YouTube video

Watch part 2 on Tuesday

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

The ten-part series The Untold History of the United States is a series that unpacks much of the conventional narrative of U.S. Cold War history. And Oliver joins us now in the studio.

Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So, did you find a tension, a dilemma, maybe, between storytelling requires great characters, heroes and antiheroes, but there’s forces driving history which are not just about these individuals, that are sort of underlying these individuals, one very hard to get at in a series when you have so much story to tell and keep it dramatic, which is about the people?

STONE: I wonder the same thing you do. I mean, I totally agree with Peter. We are an attempt to tell it from the top down. But we also deal with the atomic bomb was a top-down decision. It was not made by people.

We also–you know, we deal with the movements against the Vietnam War. We deal with the civil rights movement. We deal with the nuclear freeze movement in 1980s against Reagan. You see that. And the labor union movement is given credit for many of the advances in our society, especially in the early chapters that you haven’t seen, but you’ll see that when it comes out. And the death of the labor union movement really is to be mourned.

But, you know, I’m thinking in history terms. Is it in a sense, as Paul Kennedy says, because we are an empire, because we overreach so grandly–and it’s clear that we financially cannot afford this structure, that we are hurting ourselves at home by maintaining these bases abroad and this infrastructure abroad–can we last when every empire in history has fallen? So under those guidelines it seems that we’re headed in that direction, because we went up and we kept going up after the Soviets drop off, drop away as the phantom enemy in 1991. We don’t stop. There was a moment for a peace dividend, but it really didn’t happen.


NARRATOR: Like Harry Truman after World War II, he surrounded himself with anti-Soviet conservatives, among them Dick Cheney as his defense secretary, and as his deputy national security adviser Robert Gates, the man who’d made his stripes as deputy to the fanatic William Casey. They all agreed: reaching out to Gorbachev would weaken Western resolve. Whereas Gorbachev was calling for eliminating tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, an offer most Europeans applauded, the United States countered that the Soviet Union should remove 325,000 troops in exchange for a U.S. cut of 30,000.


STONE: And within a year, Bush was in Iraq–in Kuwait, rather, and we were in Panama a month after the Berlin Wall was torn down. We had no intention of stopping. Our signals to Gorbachev were clearly expansionary. NATO kept expanding with Clinton and Bush 43.

So what was the–it seems that we are not in control of the empire. There is this dominant force in history that pushes every country to maximize its power. When it has it, it never can give it up, it never can retreat.

I’m not a historian, so I’m talking out of my intuition. I think the Ottoman Empire is interesting because it lasted for so long, because although they were aggressive, they didn’t expand to the degree that other empires have. Also, the Chinese empires are interesting because they have essentially stayed within their realm, their sphere.

JAY: In the end, you said the curve of the ball could have broken differently.

STONE: Yeah. Yeah.

JAY: And I guess if I have an argument with the series is that I don’t think it could have, that if it hadn’t been Truman, it would have been someone else, that the objective circumstances was, coming out of World War II, this was a one-superpower world, it was America’s oyster, the system would have given rise to a president that would have taken advantage of it. There was enormous military conflicts created by the end of World War II. They weren’t going away.

STONE: The curve of the ball could have broken differently, correct? That was my line.

JAY: Yeah.

STONE: I remember that, ’cause I feel that it could have, and you never know, and you’ll never know, because Claude Pepper was seven seconds away. And I think that was a breakthrough moment, because I think Claude Pepper, if he had reached the podium, he would have had the house. They had to close him down. It was a mistake.

JAY: Just quickly to remind everybody, you’ve got to go back and watch this part of the series of our interviews. Wallace is about to get the nomination for vice president, then they close down the convention and Pepper can’t get there.


NARRATOR: But few now remember how close Wallace came to getting the vice presidential nomination on that steamy Chicago night in July 1944. It was here that Roosevelt committed the greatest blunder of his splendid career, acceding to the party bosses’ choice of Harry Truman.


STONE: But let’s say Pepper had gotten there. Then he would have been–.

JAY: And my argument would be he would have been shot.

STONE: Perhaps, but [crosstalk] hypothetical.

JAY: He would have been defeated in the next election. But what I’m getting at is that the sort of political-economic forces that have emerged out of the way capitalism developed in the United States over 100 years–.

STONE: But you couldn’t have–could you have predicted that Eisenhower would become such a Cold Warrior after having been the general in World War II? Did Dulles have a nefarious influence on him? Why when Stalin died did he not make an effort to respond more positively to the Soviets? Or John Kennedy’s death in Dallas in 1963 is a freaky, freaky, but well-planned assassination. But he was–if he had paid an iota of attention to having a bubble on the limousine, to taking better care of himself, to not going to Texas with Lyndon Johnson, who wanted him to go, and not going to–because Adlai Stevenson had been attacked in Dallas a couple of weeks before. There had been attempts on Kennedy’s life in Miami, in Chicago. He knew he was in the crosshairs. I don’t know why he was so–a little bit–how would you say?–I used the word in the series aloof from fear.

JAY: Go back to the–one of the things that has always bothered me, intrigued me, and still does at the end of the series is why Eisenhower makes this anti military-industrial complex (I shouldn’t say anti-militarist) speech.


NARRATOR: In his remarkable farewell address of January 1961, Eisenhower seemed to understand the monstrosity he had created and seemed almost to be asking for absolution.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, U.S. PRESIDENT: We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt in every city, every state house, every office in the federal government. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwanted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.


JAY: And it kind of just hit me today that is what Eisenhower–. Now, we know he’s a cold warrior. We know Eisenhower is an imperialist. Eisenhower wants America to dominate–

STONE: He’s one of the worst, yeah.

JAY: –the world. And as you laid out very graphically–.

STONE: Intervened in so many countries for the first time, Third World countries, really on an extensive level.

JAY: And set the whole pattern–you didn’t mention it in your series, but–and you do mention Iran, but you could also mention the development of the Saudis in terms of projecting Saudi power throughout the Middle East and so on and so on.

STONE: Well, that starts with Roosevelt too.

JAY: Yeah, with the meeting with Ibn Saud, yeah. But is what Eisenhower’s saying is don’t let foreign policy be driven by short-term economic interests of the political power of arms manufacturers, have a more rational imperialism that projects power in the interests of imperialism? ‘Cause I’m wondering if that isn’t what we’re seeing right now, that Obama’s saying that about Iran, Iran isn’t our problem, our strategy has to be all looking at China. And that’s the rational imperialist approach, the encirclement of China, Iran will be a distraction, where the other guys are kind of being more driven by the short-term interests of this military complex.

STONE: [crosstalk] the neoconservatives.

JAY: The neocons, yeah.

STONE: Yeah. There is that hard right in America. It’s gotten stronger, but it existed in 1946. It started to exist during the Roosevelt era. Roosevelt fought them successfully. But they really were, I would say, radical. Radical people started to appear on the stage from World War II on, but ’44 and getting rid of Wallace, ’46 the elections. The Republicans said you’re either a Republican or you’re a communist, basically. They were saying the Democrats are in collusion with the communists. They were accusing Truman of being filled with spies, leaks, holes, sleeping with communists. You know what I’m–it was insane, and it continues now. So every time, you get the Irans, the North Koreas.

But you’re right. The bigger issue is still the imperialism of Obama. He is an Eisenhower in the sense that he’s moving the game to the east. But he decided that a couple of years ago we’re winding down Iran–I mean, we’re winding down Iraq, we’re winding down Afghanistan. That’s what Hillary Clinton said. And we’re looking to China, the pivot to Asia.


NARRATOR: In November 2011, Secretary of State Clinton threw down the gauntlet on China, writing: “As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point”, calling this America’s “Pacific century,” she meant a substantially increased military involvement in the Asia Pacific region to contain China.


JAY: I mean, I think Obama’s essentially Brzezinskian.

STONE: Brzezinskian or Kissingerian?

JAY: Well, Brzezinski’s against any war with Iran for the same reasons that the issue should be China.

STONE: I think the United States is making a huge mistake with all these people. We have to change our foreign policy. We should accept what I would call regional balance, regional power. And in some ways I think Kissinger, if this were a perfect world, would agree with me that there was–a balance of power is necessary.

And we are hegemony right now, we are a dominant unipower, and we want to keep it that way. Hillary Clinton has announced it, and in fact Obama has seconded that, right?

But where are we? We can’t do it. And as Alfred McCoy points out in chapter ten, we may possibly go against the odds, beat the odds with space. He’s pointed out that the Nazis thought they could dominate with technology forever.


NARRATOR: Historian Alfred McCoy delineated the real stakes when he wrote as early as 2020, the Pentagon hopes to patrol the entire globe ceaselessly, relentlessly, via a triple-canopy space shield, reaching from stratosphere to exosphere, driven by drones armed with agile missiles. The triple canopy should be able to blind an entire army by knocking out ground communications, avionics, and naval navigation. But as McCoy cautions, the illusion of technological invincibility and information on missions has failed arrogant nations in the past, as the fate of Germany in World War II and the U.S. in Vietnam attest. With tragic irony, McCoy reminds us that the U.S.’s veto of global lethality might be an equalizer for any further loss of economic strength and that the U.S.’s fate might well be determined by which comes first in this century-long cycle–military debacle from the illusion of technological mastery, or a new technological regime powerful enough to perpetuate U.S. global dominion.


STONE: Obama, in winding down Iraq and Afghanistan, has announced that he would be basically pivoting towards Asia. And he’s–although we don’t have the military strength quite in the same proportions we do, he’s announced cuts in the infantry and, of course, more money for cyberwarfare. So we still have and we’re looking for full-spectrum dominance of the world, which is air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.

And we are there. We always announce our new programs, like in cyberspace, as a defensive maneuver against the superiority of another system, such as the Chinese or the Russian system or the Iranian system. But we’re the ones who instituted cyberwarfare with Iran. So now when we get this feedback of Stuxnet, whatever it was called, these viruses that are coming in, you have to wonder where we played the role in starting this thing, as we did with technology.

If we sell 78 percent of the world’s arms, we’re causing the problem, because we’re making the world far more intense, more ferocious. We sent–$12 billion in arms sales Mr. Obama made to Taiwan over two years, in 2010 and ’11, I believe. The Chinese are infuriated. We have made military alliances, weaponry sold to Japan. Japan is heavily armed. So is South Korea, Philippines, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand. If I were Chinese, I would not feel comfortable with the United States. But as Peter and I said in the series, this is like the containment policy that we exercised against the Soviet Union.

JAY: Yeah. There’s this group in Washington (I think they call themselves the blue group) which–essentially a sort of foreign policy group whose fundamental premise is it’s all about China. So Iran’s a diversion. China’s the issue.

But let me just–we’re almost out of time, ’cause I know you have to run. So let me just have one other kind of critique.

STONE: Yeah.

JAY: You end the series with a quote from President Kennedy, which essentially is, we’re all on the same planet, we all breathe the same air. And in the interview you used a lot of “we”–you know, we’re doing this, we’re doing that. You know, there’s certain people in this country who do profit from all of this foreign policy and a lot of people who don’t. You know, President Obama keeps saying this, we’re all in the same boat, you know, no red states, no blue states, just United States. And even Jon Stewart did this at his thing on the Hill, you know, we’re all in this together. But we’re not all in this together. You know, this is a society with an elite. And, you know, you could say some of this policy’s good for them. It ain’t very good for the rest of us.

STONE: No. There seems to be four sectors that run the country. One would be the Pentagon. Wall Street, and on Wall Street the bond market. And the U.S. government sort of figures in there as a third one. And I would say the media. I would say those four sectors pretty much dominate the way we think and the way we act.

Now, we, the we is the government. That’s the official we. Us is the unofficial. That’s most of us, the vast majority. And how do we get power back?


NARRATOR: History has shown us the curve of the ball could have broken differently. These moments will come again in a different form. Will we be ready? Calming down the situations that occur, letting things happen without overreacting, seeing the world through the eyes of our adversaries, this way lies in sharing in the needs of other countries with true empathy and compassion, trusting a collective will of this planet to survive the coming period, ending the threats of nuclear annihilation and global warming. Can we not surrender our exceptionalism and our arrogance? Can we not cut out the talk of domination? Can we stop appealing to God to bless America over other nations? Hardliners and nationalists will object, but theirs has proven not to be the way.


STONE: I mean, I do believe in pecking away and hanging in there. You’ve got to rope-a-dope a bit, ’cause these are vast forces. But they crack from within, and the curve of the ball can break differently. I believe that.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us.

STONE: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Oliver Stone is a three-time Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter. A Vietnam War veteran, he has made around two dozen acclaimed films, including Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Nixon, W., and Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. Now Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick from American University have teamed up to produce a 10-part Showtime series called Untold History of the United States. It also features a companion book with a similar title.