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Reviewing “Untold History of the United States”

This weekend brought the conclusion of the Showtime series, “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.” A series I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to watch. I would also encourage anyone who does watch the series to maintain a healthy skepticism while viewing.

The series focuses on the darker side of presidential politics starting at the end of FDR’s term in office as the U.S. was avoiding involvement in WWII up to the modern day policies of Barack Obama. While touching on some domestic issues, the majority of the time is spent focused on U.S. foreign policy. Each episodes title confirms this fact.

Episode 1: World War II
Episode 2: Roosevelt, Truman & Wallace
Episode 3: The Bomb
Episode 4: The Cold War: 1945-1950
Episode 5: The 50’s Eisenhower, the Bomb & the Third World
Episode 6: JFK: To the Brink
Episode 7: Johnson, Nixon & Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune
Episode 8: Reagan, Gorbachev & Third World: Revival of Fortune
Episode 9: Bush & Clinton: Squandered Peace – New World Order
Episode 10: Bush & Obama: Age of Terror

Oliver Stone succeeds in telling an alternative view of American history that challenges the conventional view Americans perceive as our history. Where the series fails is by showing clear biases towards a progressive agenda, while implying it’s exposing the whole truth. Also disturbing is Stone’s need to portray Heroes and Villains while the show is criticizing presidents and the media of doing the very same thing. Far too often I felt when contrary evidence was presented, it was whitewashed and incomplete. However, there is a fairness in that party affiliation doesn’t protect anyone against Stone’s microscope. Despite his obvious dislike for President Reagan and President G.W. Bush, there is a balanced contempt for President Truman and President Johnson.

The first area I felt this bias conflict was in painting Henry Wallace as a progressive visionary who’s ideas were ahead of his time. A man who’s integrity didn’t allow himself to waver from his ideals. And Wallace was a forward thinking individual in the areas of agriculture and civil rights. But repeatedly Stone refers to Wallace’s stance on trusting and peacefully coexisting with the Soviet Union, communism and Joseph Stalin. Implying that if Wallace hadn’t been replaced by Truman as Vice President on Roosevelt’s final election, the Truman Doctrine to stop communism before it spreads further would have been avoided. Thus erasing Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War from our history. Stone hides behind narration claiming we can’t know what the world would look like today had Wallace took over the Presidency when Roosevelt died, but the message is clear that he feels the alternative couldn’t have been any worse.

Stone completely glosses over the fact that Wallace published a book in 1952 titled “Where I Was Wrong” in which Wallace recants this very position regarding the Soviet Union. Claiming his previous position was made from inadequate information regarding Stalin and the threat he represented. Maybe the series writers feel Wallace only published this book as a means to protect himself from the McCarthy witch hunt taking place at the time against those sympathetic to communism. The fact is Truman shoulders little responsibility for spreading the fear of communism. For that fear was already spreading throughout all levels of government. Wallace may have had a softer approach than Truman, but if Wallace had pursued what Stone feels would have been the “correct” course of action, Wallace likely would have been facing impeachment charges.

Repeatedly I felt Stone was cherry picking facts, which he claims are true and vetted by several groups, to point out what presidents did know and in hindsight made the wrong decision. It’s easy to look back and pick out the intelligence that happened to be correct. Not so easy when you’re faced with several conflicting reports being forced to make a decision.

Stone also offers little room for presidential politics, unfairly criticizing presidents over them. Pulling presidential soundbites to support Stone’s position. What would Mr. Stone expect President Obama to say to troops returning from the Iraq conflict? “Sorry you went over there under false pretenses and watched several of your friends killed for nothing?” Also entirely unfair was the soundbite of President G.W. Bush saying “you’ve covered your ass” claiming the context was about Arabs training to fly planes into buildings prior to 9-11. Was supplying the actual context to which Bush was responding to too difficult for us to hear for ourselves Mr. Stone?

Despite these and many other flaws in logic and hypocrisy, the series does a good job of presenting evidence on how much of what we felt was aggression from the USSR was often simply a response to an action we already took, for they feared we would strike first. How often from the rest of the world, it is the United States that’s viewed as the aggressor. That we now know many of the numbers on USSR arms during the cold war turned out to be far fewer in reality.  Once again I was left disappointed in Mr. Stone for not following up with why our numbers on USSR armaments were so far off.

Whether intentional or not, the series masterfully shows how often candidates running for the presidency end up involved in the very activities they ran against. That it is impossible to make a clear choice on who one should vote for. The promises spoken on the campaign trail doesn’t correspond to the actions taken in office. How even the best of intentions are warped and corrupted by outside influences once seated in the oval office. Then the series trips over itself implying the likes of Wallace or Gore would have been better presidents, based on their campaign platform. As if somehow they would have been immune from these pressures.

“Untold History of the United States” made me think and reexamine what I thought I knew about our history. For that reason alone I think the series was worthwhile and applaud Mr. Stone’s effort. However, in hindsight, the series would have had a much more powerful message highlighting what is wrong with America had Mr. Stone restrained his progressive bias, stopped trying to flip the tables claiming America is the evil empire, and just presented the facts fairly highlighting the sympathies and faults on all sides. Then let the viewer decide for themselves.

The world we live in is gray Mr. Stone. If you want others to recognize past mistakes to avoid making them in the future, it doesn’t help if you are still painting the past in black and white.

© copyright 2011-2013

Declaring My Independence

Sorry to get on a political rant, but I have something to say. You may want to stop reading right now, I won’t be offended if you do. The reason I’ve waited until after the United States elections were over to say anything is, I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to sway someone’s vote. Besides, living in a swing state being bombarded with television campaign ads, and the daily mailbox stuffing of political information, made thinking clearly difficult. I’m fine with people disagreeing with me, but I knew if I made this post earlier it would just be drowned in the emotions of election fury.

I’M SICK AND TIRED OF AMERICAN NATIONAL POLITICS! There, I’ve said it. Not that I don’t think voting is important, or we should just give up trying to make the world a better place. But I’m tired of every election watching politicians pander to special interest groups hoping to squeeze out enough votes to win. Abortion, Gay & Lesbian rights, Corporate tax rates, welfare, Super Pacs, the environment, the “paid by Grass Roots Foundation for America but I’m really backed by large corporate funding” group…I’m sick of it. Are these issues important? Absolutely. Do either parties dogma match my own…HELL NO! I’m tired of being stuck with a choice every election on which issue is most important to me and which ones I’m willing to sacrifice.

All because I want to think for myself and feel both parties have something to offer. Unfortunately when choosing which choice cut of meat I want, I’m stuck with it being buried under a pile of crap! I don’t like crap! Not smooth, not creamy, not al dente. I don’t care what flavoring you add to it…it’s still crap. Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh, Anderson Cooper, Sean Hannity, Wolf Blitzer…I’m tired of all of you trying to spoon feed me your crap calling it crème brûlée. All it’s done is leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I hate watching fringe groups hold so much power over the electorate because we in the center keep playing this two party game. Where those supporting social issue X must accept it comes with looking the other way when you see families make a living manipulating the welfare system. (I know a family like this. They work just enough to qualify for the benefits, then quit to stay on government assistance.) Or those against social issue X must accept a platform that thinks its normal practice to give golden parachutes for failing top executives. While the common worker only gets two weeks severance when the company’s executives fail to keep them competitive…while the executives get bonuses for cutting labor. (I once actually saw an executive drive up in a brand new car the day our company was announcing layoffs. No kidding!)

And can we please stop with the half-baked solutions! You know the ones I’m talking about. The solutions to try and stop criminals from abusing the system…but all they end up doing is making it harder for those who are legitimate, while the criminals just work around the obstacle. If you happen to require certain medications, you now can’t call first to see if they have the medication in stock before making the trip. (That’s the excuse CVS gave me.) I understand criminals were calling for certain drugs and then robbing the pharmacy if confirmed they had stock. I would happily join some verification service to confirm I’m a regular customer, but does the government even allow for a company to build that option…nope. Sure it’s a silly thing to complain about in a city with a drug store on every corner. But what about rural areas where pharmacy A is 30 minutes east of your home and pharmacy B is 40 minutes west of your home? Do you really want to drive 30 minutes one way, then 70 minutes the other way; just because the pharmacist failed to stock up on your medication and is forbidden by law to tell you that over the phone?

I’m left scratching my head how one party is for small government to stay out of our lives, but feel they have the right to tell a woman what choice must be made. I’m disgusted how the other party is all for social programs, but allows a woman to have multiple abortions (using it as a form of birth control) instead of thinking up some program to make adoption a more attractive solution.

I’m sick of the hypocrisy! I’m sorry the Republicans slow played Obama’s nominations, I didn’t hear you complaining when the Democrats did it to George W. Bush. Yes, it’s true gas prices were cheaper when Obama was elected in 2008. Here is a chart to prove it…

Oh you forgot how gas prices were even higher just a few months before the election…how convenient!

I no longer feel like I’m voting for the best candidate possible. I’ve voting for the candidate with the best campaign…the best fundraising…the best strategy, with the fewest black marks in their past that the opponent can use against them. Running a successful campaign does not equal running a successful country. The fact the individual could raise millions of dollars leaves me wondering if the politician is beholden to me for voting, or beholden to the contributor who paid for the advertising.

The problem, as I see it, is MONEY! Not in that who spends the most wins, as Linda McMahon has learned. But we elect these individuals to work for us, yet they spend a large portion of it working to raise money and keep those people happy to contribute next time. How can we expect our elected leaders to put our freedoms and liberties first when doing so may cost them campaign contributors? How can we expect members of congress to vote their conscience when party leaders threaten to withhold campaign funds forcing them to vote the party line?

For once I would like a candidate that has demonstrated they understand “Bi-partisanship” means more than the other side listening to them. Savannah Guthrie during NBC’s election coverage stated the American voter is to blame for gridlock continuing. While she has a point…I disagree. We don’t want one party pushing its agenda forward without concern for the other side. We want both parties to listen to each other and actually take value in what the other party has to say. Instead…they speak to empty rooms.

If there ever was an all inclusive special interest group, it would be those suffering with infertility. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, gender or sexual orientation you are…you could still suffer from infertility if you had plans for a child. Even the elderly are affected in their hopes for grandchildren. What is the government doing to help my special interest group? I sure haven’t seen anything in the form of assistance. Just a few politicians who want to eliminate my one chance of having a child over religious reasons. Yet I’m still expected to pay taxes to the schools that my children will never use. I’m still expected to care about future generations that will never be my own.

Why should I care about recycling? Why should I care about global warming? Why should I care about the national debt? Why should I care about schools and teachers and how ridiculous standardized testing is?

A small part of me still does care, but there are days it takes a lot of self-convincing to keep doing so.

Which is how I feel about American politics. To take the time to be informed what your congressman or senator stands for, knowing when voting on the big issues come up their arms will be twisted by the party leaders to vote the party line if need be, just seems like a waste of my time. I’m sorry I feel that way but I do. I’ll still do the research and vote for state and local elections, but when it comes to national politics…I’m just not interested in the two party game anymore.

© copyright 2011-2012