The Concise Untold History of the United States

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I read the Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick book The Untold History of the United States.  They have now released a companion book, that is shorter and more closely follows the TV series.  It is called The Concise Untold History of the United States.  The difference between the two books as Oliver Stone explained on his Facebook page:

“Concise Untold History” was released last week. At 306 pages, it faithfully renders the text of the 12-hour series. The original 618-page edition, with 90 pages of footnotes, is really closer to a primer that substantiates the details presented in the film. 

I am particularly passionate over this ‘Concise History,’ and find it poetic in keeping with the spirit of the series. It’s a light-weight paperback that can easily be carried around.  

I was really impressed with the first book.  I was a History Major and eventually graduated with a degree in American Studies.  I have seen at least some of the information that Stone and Kuznick wrote about corroborated in other sources.  I  don’t normally like to recommend a book I haven’t read, but if you are at all interested in what they have to say, but feel a little daunted in a 600 plus page book, this seems like a good place to start.  From what I saw of it the series was excellent as well.  After reading the first book and seeing about half of the series, I feel pretty safe saying this would be a very interesting read.

Reading and All-Knowing Space Gods

Right now one of the several books that I am reading is L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  Prouty was the basis for Mr. X, played by Donald Sutherland, in the Oliver Stone film JFK.  Prouty is a controversial figure, as one can imagine, given the fact that he believed in a conspiracy in the JFK assassination, amongst other things.  If you look him up on the internet you will see him praised as a hero and called a sham.  I think there are very interesting ideas in this book that are very credible, especially regarding our reasons for getting involved in Vietnam.  I also feel there are times he makes bold claims which he does not back up.  He often talks about a High Cabal of money men that are making decisions for the country, but he never backs up this claim in any substantive way.  I haven’t even gotten to the JFK stuff yet.  

The reason that I bring up this book is that I believe that when we are reading, that we always read with a hyper critical eye.  I think reading in general is positive.  I think you should purposely read things from a wide variety of perspectives.  I think Ayn Rand is batshit crazy, but I still read The Fountainhead.  Even in a book so full of asinine theories, there were small moments of truth.  All humans, no matter how flawed, are still possible of revelations.  Also, even the best writers have biases and blind spots.  Even if you are reading for escapism, you should occasionally reflect about what the author’s aims are and if they hold water or not. 

However, life is short, and you do not want to spend too much time out in la la land.  You cannot possibly read every book.  You need to pick and choose your battles.  Occasionally though, you should venture out into strange territory and try out some new ideas to make sure that life is never too safe.  Just make sure you are thinking when you do so.   

The only exception is when you are reading this blog.  I have clearly descended from some all-knowing space god. My aim is true.  

Calling in an Airstrike On Your Own Position

Last week I had a friend tell me while collecting SXSW wristbands that he wanted to call in an airstrike.  The character Captain Harris in the movie Platoon, played by Dale Dye, orders an airstrike on his own position once it is overrun by the Vietcong.  One of my favorite sayings when things get absurd or bleak is that I would like to, “Call an airstrike in on my own position.”  I think more people should use that as I am sure that we have all felt like that at times.  I just hoped to provide you with some happy thoughts if you were at work on this fair Tuesday morning.  Enjoy.

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Oliver Stone on Drones

“Drone attacks are better than boots on the ground,” one Cold War liberal recently told me.

No, they’re not. They’re an intrusive, terrorizing global policeman behavior that will invariably set us up for blowbacks. We will be hated for this naked abuse of our military power.

A terrorist band that is seriously planning an attack on USA can be apprehended in traditional ways that have worked for centuries—it requires solid detective work and good local alliances with foreign countries. There are always screw-ups, but the exception is never the rule. We must respect all international borders, if we expect our own to be respected.

It is the way of the world. Live and let live. Violating that is the law of the jungle, and that’s where we are now. Our America-centric world is a dualistic black-and-white cartoon, violent in its outlook.

No good will come of this. Peace is not a cliché. Peace is a way to live and grow.

Quote by Oliver Stone.  I think Oliver Stone is dead on about our use of drones.  He has always been way more thoughtful than his critics have made him out to be.  I am glad that he is out there as he has a curious mind and never stops asking questions.

I also wanted to add, as someone that is a liberal on most issues, that I think drones have been a shame on the Obama White House.  If we are going to get anywhere in this country we need to call out our own side when we see something that is morally wrong.  

The Smoke and Mirrors of History

Last night I couldn’t sleep and was reading L. Fletcher Prouty’s book JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  Prouty was the basis for Mr. X in the movie JFK.  I got it several months ago because it was cheap and I heard Oliver Stone recommend it.  In fact he wrote the forward to the book.  I love Oliver Stone films and really enjoyed his book The Untold History of the United States.  What I have seen of the documentary series is pretty great too.  The thing that is really great about Oliver Stone, even if you don’t buy what he is selling, is that he at least asks questions that other people don’t.  Asking questions is the first step to thinking about things.  We need to be careful not to get lost down in a labyrinth, but it is always good to question and challenge things.   

The truth about this book I was reading last night is I don’t know how to read it.  I don’t know if I should read it as fiction, fact, or something in between.  I imagine it is somewhere in between.  But telling what is what is almost impossible. 

I was a history major at West VirginiaUniversity.  I transferred near the end of my college years to PennState and got an American Studies degree.  I know how history can shift depending on the author that you read.  Even a seemingly straightforward history book has it’s own biases and blind spots.  When you are reading about something controversial, like the Kennedy Assassination, there are an incredible amount of smoke and mirrors.  Who is writing the book and why?  What are their political and economic motives?  However, these are really questions you should ask yourself when reading any history book.  If you read something that seems like a revelation you should always cross reference it with multiple sources. 

While I was in Japan I read two books on Custer.  One of them, the least substantial of the two, was Larry McMurtry’s book on Custer.  He wrote a short form biography and I don’t even think he would rate his book as one of the substantial books on Custer.  It’s more of a light read to get you thinking and get you interested.  However, in the book McMurty, who is an avid reader and book collector, says that there are four excellent biographies of Custer and his Last Stand.  He claims that if you read all four you have a really good idea of what happened that day.  One of them that I read was Nathaniel Philbrick’s Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn

I think as a challenge to myself I want to read the other three books.  Not because I am any more interested in Custer than I am in many other historical events, although I do find it to be an interesting story.  But I think the event is small enough that by reading several books, if McMurty is correct, one can get a good multi-angle view of what happened that day.  It would be much harder to do that for a big event along the lines of World War II.  Although I have read a lot of history books, I can’t say that I’ve read more than one or two on any subject except for big events like World War II which you can probably never really grasp completely, unless you spend your whole life studying it.  Even then there are just too many stories and viewpoints.  But while it may sound incredibly boring to you, it seems like something fun for me to try to get a well rounded view of a historical event.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that in recent days.  The squalor of the mind…

Hans Blix on Syria

I just got the following article off of Oliver Stone’s facebook page:

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/08/29-1

The article is from Hans Blix.  Remember him from before the Iraq War?!!  Before Chimpy Bush went into that country and laid waste to our moral standing in the world.  Blix is laying out the fact that we have no moral mandate to act as the world’s policeman.

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Killing the Dreamers

The truth is never simple and yet it is. The truth is we did kill him. By silence we consented… because we couldn’t go on. But by Ares, what did we have to look forward to but to be discarded in the end like Cleitus? After all this time, to give away our wealth to Asian sycophants we despised? Mixing the races? Harmony? Oh, he talked of these things. I never believed in his dream. None of us did. That’s the truth of his life. The dreamers exhaust us. They must die before they kill us with their blasted dreams.

A quote by Ptolemy in the movie Alexander.  Directed by Oliver Stone.  This is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It got a bad rap when it was first released.  I think it was too complex and too dense in story to be digested in one sitting.  Every time I watch it some new detail emerges.  It is a highly intelligent film.  It also features many entertaining and great scene-chewing performances, in the best sense of the term.  My favorite version is the longest version, The Final Cut.