Oliver Stone and Historical Perspective

November 30, 2012 2:23 pm 10 comments

Oliver Stone at the "NBK" Conference. Photo: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería.

The film director Oliver Stone has once again ruffled feathers with a controversial television series that justifies those like me who think that, despite the 75% of corrosive, banal rubbish that appears on television, every now and again an important educational documentary makes having access to it worthwhile. The iconic British series “The World at War” directed by Jeremy Isaacs, which aired between 1973 and 1974, was and remains an essential tool in understanding the history of World War II. It was as balanced and objective as it is ever possible to be. Oliver Stone’s miniseries called “The Untold History of the United States” is in no way balanced or objective. But it is stimulating and thought provoking, and I highly recommend it, however much I may personally dislike many of Stone’s biases, especially with regard to Jews and Israel.

According to Stone, Hitler only lost because Russia stopped him and prevented him reaching the oil fields of Baku. America finished him off. Most of Britain’s tactical decisions were disastrous and only the Channel saved it. Roosevelt pulled the rug from under the Imperialist British Empire he hated. But then it was Truman and Eisenhower who initiated an era of American empire-building and imperialism that Stone thinks is still in place.

Truman might not have been the most charismatic or able of presidents and his nomination as vice president was indeed an example of dirty, backroom conniving to block the incumbent vice president, the radical charismatic Henry Wallace. But he was responsible for the Marshall Plan that rebuilt much of Europe. If nothing else, we Jews applaud his decision, however reluctant, to support the UN vote for Israel as a state in 1947. The only person Stone blames more for the cold war than Truman was Winston Churchill. This no doubt explains why President Obama returned the Churchill bust that had decorated the Oval Office to the UK.

As a child growing up in postwar Britain, I was fully aware of how much anti-American feeling ‘the bomb’ generated. Yet the atomic deterrent led to the longest period free of war that Europe experienced since before the arrival of the Vikings. I recall that during the fifties the European anti-Americans used to joke that America learnt three things from its most recent presidents. From Roosevelt it learnt that you could be president until you died, from Truman that anybody could become president, and from Eisenhower that you could manage without a president. The joke, of course, was on the Old World as it stumbled and fumbled towards decline.

Nevertheless, history is so engrossing precisely because there are so many different ways of recording the facts, analyzing them and drawing conclusions about them. As Isaiah Berlin said, one should always beware of people who claim they are in possession of the one and only certainty. One of the most influential books in my life was “Napoleon: For and Against”, by Pieter Geyl. As a schoolboy it taught me that every person, every situation can be seen through positive lenses and negative ones. Not to mention Jewish ones. Whatever else one might think of Napoleon, wherever he conquered in Europe Jews were given civil rights. And when he was defeated they were taken away. Can we agree that Ben Gurion was a better Prime Minister than Menachem Begin or whether JFK did more for civil rights than Lyndon Johnson? No, we can’t and never will, because we each have our own specific perspectives and priorities. What’s more, we may never know the full story. Did Napoleon lose the battle of Waterloo because of weather conditions, rivalry between his generals, a tiff with Josephine, or a bad night’s sleep? New information becomes accessible and hind sight is a great revisionist.

Was Oslo wrong? Was Israel right to leave Gaza? Or the current ceasefire in Gaza, will it prove to be good or bad for Hamas, and will it weaken Fatah? Did it encourage Morsi to overreach himself? Will the success of the Iron Dome lead to a complete rethink of Iranian and Hezbollah strategy? Was this a trial run for an attack on Iran or might the Ayatollahs think again? Did Netanyahu gain new commitments from America? We will also have the cranks who will tell us it was all the hand of an unseen power. But which one? The Jewish or the Muslim?

We don’t know for certain. Each one of us sees, decides, and thinks within our own parameters, and no one has the complete story or the complete picture. Every treaty there has ever been has had its unwritten side deals. Academics and experts always argue about what happened and what the consequences were, and that is precisely why the Oliver Stones of the world flourish, and rightly so.

We do know that if we want to survive we need to ensure that our intelligence is reliable. Our defenses are secure. Our people are prepared and our morale and sense of what we are fighting for is primed and sure. But too often Israel has made the wrong decision. After 1967 good will was squandered. The Yom Kipur War nearly ended in disaster because of faulty intelligence, and so did two wars in Lebanon. Most of Israel’s top army brass opposed spending money on the Iron Dome. We need the wisdom to evaluate and to negotiate, to see beyond our noses, and to prepare for the next stage not just the present one. That is as true of our personal lives, our professional lives, as well as our spiritual ones.

What is the greatest quality that wise leaders need? To see what is already happening under their very noses. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai lived at a time of crisis, when the Romans crushed the Jewish resistance and ended the Second Jewish State. He asked this very question. Rebbi Shimon answered in Avot 2:9, “He who can see what is born (and is going to happen).” I don’t know which is worse, an ostrich which refuses to see or a mad dog that makes all the wrong decisions. Either way, wise leaders value criticism.

10 Comments

  • Not so much a humanatarian more like a survivor strategy

  • Vicki Coghlan

    Steven has the right attitude! Yes! We need to bomb Iran! NOW!! :)

  • Samir..you are correct…Oliver Stone is not even worth the virtual newsprint to review his unusually distorted worldview…certainly not here in a Jewish-oriented periodical. Perhaps next we will be reading about Mel Gibsons latest movie or John Galliano’s latest fashion line?

  • THERE WAS AN OFFER OF CAPITULATION THROUGH SWITZERLAND AND MOSCOW BEFORE THE TWO ATOMIC BOMBS.
    ON ONE CONDITION, THEY COULD KEEP THEIR EMPEROR.
    THE AMERICAN TOOK THIS CONDITION AS A PRETEXT
    TO DROP TWO ATOMIC BOMBS.
    SORRY TO SAY SO BUT AMERICA WAS ALWAYS GOOD IN
    TWISTING THE TRUTH OVER AND OVER AGAIN UNTIL TODAY.
    STONE IS RIGHT THE CAPITULATION WAS THERE.

    • Ah Pim
      Thats why historians ( and politicians) will continue to argue the issue till Kingdom Come! And I guess thats also why some of us prefer religious truths.
      J

  • Oliver Stone has shown in his behaviour concerning the Jewish Nation, that he must be full of hatred towards his father for being born a Jew, which he is not, and shouldn’t even be referred to as partly of Jewish origin, because he is a Jew-hating piece of trash, his apologies are not genuine in any manner of the word. His films should be boycotted by every Jew with a conscience.

  • HI JEREMY,
    EXCELLENT ARTICLE AS USUAL.
    ALSO AS USUAL I HAVE A QUESTION FOR YOU.

    ”Yet the atomic deterrent led to the longest period free of war that Europe experienced since before the arrival of the Vikings”

    DO YOU THINK IT WAS JUSTIFIABLE TO DROP TWO ATOMIC BOMBS
    ON JAPAN TO SHOW THE RUSSIANS WE HAVE THEM IN OPERATION.

    I THINK THIS WAS OVERKILL…
    PIM.

    • I agree Pim it is a tough call. But assuming there was no peace deal/capitulation on the table ( and Stone’s view that there was is contested ) then yes I think so. All the more so since after Hiroshima the Japanese refused to concede and only did so after Nagasaki.All warefare repells me but if short term violenvce prevents longer term and greater violence I think it is justified.

      J

    • I think we should drop the bomb on Iran – we would have peace for another 100 years

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated magazine featured an extensive profile on Orthodox-Jewish college basketball player Aaron Liberman on Wednesday.  The article details Liberman’s efforts to balance faith, academics and basketball at Tulane University, a challenge the young athlete calls “a triple major.” Sports Illustrated pointed out that Liberman is the second Orthodox student to play Division I college basketball. The other was Tamir Goodman, the so-called “Jewish Jordan.” As reported in The Algemeiner, Liberman started his NCAA career at Northwestern University. According to [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.