Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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.


  • Not so much a humanatarian more like a survivor strategy

  • Vicki Coghlan

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

  • 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?


    • 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.

  • 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.


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



    • 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.


    • 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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Israel Jerry Seinfeld to Make Comedy Debut in Israel

    Jerry Seinfeld to Make Comedy Debut in Israel – Famed Jewish-American comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld is slated to make his comedic debut in Israel later this year. Seinfeld, who was born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents from the Ukraine and Syria, will perform in Tel Aviv’s Mitvtachim Menorah Arena on Dec. 19 as part of a world tour. The comedian is most known for his enormously popular NBC sitcom Seinfeld, which ran from 1989-1998 and is widely considered one of the greatest TV series of all time. […]

    Read more →
  • Food Israel New Video Shows American Kids Reviewing Israeli Food After Tasting Dishes for First Time (VIDEO)

    New Video Shows American Kids Reviewing Israeli Food After Tasting Dishes for First Time (VIDEO)

    A new video circulating online shows eight American children reacting — mostly positively — to their first taste of the famed Israeli eggplant salad/dip, known in Hebrew as “salat hatzilim” and in other parts of the Levant as baba ganoush. The clip, created by, features the youngsters trying a variety of exotic dishes from other countries as well, such as Hawaiian poi, Colombian pork belly and Russian borscht. The Israeli delicacies served include schnitzel, slices of pita, hummus and the baba ganoush salad. “If someone […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Pioneers/Philanthropists ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel to Host Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneurs Summit

    ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel to Host Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneurs Summit – Forbes magazine announced Tuesday that it will host its Under 30 EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Summit in Israel for the first time in April 2016. The conference is expected to bring together some 600 young entrepreneurs, with 200 from Europe, 200 from the U.S., and 200 from Israel. The summit has been hosted in Philadelphia for the past two years. It will include presentations, speeches, a pitch competition, and cultural immersion opportunities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Beliefs and concepts What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David?

    What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David? –  “What’s that huge white bridal dress floating over the Tower of David?” That’s what visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City asked last week. The wedding gown, created by leading Israeli artist Motti Mizrachi, is part of the 2nd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event that blew into town as the Sukkot holiday got underway. Mizrachi, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, created the dress that floats majestically over the Tower of David, the main exhibition site […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    Israel is a holiday destination on many travelers’ bucket lists. No matter the style of holiday you are after, Israel has the answer. Whether you prefer to relax by the beach, hike up mountains in the desert, visit religious and historical sites, eat your way through the country or just enjoy some retail therapy, your journey through Israel will be one to remember. While there are obviously so many things to see and do, here is a list of 10 of […]

    Read more →
  • Pioneers/Philanthropists US & Canada Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO

    Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO – Jewish American fashion mogul Ralph Lauren announced his plan to step down as chief executive officer of the renowned fashion brand. The head of Gap Inc’s Old Navy brand will take over the position. The 75-year-old Lauren, who founded Ralph Lauren Corp. in 1967, will continue to serve as executive chairman and will continue leading the fashion house’s design team, according to a statement by the company. After the announcement, Ralph Lauren shares rose 3.79 percent while Gap shares […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Sports US & Canada Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish boxer Dustin Fleischer, who said his quest is to become the first world champion descended from a Holocaust survivor, stayed unbeaten with a first-round knockout. Fleischer, nicknamed “The White Tiger,” moved to 4-0 with the defeat of Ira Frank on Saturday night in Beach Haven, New Jersey, near his home, he reported after the fight on his Facebook page. The 26-year-old welterweight has won all his bouts by knockout. Read full story at JTA.

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Pioneers/Philanthropists Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Renowned New York attorney Sandor (Sandy) Frankel, one of four trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, was in Israel earlier this month to look at additional philanthropic options and to observe the progress of those endeavors already funded – to the tune of multi-millions. Frankel, who recently joined the prestigious Park Avenue law firm Otterbourg P.C., met with Israeli politicians and other bigwigs to get a sense from them about which projects in the country […]

    Read more →