Nearly everyone has heard of “radical chic.” Oliver Stone has done it one better with his latest effort Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, upping the ante to “megalomania chic.”
And not just by putting his name in the title.
Stone has never been shy about playing fast and loose with the facts – or about self-promotion – for what one might call “narrative advantage” (cf. JFK), but in his new Showtime series he purports to be working as a documentarian – giving the straight truth to us poor brainwashed folks, not to mention potential generations of school kids.
But the truth according to Stone ranges from the banal and obvious — the Russian people suffered tremendous losses in World War II (who didn’t know that?) – to the absurd – the world would have been a much better place had Henry Wallace been vice president instead of Truman.
No mention is made that Wallace’s major speechwriter was an agent of the NKVD, nor is there a word about the myriad Venona revelations that the world of Wallace and his allies was riddled with Soviet spies, because what Stone is really trying to concoct here is a form of “Stalin porn.”
Yes, Joseph Stalin — the man who, according to various estimates, killed from ten to fifty million of his fellow human beings — is the hero of at least the first four episodes of this epic and Harry Truman is the villain.
Truman is of course under attack for having dropped the bomb on Japan. Again according to Stone and his collaborator historian Peter Kuznick, that accidental and bigoted American president lied when he said he was taking that momentous step to save the lives of our troops and Japanese citizens. His real intention was to fight a supposedly non-existent Soviet threat.
The truth of whether lives were saved by Hiroshima and Nagasaki will obviously never be known without an alternative universe, but this does not deter Stone and Kuznick in their polemic for a second. Truman bad, Stalin good.
Sure, a few mentions are scattered about blemishing the otherwise pristine record of Uncle Joe (the Katyn massacre) and Wallace has been called by Kuznick “a little naïve about Stalin” (a little?), but the documentary really can be called “Stalin porn.” Every time the Georgian monster appears on the screen we hear swells of heroic music from Beethoven or Shostakovich (himself a victim of Stalin – needless to say not mentioned). And the despot almost always makes a monkey of — or has sage advice for — the bellicose Churchill and the erratic Roosevelt.
So what accounts for this Stalin near-hagiography? Stone has what appears to be an almost psychosexual attraction to dictators — Castro, Chavez, now Stalin. They just have to be of a left-wing sort. Hitler somehow doesn’t make the cut, although he was a national socialist.
I’m too bored with the tedious Stone to take this further, but the Freudian explanation probably has some merit. More obvious is simple megalomania. History is all about me. Me, me, me, me. Pay attention to me.
And how! By making exaggerated, almost silly, claims about World War II and the Cold War, Stone calls attention to himself once again. Who would review or even watch another measured view of that time period? Megalomania pays. The unfortunate losers are the young audiences (and others) who may believe this swill.
More from historian Ron Radosh on Oliver Stone and the election: It’s the Culture, Stupid: Facing the Long Road Ahead. Radosh writes here in even more detail of the history. He also informed me that it is no longer controversial Stone and Kuznick are incorrect regarding Truman and the bomb. It did save thousands of lives and the main work summarizing the evidence is Wilson Miscamble’s The Most Controversial Decision. I have not read it.