Famed film director (and history buff) Oliver Stone’s long-awaited The Untold History of the United States series debuted on Showtime on November 12. The series focuses on the period just before and after World War II, and then carries the themes forward through various US wars (cold and hot) and other issues.
Tonight’s episode, the third in the series, offers a fresh view—for most Americans, anyway—of our use of the atomic bomb against Japan.
The series has also spawned a companion book with the same title, by Stone and historian Peter Kuznick, and it’s mammoth, at over 700 pages in hardback. It starts a little earlier than the series, with World War I, and ends with the Obama era, and features blurbs from, among others, Mikhail Gorbachev, Douglas Brinkley and Dan Ellsberg, who says it would make Howard Zinn proud.
The Hiroshima chapter makes a strong case against the use of the bomb. Stone and Kuznick focus on Russia’s entry into the war, as we had insisted, two days after we dropped the bomb. That shocking and cataclysmic event would have (likely) forced a speedy Japanese surrender without the use of the atomic weapon, which killed over 200,000—the vast majority civilians, mainly women and children—in the two cities.
Kuznick, who teaches at American University, heads the Nuclear Studies Institute there, has written widely on the atomic bombings, and every year takes one of his classes to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where I spent a month back in 1984. (One of my books on the subject here and see my piece here on two soldiers who shot historic footage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and then saw it suppressed for decades.)
Stone and Kuznick title the forty-eight-page Hiroshima chapter in their book "The Bomb: Tragedy of a Small Man." That man, of course, is President Truman. The book, and the TV series, make the claim that if progressive hero Henry Wallace had not been booted off the Roosevelt ticket in 1944 in favor of hack politician Truman, history would have been much different (concerning both the use of the bomb and the coming of the cold war). But how did Stone reach his conclusions on Truman’s misuse of the bomb? I opened my interview with him a few days ago with that query.
Greg Mitchell: Most Americans never change their views about the atomic bombings. Did you support the use of the bomb for most of your life?
Oliver Stone: I think my views changed fairly recently after Peter delivered to me a lot of research. Frankly, my views have changed on many issues since I was raised as a Republican during the Eisenhower era. But you have to realize that I was coming from a very different planet than Peter. For instance, I was in Vietnam and he was protesting Vietnam, and it took me years to change my perspective on that war.