Book Review: Non-fiction/ The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone& Peter Kuznick, Ebury Press, 750p;$30(Paperback)
Filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick give an uncompromising and riveting account of America’s disconcerting history...
In their book, while Oliver Stone, filmmaker par excellence and Peter Kuznik, renowned academic, study the period from the beginning of the twentieth century right up to the present regime of Obama and highlight, the extent to which democratic ideas have been abandoned by world’s largest democracy, what they really do is to create an academic space, wherein the systematic war crimes of America are out in the open for people to deliberate on.
By the early twentieth century witnessed the democratic ideals of Lincoln, Jefferson and William Bryan had ceased to exist in America—the country was now obsessively focussed on becoming a world power by building up a strong military and diplomatic capacity. Interestingly, unlike the usual thematic history books from the US, this one dwells, more obviously, on the decline of American empire rather glorifying the shining phases of its history. The authors debunk the view that the US is strategically pure, visionary and infallible.
Stone and Kuznik elucidate how the follies of America’s action have nothing to do with the military capacity—modern American history is unmatched in terms of such blunders. The ‘introduction’ of this book belies the misconceived but popular notion that war, equaled ‘glory’.
The book discusses, in the chapter, ‘Roots of Empire: War is a Racket’— the commercial interests driving the neoliberal empire and marks a departure from conventional history of the Unites States, as it is. This makes the book all the more remarkable and valuable for the serious readers of global strategic history.
The book begins with the brutal suppression of the Filipino struggle for independence by the US. Further, it studies the two World Wars, and cites the leverages, acquired by the US by its interventions on foreign soil and by making ‘local issues global’, which it later sorted out inappropriately to its advantage.
In the post Second World War era, the US single-handedly controlled and exercised influence over several Latin American, Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Its newly found pastime was to make elitist dictators the heads of the state and achieve a dangerous equilibrium in nexus with smart terror operatives. It was responsible for the jihadi cells in Islamic countries, which eventually made the world less safe—thanks to the US.
The other power block and equal stakeholder of the Cold War—USSR was not really keen on its territorial expansion, as ideology had not suddenly fallen from grace there.
Stone and Kuznick dwell on the atomic policies of the US with unflinching courage. While doing this, they encounter the biased historiography that favours American action in various wars. They remind the readers that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally and militarily unjustified and provide a balance perspective of these sensitive issues.
The US loves war and that gives it its strategically unparalleled stature. Its nuclear arsenals are on hair trigger alert and can end the world in no time, and yet it hypocritically opposes nuclear proliferation. And its efforts for peace, on many occasions have brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
This double standard is now an established norm in American policy circles, which makes their strategic choices complex and oriented towards narrow self-interest. The book gives several instances when US presidents and diplomats, on many occasions have violated the spirit of American Constitution and international laws. The fatal leaning on arms over the decades has made the US, more a security state than a real democracy. This is shocking—as the world’s biggest triumph of democracy is appearing like a cunning empire, and without having any justification for such blunder.
Stone and Kuznick’s take on Woodrow Wilson has great clarity and in great detail, they show how his moves consolidated colonialism, rather help democracy. At best, his utterances were mere rhetoric, and his conflicting opinion delayed American action to address the threat posed by the opposition camp consisting of Germany, Italy and Japan in the 1930’s.
The Second World War would not have happened, had the US acted cautiously and promptly against three countries. As opposed to all the hyped up commitment to democracy, even at that time, the US was working to increase its clout in the changing global geopolitical order. It succeeded, but at the cost of unprecedented devastation, the world has ever seen and suffered. The authors provide mature insights on the past for the readers.
Stone and Kuznick praise Franklin D Roosevelt for acting promptly against fascism. They also give an account of the horrific choice of bombing Japan’s cities and getting into a long spiral of hostility with USSR, and the famous -Cold War. This made the world, less safe and stable forever—Afghanistan and the other disturbed Islamic countries are a prime example of this.
India experienced the dire effects of the Cold War in Kashmir. For long, it remained a parking lot for jihadis under the aegis of the US. The US deserves criticism, much more than USSR—as later was avoiding long strategic tussle.
The failure of USSR in 1991 was a project successfully completed for the US defence and diplomatic establishments. In subsequent phases, the US kept denying the existence of global terrorism till 9/11 attacks on its soil—only after that, it accepted, the world has threat from organised terrorism .Only after 2001 did the US started accepting the challenges posed to India by cross border terrorism.
The book offers fresh perspectives on the unexpected rise of Harry Truman and the positional saturation of Henry Wallace in American politics after the demise of FDR. The authors are oversympathetic to John F Kennedy, and his assassination is termed by them as a great blow to the efforts of peace undertaken by him. But truth was something else, as usual.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on September08,2013)