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...

  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Rocks Solo Acoustic Version of Israeli National Anthem – Hatikva (VIDEO)

    Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Rocks Solo Acoustic Version of Israeli National Anthem – Hatikva (VIDEO)

    Ok, fans, question time. What do: Guns ‘n’ Roses shred-meister guitarist, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (aka Ronald Jay Blumenthal), “Hard Rock Hotel”, “Las Vegas” and Israel’s ”Hatikva” (The Hope) national anthem… all have in common? I know, you’re probably thinking, “Hmm, ‘One of these things is not like the other,’ would fit in here,” right? Um, no, turns out. Caught backstage by blogger Darren Garnick at the swanky Vegas gig in early June, Thal, acoustic guitar in hand, fretted out a sweetly melodic [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.