Hystery in the Raving, or a More Proximate Truth? Stone’s Untold History of the United States


The attacks of 9/11/2001, not unlike the  ambush at Pearl Harbor, indeed marked “a day which would live in infamy,” in that it was the single day in an entire century in which a war was fought on U.S. soil, in which we could feel what it was like to be Vietnamese every day in the 1960s, or Korean during the 1950s, or Russian or French or British during the 1940s.

This is the direction one’s thoughts can take, when viewing Oliver Stone’s new series.

Filmmaker Stone is best known for his feature films, like Talk Radio, Natural Born Killers and most recently Savages.  But his television series Untold History of the United States, makes his brand of left-wing social criticism accessible to the widest public yet.  Untold History centers its revisionist narrative on the succession of U.S. Presidential administrations of the 20th century—as a device, it works, though even Stone seems unable to escape the idea that history equals big events like war, and big entities like government.  But the service provided is that every episode offers a radical shift in focus and interpretation of these entities.  For example, unlike the usual telling of The World War II Story, as if it were a Hollywood movie that every schoolchild was required to view, Stone argues that it was the Russians who actually defeated Hitler’s Nazis in WWII Europe, losing ten people for every soldier lost by U.S. Forces.

Each episode consists of a montage of Stone’s narration, documentary footage, still images of government documents, and recordings of voices whose authenticity one can never be sure of, so startling are some of the statements (some of Lyndon Johnson’s profanities and verbal contempt, for example, would never air in a more tender age).  Statistics are offered at their most dramatic (unlike the count of American dead so famously etched in the monument in Washington D.C., the claim of well over 3 million Vietnamese casualties during the same war there would be difficult/impossible to verify.)

To use them as exemplars, among the revelations of episodes Seven and  Eight:

-Gorbachev made serious overtures to deescalate the arms race that Ronald Reagan insisted on ignoring, in his egomaniacal infatuation with power of the SDI (Star Wars.)

-The CIA’s rise to power after WWII, and its active support of tyrannical regimes—often disguised as democracies– throughout the world, has probably done more to destabilize international relations than all the forces of Communism over 150 years.

-Despite the rise of a hagiography following his death several years back, Richard Nixon was indeed as bad as we always thought.

As he approaches the present, the filmmaker seems justly excited about the treatment of living generations by recent leaders—he makes no bones about claiming that history repeats itself today, and that we are just as vulnerable to fraud and manipulation, by those in power, as our forbears.  Perhaps even more compelling than this, at least to those whose grasp of history is best done through individual biography, we are given glimpses of what contemporary figures—like President Obama, and Osama Bin Laden—were up to, in their younger days.

Stone’s place in the American consciousness seems to be as the voice that never allows us our complacency about what we’ve been told by authorities, nor have investigated for ourselves.  His film, JFK, played a significant role in legislation of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act and the expansions of the Freedom of Information Act in the 1990s.  He has consistently targeted the mass media as an inadequate filter and delivery vehicle for information, acting as it does either in collusion with the government, or in willful ignorance of its cover-ups.

Implicit in every viewing ought to be the assurance that Stone is inviting, challenging, even demanding his viewers to look deeper into matters for themselves, to do their own thinking—not necessarily to swallow his version whole, either.  That would be an equally irresponsible swing of the pendulum from the sanitized, jingoistic version of the place of our nation in the world that we all accepted as children.  I personally would not even recommend the series—which is excellent–without this vital disclaimer.


Anarchists Recruiting Radicals Leading Liberals: Dominoes Leaning Left



Among its failures, luminary Norman Mailer identified in The Armies of the Night that the Left in America was so splintered (writing from the perspective of 1968) that, even though well-intentioned reformers might stand for something worthwhile, they had great difficulty standing together. Too many different agendas: race relations, women’s rights, the anti-draft and anti-Vietnam war movements. Emerson, had he lived to be 150, would have called many of these well-meaning citizens “do-gooders” who should have concentrated, rather, on being good.

Today, it’s well-known that FBI agents, acting on orders, infiltrated some of the many organizations that did exist (Students for a Democratic Society perhaps only the most notorious,) in order to, among intelligence-gathering activities, combat forces that the federal government believed were manipulating the protesters: outside agitators, what Spiro Agnew called “vultures,” intent on destroying our society from within, by turning it against itself. But did these agents provocateurs really exist?

Rochester, NY – 11 August 2012.  The atmosphere of today’s United States may not be as apparently violent in its ideological clashes as that of forty years’ gone, but many believe the rift has simply gone deeper, smoothing only the surface of our native soil.

Shawn StJean’s new novel, Clotho’s Loom (Glas Daggre Publishing, 2012) dramatically personalizes what could happen if these kind of foreign, cold warriors were to penetrate the divisive climate of American society in the 21st century. A former Marine sniper, now college professor approaching middle age and settling into academic “schoolhouse liberalism,” is reactivated: pulled between the demands of the Right and Left, and–due in part to a deep personal ambivalence toward his father, a Vietnam vet–succumbs to the recruitment efforts of the anti-Western border-runners. Meanwhile, his wife, a woman of conservative social background, is semi-wittingly abandoned just at the time when she discovers herself pregnant, at the age of forty.

The book can be interpreted as a cautionary tale on the ease with which a cavalier liberalism can be exploited for anarchic and destructive purposes–the protagonists both encounter a series of increasingly devious characters, both outside U.S. territory and upon it. The narrative spans the globe, from the midwest to the Middle East, and extends to the deserts of both continents.

The female protagonist must come to terms with the extremes of her own right-wing upbringing. The daughter of a failed farmer, she’s nevertheless been taught the values of adaptability in the face of circumstance, and to continue to support the values of marketplace competition, as a lawyer. Wooed by an opportunistic capitalist, she supports his mission to rehabilitate the languishing community into profitability—with himself, however, as benevolent dictator. And although this vision is hardly as chilling as the chaotic alternative—what one villainous character describes as “a deep freeze”–the author takes pains to present it as more likely and real.

Although the parallel structure of alternating chapters tends to evenly distribute the attention of the narrative, not only between the gender issues of men and women, but of Left and Right (with a balancing concluding chapter,) this literary fiction offers occasional symbolic cues toward its author’s ultimate biases. Fortunately, there is also enough ambiguity to accommodate the thematic enjoyment of readers of widely varying ideological temperaments. In either case, the characters find that both the individualistic values of the Left and those of the communal Right, at odds times self-serving, are best acquired not as inherited, youthful idealism, but rather as earned, hard experience leading to maturity.

ISBN: 978-1479271528

List $20.00 paper, ebook $8.99

540 pp.