Born in New York City in September 1946, Oliver Stone is one of the world's most prominent movie directors and a vehement critic of American foreign policy. He uses the medium of film as a political tool, pushing leftist agendas while expressing his overt contempt for conservatives specifically, and for American culture generally.
Stone enrolled at Yale University in 1965 but dropped out after his freshman year. From April 1967 to November 1968, he served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army. After his tour of duty in the military, Stone attended the New York University film school, where he was mentored by the legendary director/producer Martin Scorsese. Stone graduated in 1971 and soon thereafter launched his cinematic career. His first full-length movie was Seizure (1974).
By this time, Stone had developed strong anti-war convictions. Two of his subsequent films, Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989)—both of which deal with the Vietnam War—portray the U.S. military as a villainous entity whose dubious morals have often led to the indiscriminate slaughter of unarmed civilians.
In his 1991 film JFK, Stone concludes that President Kennedy was killed by conspiring factions of CIA officers, Cuban refugees, Texas oil tycoons, and rogue U.S. military personnel. He argues, further, that the American intelligence community worked with the Mafia and disgruntled Bay of Pigs survivors to murder Kennedy so that American companies could reap colossal war profits. In an alalysis of JFK, scholar Steven Plaut points out, correctly, that “every single scene in the film about the assassination has been shown to be a fabrication.” Four years later, in Nixon, Stone connects the eponymous President to the assassination of Kennedy.
Other Stone-directed movies of the 1990s, including The Doors and Natural Born Killers, explore the themes of excess and drug use—subjects with which Stone himself is familiar, having been addicted to cocaine in the 1970s.
In 1997, Stone was one of 34 celebrities to sign a letter likening Germany's poor treatment of modern-day Scientologists to the Nazis' persecution of Jews in the 1930s.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Stone opined that the hijackers had acted not as unprovoked aggressors, but rather in retaliation against American arrogance and corporate greed. “I think the revolt of September 11th was about 'F--- you! F--- your order,'” he said. Stone also accused the U.S. government of having purposely allowed Osama bin Laden to escape unharmed (post-9/11) while pretending to be hot on his trail. “Bin Laden,” said Stone, “was completely protected by the oil companies in this country who told [President] Bush not to go after him because it would piss off the Saudis.”
In 2002 Stone was a signatory to Not In Our Name’s “Statement of Conscience,” an anti-war declaration whose signers pledged “to resist the [U.S.] policies ... which pose grave dangers to the people of the world.” Not In Our Name was a project of the Maoist agitator C. Clark Kissinger and the Revolutionary Communist Party.
During that same period, Stone directed Comandante, a documentary study (intended for HBO television) of Fidel Castro. For the making of this film, Stone was granted thirty hours of interview time with the Cuban dictator, whom he would later describe as someone whom “we should look to … as one of the Earth's wisest people, one of the people we should consult.” Comandante portrayed Castro as a highly sympathetic figure, but HBO cancelled the film's scheduled airing in the spring of 2003, after 80 human-rights activists in Cuba had been sentenced to prison terms of 20 years or more—for speaking out against abuses by the Castro regime. The film's cancellation did not dampen Stone's enthusiasm for Castro, however. “Street demonstrations in favor of Fidel Castro are not a fake,” the filmmaker declared. “If they were, those demonstrators should win an Oscar for best acting. I can testify to this because I have seen the joy on their faces when people come up to the president.” On another occasion Stone asserted: “In Cuba, I observed an openness and freedom that I had not found in any other country in the region, the Caribbean or Central America.”
Stone returned to Cuba in May 2003 to film Looking for Fidel, which retained an admiring tone toward Castro. In a television interview following the movie's release in 2004, Charlie Rose asked Stone about objections that some critics had raised vis à vis Castro's human-rights violations. Stone replied:
“I can’t answer the question because, frankly, I don’t know the answer…. Human rights is a very, very delicate [concept]. It goes both ways. I mean, there can be those people who are authentically violated and those people who are not, those people who are supported by the United States financially and those who are not.”
Another Stone project of this period was Persona Non Grata (2003), a sympathetic documentary (again for HBO) about the Palestinian leader and longtime international terrorist Yasser Arafat. Arafat recently had been placed under house arrest by the Israeli Defense Forces, in retaliation for his repeated failure to discourage Arab terrorism. Stone nonetheless paid a friendly visit to Arafat in the latter’s Ramallah compound. While he was in the region, the director also visited with Ramallah's leading Hamas chieftain, Hassan Yussef.
After the release of Persona Non Grata, Stone explained that he had made the film in order to ask Arafat about his “long-term classical values: what your life was like, what the meaning of your suffering was, what regrets you have.” In an interview with Hollywood Variety columnist Army Archerd, Stone said that after having made this movie, he was better able to understand why suicide bombers “feel the way they do.” “The Israelis have no business in the West Bank,” Stone elaborated. “The [Jewish] settlements have to be gotten out of the West Bank.”
In 2003 Stone lent his name to a statement condemning the Smithsonian Institution’s plan to exhibit the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress used in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. Stone and his fellow 250+ signers—including Noam Chomsky, Martin Sheen, Norman Lear, and Pete Seeger—were opposed to the aircraft being regarded in a “celebratory” manner.
At the 52nd San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain in 2004, Stone passionately denounced conservatives in the U.S. and abroad:
“The right wing is the same everywhere, in Cuba or Viet Nam. It is like an octopus, snatching everything with its tentacles. They control the Internet, radio and TV stations, and newspapers. But above all, they are perfectly organized. Right wingers master the art of negative publicity and are capable of destroying the image of anyone they consider to be their enemy. They annihilate anything opposed to their interests, utilizing mass emailing, articles, and reports. In the United States, censorship is the order of the day.... These people are blinded by patriotic fanaticism and are ready to invade any country, and shoot down planes if necessary.”
In 2006 Stone released World Trade Center, which centers around two Port Authority police officers trapped under the rubble of New York's fallen Twin Towers on 9/11. At a press conference connected to the film’s premier at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, Stone publicly announced that he was “ashamed for my country,” adding:
“We [America] have destroyed the world in the name of security ... From September 12 on, the incident was politicized and it has polarized the entire world. It is a shame because it is a waste of energy to see that the entire world five years later is still convulsed in the grip of 9/11. It’s a waste of energy away from things that do matter, which is [sic] poverty, death, disease, the planet itself, and fixing things in our own homes rather than fighting wars with others. Mr. Bush has set America back ten years, maybe more ... Terrorism is a manageable action. It can be lived with."
At a Moscow press conference in September 2006, Stone hinted that he might make another film accusing the Bush administration of having been intimately involved in the planning and execution of 9/11. “There is a great story in a movie, a conspiracy by a group of people in the American administration who have an agenda and who used 9/11 to further that agenda,” he told journalists. Stone accused President Bush of exploiting 9/11 to stoke Americans' fears and to bolster his own power in a manner that was “right out of George Orwell.”
In 2008 Stone was one of more than 560 celebrities, scholars, journalists, politicians, and organizations to sign a petition asking the federal government to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, an American Indian rights activist convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1975. Among Stone’s fellow signatories were Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and the American Friends Service Committee. Stone is also a supporter of Mumia Abu Jamal, a leftist icon and former Black Panther convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner.
In a January 2008 interview with The Observer, Stone expressed support for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group designated as a terrorist organization by both the European Union and the United States. Said Stone:
“I do think that by the standards of Western civilization they [FARC] go too far; they kidnap innocent people. On the other hand, they're fighting a desperate battle against highly financed, American-supported forces who have been terrorizing the countryside for years and kill most of the people. FARC is fighting back as best it can, and grabbing hostages is the fashion in which they can finance themselves and try to achieve their goals, which are difficult.... I think they are heroic to fight for what they believe in and die for it, as was Castro in the hills of Cuba.”
Also in January 2008, Stone collaborated with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a FARC sympathizer, in brokering a deal which called for the guerrilla group to release three hostages as a gesture of good faith. Stone described Chavez as “an honest man, a strong man and a soldier.” While filming a documentary about Chavez in 2009, Stone praised him as a “world-changer,” “a big man” who “thinks big.” In 2010 Stone revisited this theme: “I admire Hugo. I like him very much as a person.” He described Chavez as “a soldier” who “speaks from his heart”; a man whose “vision is huge”; and a leader who “will go down in history” for his sizable achievements. Complaining that Chavez had been “demonized in the American and European press as a monster,” Stone produced the film South of the Border (2010) to provide, among other things, “a positive portrayal of a man who Americans do not have access to.”
In March 2008 Stone, along with actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, was named as a judge in a MoveOn.org advertising contest designed to promote the presidential candidacy of Senator Barack Obama.
In October 2008, during the height of the presidential election season, Stone released his film on the life and presidency of George W. Bush, simply titled W. Starring Barbra Streisand’s stepson, Josh Brolin, as President Bush, the movie portrays Bush as a petty, profane, unintelligent religious zealot. In a June 2009 interview with Bill Maher, Stone said: “Nixon always said Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch and, you know, I think that he was. And I think, I really think George W is dumber.”
In a 2010 interview, Stone again articulated his anti-American hatred when he alleged that the U.S. had contributed to Adolf Hitler's excesses in the 1930s, even as he (Stone) defended Joseph Stalin. According to Stone, Hitler enjoyed “a lot of support” from “German industrialists, the Americans and the British.” Taking an opportunity also to minimize the enormity of the Holocaust, Stone said: “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than [to] the Jewish people, 25 or 30 [million killed].” These facts were not widely known, explained Stone, because of “the Jewish domination of the media.” “There's a major lobby in the United States,” he elaborated. “They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f----d up United States foreign policy for years.”
As regards Stalin, Stone in 2010 told The Hollywood Reporter that the Soviet dictator, like all other people, cannot be casually classified as “only ‘bad’ or ‘good.’” “Stalin has a complete other story,” Stone explained. “... Not to paint him as a hero, but ... [h]e fought the German war machine more than any single person. We can't judge people as only 'bad' or 'good.' Hitler is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it's been used cheaply.”
The Untold History of the United States
In 2012, Stone released the 10-part documentary mini-series The Untold History of the United States, supplemented by a 750-page companion book (published by Simon & Schuster) bearing the same title. Co-written by Stone and American University historian Peter J. Kuznick, the documentary and the book alike depict the U.S. as the principal source of earthly evil and human suffering.
Lauding Stalin and the Soviets
In The Untold History, Stone praises Joseph Stalin as a pragmatic hero who, by fighting Hitler’s war machine, saved not only his homeland but the entire world. According to the filmmaker, for years before World War II began, the Soviet dictator had implored (to no avail) the countries of the West to take on Hitler. In early 1939, when Hitler took over what remained of Czechoslovakia—violating his pledge not to advance beyond the Sudetenland—Stalin became a hero in Stone’s eyes:
“Stalin recognized the truth. His country was facing its most deadly enemy alone. He needed to buy time and fearing a German-Polish alliance to attack the USSR he shocked the West when he signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler dividing Eastern Europe between them. Stalin’s primary concern was the security of his own nation. In fact the Soviet dictator had proposed the same alliance with Britain and France, but neither would accept Stalin’s demand to place Soviet troops on Polish soil as a way of blocking the Germans.”
Asserting that the United States and its allies were only minor players in the Second World War, Stone claims that during the “pivotal years” of the conflict “the Soviets were regularly battling more than 200 German divisions” while “the Americans and the British fighting in the Mediterranean rarely confronted more than 10 German divisions.” “Serious historians agree,” Stone concludes, “that it was the Soviet Union that … through sheer desperation and incredibly stoic heroism forged the great narrative of World War II: the defeat of the monster German war machine.”
The Cold War
The Untold History of the United States labors to make the case that America's use of atomic weapons against Japan was the original sin that sparked the Cold War. Further, Stone maintains that the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was both unnecessary and tragically misguided, because a Soviet invasion would have forced Japan to surrender in any case and would have resulted in a lesser loss of life.
By Stone's telling, the Cold War was largely a product of America’s greed and aggression against a Soviet Union that merely wished to coexist peacefully with its war-time ally. In this rewriting of history, the possibility of post-war cooperation between the West and the Soviets was destroyed by America’s aim to use its overwhelming economic and military power to dominate the world and to destroy the socialist and communist challenges to its hegemony. Winston Churchill is one of the villains in this story. Eager as he was to maintain the British Empire, Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech (delivered in Fulton, Missouri) represented to Stone a “quantum leap in bellicosity” against the Soviets.
Stone further laments that President Harry Truman also took a hard line against the Soviet Union and the democratically elected communist parties in France and Italy, and in 1948 helped England to crush a “popular leftist” government in Greece. This U.S.-led aggression against a wartime ally—camouflaged as the “Truman Doctrine”—was rationalized, says Stone, by propagating the false “image of the Soviet Union out to conquer the world.” In fact, Stone maintains, the Soviets—“stunned” by Truman’s bellicosity—were simply trying to rebuild their war-shattered country and alleviate its “crushing poverty,” defend their western borders against their historical enemy Germany, and secure the “warm water ports” necessary for their geopolitical interests. According to Stone, Truman ignored these understandable needs and bullied the Soviets, using nuclear blackmail to drive them from Iran, forcing Germany to cut off reparation payments, and continuing to test nuclear weapons.
Stone explains every Soviet move as a natural response to American provocations and aggression. Thus he claims that the Soviets, fearful of Truman’s imperialist expansionism, responded to American intervention in Greece with a coup in Hungary, and imposed on their Eastern European satellites a “new and stricter order.” The hero in Stone’s tale is communist fellow traveler Henry Wallace, who “tried to put a stop to the growing madness” but was spied upon and denigrated by the Truman administration, ending any chance of ending the “nuclear arms race.” Moreover, Truman—fearful of the “Republican right”—instituted surveillance of suspected domestic “subversives,” demanded loyalty oaths, and investigated suspected communists in Hollywood and labor unions, thus pandering to the supposedly irrational fear of communism widespread among Americans. What followed this “red scare” were numberless instances of anti-communist propaganda in movies, and the “witch hunts” conducted by the FBI and CIA—what Stone calls “capitalism’s invisible army.”
By Stone's telling, the 1948 Soviet overthrow of the Czech government (and the installation of a puppet regime) was a “purely defensive move,” because the Czech acceptance of Marshall Plan aid was understandably seen (by the USSR) as a tool of American penetration. The West’s fear of Soviet plans for “world domination,” adds Stone, was nothing more than a paranoid fantasy manipulated by the U.S. government to further its own ambitions to control the world.
The Eisenhower Era
Stone argues that President Dwight Eisenhower was both a willing tool of greedy U.S. corporations and a warmonger who refused to make deals with a Soviet Union that was suing for peace. Indeed, he blames Eisenhower for having created “a permanent war economy” by turning America into a high-tech, modern-day Sparta and ramping up military expenditures. “Nuclear bombs,” says Stone, “were now the foundation of America’s empire and provided the new emperor, its president, with a mystical power that required more and more suffocating secrecy even if those powers went far beyond the original limits of executive power defined in the Constitution.” “And although the bombs themselves were not expensive," Stone elaborates, “the huge infrastructure was, requiring bases in the U.S. and abroad and enormous delivery systems by bomber, missile, aircraft carrier, and submarine.”
Stone also contends that Eisenhower planted the seeds for later “blowback” against the U.S. by intervening in the affairs of countries such as Iran. The Islamic revolution of 1979 which transformed that country from a U.S. ally to a hostile totalitarian theocracy, he says, was an explosion of pent-up hostility in reaction to the U.S.- and U.K.-backed ouster of Iran’s socialist prime minister Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953. And to make matters worse, Stone maintains, that ouster was carried out solely to guarantee Western access to Iran’s oil.
Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Union
Asserting that “right wing forces have always operated freely and openly in the dark chasms of American life where racism, militarism, imperialism and blind devotion to private enterprise festered,” Stone depicts President Ronald Reagan as an ignorant buffoon who was wrongly convinced by his CIA director, William Casey, that the USSR was involved in international terrorism. By Stone's telling, the Soviet-backed Sandinistas of Central America were heroes, and the Reagan-supported Contras were villains.
Stone explains that contrary to pro-American propaganda, Reagan and his successor, George H.W. Bush, did not contribute to ending the Cold War. Instead, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, a Communist, gets all the credit. Stone declares that around the time when the Berlin Wall fell, “the world was a hopeful, even joyous place” where “protracted and bloody wars were ending” in numerous places; that Gorbachev took it upon himself to ask the member states of the United Nations “for joint action to eliminate the threat to the world’s environment”; and that in late 1988 Gorbachev demanded the banning of weapons in outer space and the cessation of Third World exploitation. Also crediting Gorbachev for seeking “to put an end to an era of wars, the terror of hunger and poverty, and the tactic of political terrorism,” Stone praises the Soviet leader's proposals as “breathtaking,” “bold,” and “heroic.”
By contrast, Stone portrays George H.W. Bush as a vicious, dim-witted aristocrat who willingly “appealed to voters’ racism” in exchange for political gain. And the younger George Bush, Stone claims, won the U.S. presidency in 2000 only because his well-connected family stole the election by somehow rigging the vote in the all-important state of Florida. Then, says Stone, the illegitimate president set about fulfilling the conservative movement's nefarious agendas: asserting U.S. sovereignty by withdrawing from the International Criminal Court Treaty, rejecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, repudiating the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming, disavowing the so-called Middle East peace process, and suspending negotiations with Stalinist North Korea on its long-range missile program. Even worse, Stone says: “His administration was marinated in oil, [Vice President Dick] Cheney putting together a highly secretive energy task force that laid out plans to control the world’s supply.”
Stone also blames Bush for failing to prevent the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The threats made by Osama bin Laden were known by authorities, says Stone, but the president “could not focus his attention as he spent more time away from Washington than any recent president at his sequestered Crawford, Texas ranch chopping wood.” As for the killing of bin Laden in 2011 by a team of U.S. Navy SEALS, Stone has condemned the “vigilante-style” execution.
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