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Ron Radosh

If you wonder how people on the left deal with their critics, look no further than this new lengthy interview with Prof. Peter Kuznick, the co-writer and co-director with Oliver Stone of the forthcoming Showtime ten-part documentary on the 20th century. I first blogged about the projected series last January.

Based on what Kuznick and Stone said about their concepts, I presented a tough and cogent argument about how it promises to be one of the most ill-advised and dangerous treatments of our history by the media. I also addressed what I thought Kuznick was bringing to the documentary. I called him “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.” And I called him a “left-wing activist whose concept of education verges on indoctrination, not scholarly inquiry.”

Now, in his new interview, Kuznick inadvertently confirms every one of the charges I made, and if anything, indicates that perhaps I was not even tough enough in my critique. First, I note that evidently my first blog hit home. Kuznick, instead of dealing with any of the specific criticisms I made, makes the following gratuitous comment:

I knew that participating in such a project would make me a target for the Ron Radoshes and David Horowitzes of the world, but that was a small price to pay for reaching such a vast audience of people eager to gain a deeper and more critical understanding of U.S. history.

To those on the left, for whom my name and David Horowitz’s name are both anathema, he manages to score a cheap point by informing his left-wing base that anything either of us says holds no weight, and he is boldly going ahead while ignoring any of our criticisms, even if they might have merit. Anyone familiar with Oliver Stone’s anti-Americanism, his profound love for every leftist dictator from Fidel Castro to Hugo Chavez, and his distortion of history revealed in all his fictional treatment of the Kennedy assassination, the Nixon presidency, and the rest of his work knows that one thing viewers will not receive is a “deeper and more critical understanding of U.S. history.”

In his lengthy interview, Prof. Kuznick again returns to his own student past, as he shows readers how he combined his scholarship and his activism, and never made a separation between the two. He notes that he went to Rutgers because of those “exciting scholars” he studied with, when what he means are a group of Marxist and left-wing scholars who were at Rutgers in that period. I know most of those he puts on his list. He mentions the very distinguished historian Eugene D. Genovese, but neglects to inform his readers that unlike Kuznick himself, Genovese long ago left the ranks of the left, and became one of the most critical thinkers who openly reevaluated his old premises. In a pathbreaking essay he wrote for Dissent in 1994, called “The Question: The Fall of Communism and the North American Left,” Genovese tore apart the evasions and obfuscations of the pro-Communist and anti-American left-wing, thereby showing that even an old Leninist was able to learn from history and leave the world Prof. Kuznick still is part of.

The omission is strange, since Kuznick writes that he is “very interested in understanding the process of political transformation.” Evidently, his understanding, however, goes only one way — from those who started out conservative or mainstream and became radical. Those whose thought process led them to reach very different conclusions and to hence take different paths, he either ignores or simply condemns with snide comments.

As for his own motivations for the new Showtime series, Kuznick makes it very clear that rather than anything new, what he really welcomes is the ability to reach a new mass mainstream TV audience with more left-wing and neo-Communist analysis in a well made visual format, under the auspices of an acclaimed master of cinema, Oliver Stone. As he puts it, the project was “right up my alley from the start,” since the film, like his own work, deals with “American militarism, the Cold War, and the history of the nuclear arms race.” It will be, he says, a “film series on the history of the American empire and national security state.” So anyone expecting nuance and balance with talking heads offering different interpretations are clearly not going to get any of that nonsense. This is to be  propaganda expertly done, meant to influence a new generation. Kuznick notes that some of his own efforts in this regard have so far “proved futile.”

As Kuznick notes, his intention is now to reach “an audience of tens of millions,” not just his captive students at American University. Now let me turn to how Kuznick deals with what he says is one of his expert areas: why the United States used the A-bomb to end the war against Japan. He writes that Truman used it, “despite knowing that important Japanese leaders were looking for a face-saving way to end the war and that the Soviet invasion, which Japanese leaders dreaded, was about to begin and would likely prove decisive.”  Now Kuznick should know that in fact, every point he makes in that sentence has been challenged decisively by some of the most important recent scholarship. Indeed, even when I participated in the History News Network debate a few years ago about whether or not Truman was a war criminal, much had already appeared to effectively refute what Kuznick says about the use of the A-bomb by Truman.

A definitive judgment on this was made by the historian Wilson D. Miscamble in his Truman Institute prize-winning 2007 book, From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima and the Cold War. Miscamble writes that when Kuznick and others protested the Smithsonian’s plan to display the plane Enola Gay and demanded instead an exhibit that “held that the atomic bomb was neither necessary to end the Pacific war nor to save American lives,” that was stopped by members of Congress, WWII veterans of the Pacific war, who forced the Smithsonian to back down. Kuznick’s group (as he writes proudly in his own piece ) then argued, as Miscamble summarizes their charges, that “blatant political pressure essentially had censored a well-researched, historical interpretation.” Miscamble comments that “viewed through the perspective of the most accurate historical research of the past decade, it is clear that the veterans’ groups saved the Smithsonian from the embarrassment of highlighting a deeply flawed interpretation.” These veterans, he adds, had a view that “holds up much better than the initial view offered by…the scholars who advised” the Smithsonian curators.

As for the Alperovitz theory that Kuznick subscribes to, Miscamble writes:

Alperovitz built his approach on a quicksand of faulty assumptions especially as regards the likelihood of an early Japanese surrender, and so contributed handsomely to a generation of confusion and misunderstanding regarding the use of the atomic bomb. The time has come to move beyond him and his distorted “thesis” once and for all.

To which I add not only a hearty amen, but ask Kuznick the following question: Since your own interview rehashes the discredited theory of Alperovitz and others as if it still holds up, will your and Oliver Stone’s film continue to advance it and condemn Truman for using the bomb and not considering what he calls “other options” that in fact were never really present as a viable alternative?

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