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4 things we learned from Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone answers Northeastern students' questions

Film director and screen­writer Oliver Stone, known for his movies such as Pla­toon, JFK, and W., vis­ited North­eastern on Monday after­noon to screen an episode from his doc­u­men­tary series The Untold His­tory of the United States and answer stu­dents’ ques­tions about the project and his views on Amer­ican his­tory. The event was pre­sented by the Inter­na­tional Affairs Pro­gram, theDepart­ment of His­tory, and the North­eastern Human­i­ties Center.

Stone was joined by col­lab­o­rator Peter Kuznick, a pro­fessor of his­tory at Amer­ican Uni­ver­sity. The pair worked for five years on the series, which aired on Show­time in 2012. The series exam­ines Amer­ican his­tory begin­ning in the 1890s and looks specif­i­cally at the Cold War, using the atomic bomb against Japan, and America’s global role in recent decades. Here are some take­aways from Stone’s remarks during a Q-​​and-​​A ses­sion with the North­eastern community.

1. On the moti­va­tion to make the doc­u­men­tary: “Inspired by George W. Bush, I felt like we had to look back at Amer­ican his­tory in my life­time and try to under­stand what hap­pened. The series got to this con­clu­sion that George Bush was hardly the aber­ra­tion I thought he was. He was a con­tin­u­a­tion of a pat­tern of Amer­ican excep­tion­alism, a will to power, and Amer­ican inter­ven­tion in for­eign coun­tries that went on from 1898 to the 2000s. So this was an attempt to hope­fully bring a number of gen­er­a­tions closer to another ver­sion of Amer­ican history.”

2. On the process of making this series: “The process was very long and dif­fi­cult. At the end of the day, it took two extra years to complete…We really had to focus on what we thought was the big pic­ture. I think this is the way Peter and I strongly feel these 120 years have gone.”

3. On why he believes there is this for­gotten nar­ra­tive of Amer­ican his­tory: “I don’t think it was for­gotten as much as con­trolled. The forces that won World War II strongly put out media pro­pa­ganda that the U.S. had won World War II, that we had to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, and there was a neces­sity for a Cold War with Russia. We go out of our way to decon­struct those myths and from there we shape this nar­ra­tive that has been con­trolled for about 70 years.”

4. On how his mil­i­tary ser­vice in Vietnam shaped his polit­ical views: “I was exposed to a lot of ground war­fare, and I saw reality. Prior to that I lived in a myth about war and Amer­ican right­ness. So I think I came back from the war not against America, but shocked. What do you make of a world that goes upside down at 21 years old?”


– By Joe O’Connell

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