these books would present chapter and verse on the kind of real evidence that Stone and Kuznick completely ignore. The evidence shows, for example – contrary to the assertion made in the film series – that dropping of the A-Bombs, as horrible as it was, saved not only thousands of American lives that would have been lost, but more Japanese lives than were lost as a result of the A-bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They also show that contrary to the film’s argument, the Japanese government was not ready to surrender and end the war, until after both bombs were used.

Finally, I must note that as pleased as I am that Goldman went to me to counter Stone, and then to Wilentz, he colored (or his editors did) his account by referring to The Weekly Standard as a “right-wing” publication. One could more accurately refer to it as a conservative magazine. The term used is one of opprobrium, meant obviously by the editors of the Times to undercut the possibility that anyone reading it could learn the truth in its pages. And of course, as a “Red-diaper baby” who subsequently turned away from the ideology I once adhered to decades ago, many readers will suspect that a turn-coat like myself can hardly be judged to have anything worthwhile to say about Stone and Kuznick’s film.

Goldman ends his article by referring to Stone and Kuznick’s appearance at a forum at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, where Kuznick again bragged about the “glowing” reviews they were getting and actually said that “nobody’s challenging anything we’re saying.” Stone gestured and said, “Well, it’s early.”

On that point, Oliver Stone is right. Now he has been hit first by myself, next by Michael Moynihan, and now by Andrew Goldman. So I publicly challenge Stone and Kuznick. I will gladly appear with both of them in a public forum, along with another historian, such as Miscamble or other genuine historians of the Cold War, where we could in detail expose and challenge all the shibboleths they offer as unvarnished truth.

I’m waiting for their answer!