The legendary director and longtime critic of American military power, Oliver Stone, joins Joy on Thursday night to talk about David Petraeus, marijuana legalization and his new book, “The Untold History of the US,” co-written with Peter Kuznick.
“I think you have a great American narrative here,” Stone said about the continuing Petraeus scandal. “It’s a Shakespearean tragedy.”
It may be a tragedy, but Stone thinks that Americans just take for granted that someone of Petraeus’ military stature deserves to be called an American hero.
“The truth is, he’s not a hero,” the director tells Joy.
Breaking down the archetypes of history is just one of the things Stone does in his new book. For more from Stone watch “Joy Behar: Say Anything!” Thursday at 6E/3P.
And as an added bonus, we have a sneak peek of Stone’s book right here.
Roots of Empire: “War Is a Racket”
We write this book as the curtain slowly draws down on the American Empire. It was 1941 when magazine magnate Henry Luce declared the twentieth century the “American Century.” Little could he have imagined how true that would be, writing before the defeat of Germany and Japan, the advent of the atomic bomb, the boom in U.S. postwar production, the rise and institutionalization of the military-industrial complex, the development of the Internet, the transmogrification of the United States into a national security state, and the country’s “victory” in the Cold War.
Luce’s vision of untrammeled U.S. hegemony has always been a contested one. Vice President Henry Wallace urged the United States to instead usher in what he called “the Century of the Common Man.” Wallace, whom realists dismissed as a “dreamer” and a “visionary,” laid out a blueprint for a world of science-and technology-based abundance, a world banning colonialism and economic exploitation, a world of peace and shared prosperity. Unfortunately, the postwar world has conformed much more closely to Luce’s imperial vision than Wallace’s progressive one. More recently, in 1997, a new generation of proponents of U.S. global supremacy, who would go on to constitute the neoconservative “brain trust” of the disastrous George W. Bush presidency, called for the establishment of a“new American Century.” It was a perspective that gained many adherents in the earlier years of the twenty-first century, before the calamitous consequences of the United States’ latest wars became widely recognized.
The United States’ run as global hegemon—the most powerful and dominant nation the world has ever seen—has been marked by proud achievements and terrible disappointments. It is the latter—the darker side of U.S. history— that we explore in the following pages. We don’t try to tell all of U.S. history. That would be an impossible task. We don’t focus extensively on many of the things the United States has done right. There are libraries full of books dedicated to that purpose and school curricula that trumpet U.S. achievements. We are more concerned with focusing a spotlight on what the United States has done wrong—the ways in which we believe the country has betrayed its mission—with the faith that there is still time to correct those errors as we move forward into the twenty-first century. We are profoundly disturbed by the direction of U.S. policy at a time when the United States was recently at war in three Muslim countries and carrying out drone attacks, best viewed as targeted assassinations, in at least six others. Why does our country have military bases in every region of the globe, totaling more than a thousand by some counts? Why does the United States spend as much money on its military as the rest of the world combined? Why does it still possess thousands of nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert, even though no nation poses an imminent threat? Why is the gap between rich and poor greater in the United States than in any other developed country, and why is the United States the only advanced nation without a universal health care program?
Why do such a tiny number of people—whether the figure is currently 300 or 500 or 2,000—control more wealth than the world’s poorest 3 billion? Why are a tiny minority of wealthy Americans allowed to exert so much control over U.S. domestic politics, foreign policy, and media while the great masses see a diminution of their real power and standards of living? Why have Americans submitted to levels of surveillance, government intrusion, abuse of civil liberties, and loss of privacy that would have appalled the Founding Fathers and earlier generations? Why does the United States have a lower percentage of unionized workers than any other advanced industrial democracy? Why, in our country, are those who are driven by personal greed and narrow self-interest empowered over those who extol social values like kindness, generosity, compassion, sharing, empathy, and community building? And why has it become so hard for the great majority of Americans to imagine a different, we would say a better, future than the one defined by current policy initiatives and social values? These are only a few of the questions we will address in these pages. Although we can’t hope to answer all of them, we hope to present the historical background that will enable readers to explore these topics more deeply on their own.
Along the way, we will also highlight some of the forces and individuals who have endeavored, sometimes heroically, to put the country back on the right track. We take seriously President John Quincy Adams’s July 4, 1821, condemnation of British colonialism and declaration that the United States “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy” lest she “involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.” The United States, Adams warned, might “become the dictatress of the world [but] she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”
Adams presciently foresaw what would befall the United States if it sacrificed its republican spirit on the altar of empire. Compounding the problem is Americans’ persistent denial of their nation’s imperial past and the ways in which it shapes present policy. As historian Alfred McCoy observes, “For empires, the past is just another overseas territory ripe for reconstruction, even reinvention.” Americans refuse to live in history, even though, as novelist J. M. Coetzee understands, empire must always do so. In “Waiting for the Barbarians,” he wrote, “Empire dooms itself to live in history and plot against history. One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation. A mad vision yet a virulent one.”
Americans believe they are unbound by history. Historian Christopher Lasch saw this as a reflection of their “narcissism.” It is also, for many, a way to avoid grappling with what their nation has become over the past century. It was easier, while U.S. dominance lasted, for citizens to comfort themselves with consoling fables of U.S. benevolence while real historical knowledge steadily declined. Americans’ continuing separation from the rest of the multilingual and integrated world only exacerbates the problem. Seclusion has not only bred ignorance; it has also bred fear, which we have seen manifested repeatedly in the exaggerated assessment of enemy threats and recurrent panics about alien intruders, domestic and foreign radicals, and, more recently, menacing Islamic terrorists.
U.S. citizens’ ignorance of their country’s history was once again driven home when the results of a nationwide test, known as the Nation’s Report Card, were unveiled in June 2011. The test of fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders revealed that U.S. students are, according to the New York Times, “less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject.” The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency. And even the “proficiency” of that 12 percent was called into question when, shockingly, only 2 percent could identify the social problem that the Brown v. Board of Education decision was meant to correct, even though the answer was evident in the wording of the question.
This gaping historical void has largely been filled with myth.