I've been a writer and observer of all things American propaganda ever since I worked at the United States Information Agency in Washington. On Monday, August 12th at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, I found two unlikely kindred spirits who share my interest in the subject, especially as it relates to what we know or think we know about American foreign policy.
Film director and screenwriter Oliver Stone and American University professor Peter Kuznick have co-authored The Untold History of the United States, which aired as a ten-hour documentary series on Showtime. The book and documentary series, which took five years to finish, has come to Japan's public broadcaster NHK and over the last week Stone and Kuznick have been promoting the book and film series while visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 68th anniversary of the U.S. use of atomic bombs.
Peter Kuznick is a professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C. He founded American University's Nuclear Studies Institute in 1995 and has been a lifelong activist in antiwar and nuclear abolition movements. He is Stone's longtime collaborator but as Showtime makes clear, the series is called Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States.
Dr. Kuznick pulled no punches before the largely Japanese crowd that was there to see Oliver Stone. Kuznick said that Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is "one of the worst deniers of real history. It's the kind of thing we're fighting against. "Much of Asia now doesn't want to tell the real history about Japanese occupation because they want Japanese tourists."
The three-time Academy Award winner Stone is a decorated Vietnam war veteran (Purple Heart, Bronze Star) from a conservative Republican household, who is better known as a decorated Hollywood film director and writer. His name is associated with some of the most memorable movies in the last thirty years (Scarface, Salvador, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, JFK, Nixon, Natural Born Killers). He can also be counted on for controversial public pronouncements that pierce the air with a knife-like precision, but which also embolden his critics on the left and right.
Stone, of course, didn't disappoint. He gave an exasperated look, paused briefly, and then said, "Obama is a snake." This was not a nod to the Chinese calendar. It was in reference to President Obama's rightward tilt on national security and surveillance after candidate Obama promised the most transparent administration.
Looking quite exhausted but exhilarated by the over-capacity crowd of several hundred, Stone made sure we knew who was his hero: Edward Snowden and anyone else who risks personal life and security for a greater good.
Here is an excerpt of my exchange with Oliver Stone:
Q: Edward R. Murrow said fifty years ago when he headed USIA: Truth is the best propaganda. That is what you are getting at here. How do you awaken people to wanting to go back and learn this history that is so crucial?
Oliver Stone: I come at this as a dramatist. Pete comes at it as a historian. We cross-fertilized all these five years. The best way is to tell an exciting story. I think that's what we've done. I think this documentary is the fastest documentary with the most amount of information I've seen. There are no talking heads. There's no reaffirming. I've taken all the techniques from JFK and used them in this film. We also use movie clips and wonderful music, but it's essentially a movie going experience to be watched in the theater.
You're right about Edward R. Murrow, the ghost of Edward R. Murrow. We need Edward R. Murrow. Where is he now? He's in our documentary. He's interviewing Truman and he gets some of the best stuff ever from Truman. You see Truman's attitude about it (the atom bomb.) When Truman says to Murrow, 'I never lost a night's sleep over it.' It's just heartbreaking that Truman is incapable of any empathy for the victims or empathy for anybody except for his cronies.
Excitement. Danger. Tell the truth. People are a sucker for the truths. The problem with U.S. history in my opinion is that it's sabotaged. It's like a Disney movie.
Just another quiet day in Tokyo with a Hollywood film director and the ghost of Edward R. Murrow!