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History Nerd Fest 2013 – Oliver Stone, film-making, and history

Okay. I did not know that Oliver Stone served in Vietnam as an infantryman, was wounded, and earned medals for valor. He was also a teacher in Vietnam before becoming a film-maker.

I’m trying to figure out how that impacts my impression of his work. I like his films as entertainment but not as history. His latest? A 10-episode Showtime series, The Untold History of the United States. My past experience with JFK makes me a bit skeptical. He does have a history guy – Peter Kuznick – helping write the companion book. So . . . does he care about historical accuracy? What is his version of history? Is it just trying to make entertaining movies? Should it matter?

Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
Albert Einstein

Find a way to get in the way.
John Lewis

This sort of thinking is what is driving Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. They began working together to create a history story that told what Kuznick calls

the mistakes of America, the negative things that we can learn from. There are lots of books about what we’re good at but students don’t know the untold story.

This story was hosted by Showtime and the companion book was published by Gallery Books. He also says kids need to know about the dreamers that aren’t often talked about. Kuznick quickly shares his historical opinions about the US in World War II and the Cold War.

Might be a tough room.

These are historians. And we love to argue. Some of what they are saying such as “the US was not a superpower after WWII but a superbully.” And I’m guessing there are some red state people in the room. So . . . it ought to be a lot of fun. (Already some are walking out. Sigh.)

Oliver Stone:

I am a dramatist. I am not a historian.

It was George Bush who impacted us. As a Vietnam vet, I was very depressed about our involvement in Iraq. I asked – is this a pattern or just an aberration? We discovered that it was a pattern.

I don’t want to be part of a bully nation. So we’re starting putting this story together. I wanted to make this story, this detective story, before I make another movie. A lot of historians have kicked in nice things about the story but not getting a lot of attention in the mainstream press.

Stone, of course, went to the JFK assassination. He is supporting his JFK movie and calls the current research on the “magic bullet” a bunch of BS.

The media supports the Warren commission and accepts the lie.

I like the attitude. Our kids need to know the entire story, not just the pretty bits. But I want it to be accurate and factual. I don’t have a problem with kids seeing both good and bad of our history. And I haven’t seen this story by Stone and Kuznick. I am assuming that the book and Showtime videos are based on facts. Then I’m good. There are lesson plans available on the educational version of the video/book.

Our new standards – Common Core, state and national standards – are asking us to train our students to think historically and to ask good questions. Albert Einstein’s quote makes sense to me – blind belief in authority can be dangerous.

But we also need to be careful about moving too far the other way – that we can’t believe in authority at all. A delicate balance to be sure. But what an opportunity for us as social studies teachers.


C4 Framework alignment? This type of thinking is what students are doing in the Create element of the C4. Making sense of information and creating new products.

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