Recently I had some time to binge watch some Netflix videos. I’m always drawn to the documentaries–especially about modern Europeans and American history. Netflix recently added a series called Oliver Stone’s Untold Story of United States History. I discovered that some of the episodes are on Netflix and some are on Youtube. I would recommend beginning with “Prequel A” on Youtube and then going to the Netflix series.
We all know that Oliver Stone is controversial; that’s a given. Okay, but take my word for it that there are some very interesting “facts” worth following up on in other sources. While watching these documentaries I have been constantly pausing them to go to Google to look up supporting (or falsifying) information about the subjects he mentions.
Now much of what’s in these videos I already knew, but Stone’s “take” on them plus some added information I did not not already know makes them worthwhile. I’ll give one example. In one episode he talks about a Marine who started out under age in the U.S.-Spanish War and worked his way up to a very high rank with decorations later. His name was Smedley Butler. Never heard of him before. But when I read about him on the internet I was surprised that I had never heard of him before. During the 1930s, after retiring from active duty in the Marine Corps, he launched an investigation into a possible military coup aimed at overthrowing the government of Frankline Delano Roosevelt. Some scholars take it seriously even though the investigation ended inconclusively. I never heard or read before that there even may have been such a plot to overthrow the U.S. Government in the 1930s. Butler, after his retirement, said publicly that he, as a Marine officer involved in U.S invasions on three continents on behalf of U.S corporations was nothing more than a “High class muscle man…a gangster for Wall Street.”
Clearly Stone has an ax to grind in this series, but it is an ax worth listening to as it is ground. Take it all with a grain of salt–as with everything else claiming to be history. (Was it Napolean who said history is just a bunch of lies agreed upon?) Stone’s heroes are not the usual ones we read about in standard American history books. They are, for example, Eugene Debs and Henry Wallace. Never hear of them? Well, I had heard of them and even read biographies of them. But Stone has a way of explaining why they should be remembered as heroes of American history and why they aren’t that is remarkable.
As I said, watch with a grain of salt, but take it in, think about Stone’s interpretations, and perhaps find something there to balance the traditional “American exceptionalism” historiography that most of us learn in public schools and from the media generally.