Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick: Defending the "Untold History of the United States"

Roundup: Talking About History

Oliver Stone is a director, screenwriter, and producer. His most recent film is Savages; and among his other films are Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Nixon. He is a three-time Academy Award winner for Midnight Express (Best Adapted Screenplay), Platoon (Best Director), and Born on the Fourth of July (Best Director). Peter Kuznick is a professor of history at American University.

When we began our documentary film and book project The Untold History of the United States more than four years ago, we knew we would encounter our share of mean-spirited and dishonest reviews. What has been remarkable and encouraging is that aside from a few far-right diatribes, that hasn’t been the case. As Michael Moynihan disappointedly notes in his Daily Beast story on Untold History, the majority of reviews and articles have been positive. But because we know how the right-wing echo chamber picks up on dishonest and meretricious attacks and blasts them out to its Fox News–friendly listeners and viewers, we would like to respond to this latest attempt to block a much-needed conversation about the direction our country needs to go in to counter a century-plus, and we believe disastrous, course of empire, war, and domination. That is our objective in this project, which one would never know from reading Moynihan’s review.

Moynihan offers a three-pronged assault on us. First, he says that what we are offering isn’t “untold” history. Second, he questions our accuracy and accuses us of errors and distortions. And third, he charges us with being America-bashing Soviet apologists. Nowhere in his lengthy “review” does he even find time to state our thesis or  provide readers with a sense of what this book is really about.

Moynihan is correct to say that cutting-edge scholars have been telling aspects of this history for decades. In fact, contrary to his claim that our frustration is due to the fact that “the revisionist narrative has failed to become the dominant narrative,” the revisionist narrative has become the dominant narrative among university-based historians. As he acknowledges, we draw upon that body of scholarship and cite such historians copiously in our 91 pages of footnotes. Revisionist scholarship has not become the dominant narrative in public schools and the mainstream media and in those parts of America that cling to the notion of American exceptionalism—the fantasy that the United States, as God’s gift to humanity, is, unique among nations, motivated by generosity, benevolence, and altruism as it strikes out in the world. But Moynihan is wrong to say that we have not done additional primary source and archival research. In fact, we had a team of top-notch American University graduate students who assisted in the research, some of which was indeed archivally based. A quick look at the footnotes will reveal just how much of this comes from primary sources. But whether the history has been “untold” or not, the problem is that it has been almost entirely “unlearned.”...

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