Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oliver Stone's Revision of US History - Should I bother?

I'm toying with the idea of buying "The Untold History of the United States" by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.  Not because I think I'll learn anything from it, but because I occasionally like to remind myself that there are crazier people in the world than me.  Granted, it seems premature to pass judgment on a book I've not read.  On the other hand, anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I'm a terrible skinflint.  If I'm going to blow $15-$20 on a book, I better know it's going to be worth it.

What I have to go on so far is the talking points coming from Stone and Kuznick, through interviews and snippets of the Showtime documentary which follows the book.  Presumably these are summations of his main points designed to induce me into buying.  Therefore, purchasing the book would expose me to more of the same.  I will assume that these interviews and clips are mere previews for what is contained in the book, because that's how books and other media are sold.  So what are some of these talking points?

I.  The United States Didn't Win World War II, the Soviet Union Did

Stone contests that the USSR lost more people at Stalingrad and Kiev than the US did in the entire war.  Which is true, although losing more people doesn't necessarily equate to accomplishing more.  The USSR pushed the Nazis out of Eastern Europe and ultimately took Berlin at great cost.  These were important accomplishments, but are only part of the story. 

First of all, the Soviets had no involvement in pushing the Germans out of North Africa or the Mediterranean.  But more importantly, they did next to nothing against the Japanese.  They declared war on Japan on August 8th, 1945.  Which also happens to be the day before the Nagasaki bombing.  They were barely involved in the Pacific theater.

In Europe, they played a major and important role, perhaps even the key one.  Holding the line at Stalingrad (actually, Russians prefer Volgograd these days because Stalin was a douche, but I guess I shouldn't nitpick too much) prevented Germans from having access to Russian oilfields.  German Tiger tanks were notorious gas guzzlers, even compared to other tanks.  And that's saying something.  If the Soviets hadn't held there, it's very possible that the Battle of the Bulge (where the Germans literally ran out of gas), would have ended differently.  And any idiot can see the value of taking Berlin.

But to ignore Japan is to ignore, let's say, 47% of the war.  In the Pacific, the USSR was Ivan come lately.  The Soviets invaded Manchuria after the US had pushed the Japanese all the way back across the Pacific.  Strangely, Stone tries to contend that the Japanese were ready to surrender before Hiroshima, but the thing that convinced them to surrender was the Russian invasion on the day of the second bombing.  So we didn't have to bomb them because they were ready to surrender but they weren't really ready to surrender until the Soviets attacked after we bombed them.  I'm getting a bit cross-eyed.

Stone tried to qualify his remarks in an interview with CBS, and stated that Russia won the war on land.  Nah.  North Africa is land.  France and Italy are land.  And strictly speaking, the Solomon Islands and the Phillipines and Iwo Jima and Okinawa count as land.  And stop acting like the naval contributions don't count.  Taking back the Pacific is a big deal, and the Soviets had nothing to do with it.

II.  American Exceptionalism is a False Idea

In the same interview where he qualified his claims that the Soviets won World War II by saying they won on land, Stone claimed that American Exceptionalism (viewing ourselves as an indispensable nation), makes us incapable of being a "global partner.".   Other statements he made were to claim that no other country considers themselves indispensable and dictates to others and China has no history of aggression.

Wow.  Where to begin.  I'm pretty sure Nikita Khrushchev saying "We will bury you!" and "Communism is the wave of the future!" was at least implying that he thought the Soviet Union was indispensable.  Also, controlling Eastern Europe for decades sounds kind of like dictating to others.  So the guys who he just got done praising for winning World War II are suddenly ignored after World War II.  Maybe he doesn't ignore them in the book.  But he's not exactly selling me on the book with this.  I could get a twelve pack of beer for the same amount, and I'm not sure that the book's worth as much yet.

As for the Chinese, they did a fair amount of dictating as well.  For example, they did some dictating to Tibet.  After they took it over circa 1950.  So unless Stone considers 1950 to be pre-history, China does have some aggression in its history.  But I guess that would make World War II pre-history too.  I'm getting more confused here.

But I need not restrict myself to what happened decades ago.  The Chinese spend plenty of time bullying nations in Southeast Asia, mostly in disputes over the South China Sea.  I'm pretty sure bullying counts as aggression.  The Chinese government also does all sorts of aggressive things against its own people, like running them over with tanks for protesting.  Or throwing them in jail for writing books.  Or putting their wives under house arrest when they win a Nobel Prize for said book. 

The Russians have done plenty of dictating to neighboring nations, sometimes using alternative means of persuasion, like poisoning candidates for president of Ukraine.  Also, I think the assorted Syrian shenanigans being perpetrated by Putin count as dictating to others.  With bombs and stuff.  I guess the only time things like this are worth considering are when America does them.

They miss the obvious.  America is the most powerful nation in the free world, and we are not partners with everyone.  There is no moral equivalency between us and the repressive government in a place like Russia, and certainly not the extraordinarily repressive government in China.  We may not be enemies, but we should compete with them.  We need to be a message to the world that freedom works better than repression, and we're the only ones capable of standing up to the world's biggest repressors.  That's what makes us indispensable.

We haven't always been perfect and admit that, something the Russian and Chinese governments, past and present, avoid doing. We designed a system that is based on ideas, not ethnicities, races, or nationalities. And it's also a self-improving system.  So we may underperform at moments in time (slavery, racism, sexism, the list goes on), but our system is designed to overcome these failings.  We gradually (sometimes too gradually) learn from our own mistakes and continually get better and more free, while the Russian and Chinese governments continue to silence dissent and suppress freedoms.  That's what makes us exceptional.

III.  American Imperialism

The co-author Peter Kuznick, claimed in an overly sympathetic interview with Tavis Smiley that this history is from the viewpoint of the victims.  Right, America victimizes the world.  Yawn.  He goes on to explain the birth of American imperialism.  America is the evil empire.  Double yawn.  America seeks global domination.  Please.  There were some times in early history where we had some expansionist adventures, but in the twentieth century that's not quite true.

We didn't willingly enter World War I or World War II.  We resisted getting involved in the first until an American cruise liner was attacked.  We were dragged into the second when Hawaii was attacked.  Prior to these attacks, we were inclined to keep to ourselves.  After the war, we were the only free country not in shambles, facing Soviet aggression.  We took on the role of the superpower of the free world, because no one else could.  If we are an empire, we are the first one ever that didn't become an empire willingly.  We did so to combat a larger, stronger empire bent on repression and global domination.  We were the only ones who could.  It's probably more accurate to call us a counter-empire.  We don't want to rule the world; we want to make sure no one does.

In the Smiley interview, he said he was proud of Showtime, because the documentary wasn't the sort of thing that would be shown on normal TV.  There's a reason why these things aren't shown on normal TV.  These three ideas are classic canards of extreme lefties.  They go out of their way to diminish American achievements, then claim that America is a regressive force in the world while ignoring actual regressives in the world.

Well, I've made up my mind.  The assorted lunacies I've heard so far have only served to reinforce my belief in America and Americanism.  The authors' addiction to obsolete ideologies has increased my allegience to the ideology that rendered them obsolete.  Reading the entire book can only make me more patriotic.  Also, I'm a sucker for good comedy.  If the whole book is this crazy, it should produce a few thousand laughs for me.  That's always worth $15-$20.

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