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Oliver Stone's 'Empathy' for Hitler

Ronald Radosh

In London for the British premiere of his new documentary on Hugo Chávez, film director Oliver Stone paused on July 25 to talk to the press about his forthcoming 10-hour Showtime television documentary, “The Secret History of America.”

Mr. Stone promised that his new series would put “in context” and “show empathy” for people many Americans hate, like Hitler and Stalin. In an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph, Mr. Stone said that Jewish deaths during World War II had to be viewed “in proportion,” since “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people.”

When asked why so much attention is paid to the Holocaust, Mr. Stone blamed “Jewish domination of the media.” The Jewish lobby in the United States, he said, was “the most powerful lobby in Washington” and had “[expletive deleted] up United States foreign policy for years.”

Mr. Stone’s comments produced a storm of criticism. The Anti-Defamation League responded that his words conjured up “some of the most stereotypical and conspiratorial notions of undue Jewish power and influence.” David Harris of the American Jewish Committee remarked that Stone had “outed himself as an anti-Semite.”

The result was a weak apology from Mr. Stone, explaining that he was only “trying to make a broader historical point about the range of atrocities the Germans committed against many people,” and in so doing made “a clumsy association about the Holocaust.”

But his statement did not satisfy his critics. The wealthy media mogul Haim Saban remarked that Mr. Stone’s “apology is sooooo transparently fake,” and he contacted CBS chief Leslie Moonves, whose network owns Showtime, urging him to not air the documentary. Mr. Stone finally issued a more forthright apology on Wednesday, which the ADL’s Abe Foxman accepted.

The problem with Mr. Stone’s “Secret History” goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone—a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories—to direct a nonfiction film about history.

Mr. Stone has made clear in many interviews that the program will not in fact reveal any unknown “secret history,” but will cover “under-reported” events such as President Truman’s decision to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Could Mr. Stone really not know about all the books, documentaries and debates about this topic?

Mr. Stone’s collaborator and scriptwriter for the series is historian Peter Kuznick of American University, who has said that they will show Hitler and Stalin as a “historical phenomenon,” and not just as people “who appeared out of nowhere.”

When first announcing his film, Mr. Stone said that Stalin “has a complete other story” that the documentary will tell. He called Stalin and Hitler “people [who] have been vilified pretty thoroughly by history.” As for Hitler himself, Mr. Stone expressed his concern that he had become “an easy scapegoat throughout history.” Thus he promises a series that will allow viewers to “walk in Stalin’s shoes and Hitler’s shoes to understand their point of view.”

Mr. Stone and Mr. Kuznick also plan to show America’s Vietnam War policy as monstrous. Mr. Kuznick said in a recent interview that the film would show how American leaders consciously moved our nation to “the dark side.” It would demonstrate, he went on, that during the Vietnam War, “We were not on the wrong side. We were the wrong side.”

All their advance publicity makes it clear that Messrs. Stone and Kuznick—with the help of Showtime—will offer up not an unknown history but one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.

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