Ron Radosh on Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

Historians in the News

[Ronald Radosh is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Hudson Institute, and a Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York.]

Poll after poll shows that most high school students are completely unaware of American history. They confuse the Civil War with World War II; FDR with the Founding Fathers, etc. They don’t have to worry about our nation being condemned to relive the past, since they don’t understand we have one.

It’s bad enough that they get their politically correct history from Howard Zinn, about whom I recently blogged. But now, we have learned that Americans will be betting their history in a new series directed by none other than Oliver Stone, the conspiracy monger film director. Stone is already most well known for his film JFK, in which those who saw it learned that the discredited New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison had uncovered the conspiracy to kill Kennedy orchestrated by the CIA and the mob, and in which Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was part of the plot.

If JFK was, as one critic put it, “an insult to the intelligence,” Stone’s new “Secret History of America,” to be aired in a 10 part series on cable-TV’s Showtime channel, promises to be a virtual assault. Stone says he will concentrate on supposedly “under-reported” events, such as President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima. Underreported? I guess that means Stone never saw the late Peter Jennings’ major ABC TV report that was based on Gar Alperovitz’s deeply flawed old book, in which Alperovitz argued that the reason the bomb was dropped was not to defeat Japan, but to threaten the Soviets. Nor has he evidently read many of the scores of books that have appeared about this decision over the years, or the debates on the controversy, including one in which I took part.

Stone, however, says he is doing this because it is “the deepest contribution I could ever make in film to my children and the next generation.” I can’t stop Stone from trying to teach made-up history to his own offspring, but hopefully, I can try to warn viewers in advance from giving him any credibility....

Stone notes that we must have “empathy for the person you may hate.” Really? Why? Perhaps the genocide against Europe’s Jews perpetrated by Hitler and the Nazis is reason enough not to have empathy for him; nor Stalin’s millions killed in state induced famines and the hundreds of thousands sent to the Gulag for political crimes is sufficient reason not to have empathy for Stalin. Many serious and responsible historians have written major books explaining what caused both Nazism and Communism to thrive for too many long years. They have done so carefully and with scholarly exploration, all without having empathy for two of the major mass murderers of the last Century.

Has Stone’s lead writer, Peter Kuznick, read any of these? He tells us that he intends to describe Hitler, Stalin and Mao as “historical phenomenon,” and not just as people “who appeared out of nowhere.” This is original? Indeed, that is what good historians have been doing for a long time. Do we really need Oliver Stone, a man who knows nothing about how to write history and everything about how to trivialize it and portray it as a series of conspiracies, to give us his specious interpretation?...

Like Zinn, Stone hopes that his Secret History will go to high schools as part of the “teaching curriculum.” If so, look forward to a new generation knowing even less about America’s past.


After writing the above, I was informed by a reader about Peter Kuznick, who turns out to be an actual historian who teaches at American University. I admit to not being aware of him and his work beforehand. But reading about him has if anything reinforced the analysis I provided in my post. Prof. Kuznick turns out to be yet another of the politically correct tenured radicals; a man of far left sympathies who considers Oliver Stone a man of great insight and profound truths. The university posts a profile of him that you can read here.

You can read what students say about his classes on the university’s “Rate my Professors” site. The many comments are quite revealing. Read them yourself. They range from those who are critical and comment that Prof. Kuznick sees history “as one giant conspiracy,” to a man who thinks Kuznick is “cool” because he ties “pop culture to history,” to another who writes that he “teaches a polemic, not history,” to one who writes that Kuznick “is a little insane at the height of his lectures,” to another student who found the class to be “fun” but who warns others “that some of the lectures get very political (prof swings very much to the left).”

It seems evident that Kuznick is indeed the type we have become all too familiar with in academia — the left-wing activist whose concept of education verges on indoctrination, not scholarly inquiry. And it also is apparent that American University sanctions this approach by now allowing Kuznick to teach a course called “Oliver Stone’s America.” (One wonders whether it would approve a historian of Germany teaching a course called “Leni Riefenstahl’s Germany.”) I will gladly recommend that David Horowitz add him to any future edition of his book One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy or his previous book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.

I’m certain Prof. Kuznick would be delighted to be included in it. As he wrote himself about his past, “political conversion was the greatest aphrodisiac.” He saw his role as one of “creating a bridge between leftist and more moderate students.” A protégé of the late Warren Susman, a radical professor whom I knew well, Kuznick writes that when he went to the famous Chicago 1968 protests during the Democratic convention, his goal was not simply to protest the war, but as he writes, “to try to radicalize some of the more moderate and liberal students” who were supporting either George McGovern or Eugene McCarthy. Students who supported “liberal capitalism,” he writes, were “blind to the lessons of history.”

Now as a professor, he can carry on the same goals from the lofty heights of his position as associate professor, and can now reach an even wider audience through the good graces of his friend and new mentor, Oliver Stone.

How sad that at our universities today, and at American University in particular, one can find a professor who can reach more students at the expense of his tuition paying parents, who probably are not aware of how they are being taught what Prof. Kuznick thinks are “the lessons of history.”

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