The Untold History of the United States

Fremantle Media International
1 July 2013
£19.99

‘History is a pack of lies agreed upon’, Oliver Stone quotes in the intro to his excellently put-together new documentary. Although Stone necessarily agree with Napoleon’s assertion, he does vow to debunk history’s supposed heroes ‘not with malice, but by simply re-stating the facts.’

The film’s reception has been divided. Applauded by the left and despised by the right, the film attempts to broaden the one-sided view of American history that people of Stone’s generation were taught at school.

It does this using a combination of archived footage interlinked with feature film footage. Stone narrates the unfolding story of America’s involvement in the major conflicts since WWII. The 10-part documentary has been condensed into three discs.

The first begins with America’s role during the Second World War, the economic and political reasoning behind it entering, and the nature of its relationship with Britain. In conclusion to this section, Stone makes it clear where he stands. ‘Though the myth lives on that the Americans won WWII serious historians agree that it was the Soviet Union and its entire society, including its brutal dictator Joseph Stalin, who, through sheer desperation and incredibly stoic heroism, forged the narrative of World War Two.’

Next, we are in North Korea where all the major cities are being scorched and destroyed by napalm. Clips from the 1959 film Pork Chop Hill show the difficulties encountered at the negotiations during the Korean War. Here, an interesting comparison is made: describing the bombing of the dams in Pyongyang, North Korea, which caused enormous floods and destroyed the rice crop, Stone recalls the Nuremburg Trials, where similar action taken by the Nazis against Holland in 1943 was condemned as a war crime.

Concluding the series, disc three takes us from the years of Reagan, the Clinton administration, to today’s war on terror. Clips of drones and peace protests accompany Stone’s final speech, and the soundtrack, which is superb throughout the series, is at this point at its most heart-warming. Whether or not you agree with the rather damning view of American history that this documentary offers up, it is hard to deny the exhaustive nature of the work that has gone in to making it.

The series took four years to create and Stone’s historical adviser Peter Kuznick has had to be extremely thorough in his research. You get the impression that making the film has had a real impact on Stone who claims to have discovered that ‘there is power in love. Real power in real love.’ He continues, ‘The history of man is not only one of blood and death, but also one of honour, achievement, kindness, memory and civilization.’