The BuzzFeed Interview features the Oscar-winning director, whose ten-part reassessment of modern American history launches this month on Showtime. Included: He voted for Obama, but explains how a Romney vote could make sense. “You burn faster…It'll wreck [the country] faster … the more mistakes you make, the faster the changes.”
Image by John Gara/Buzzfeed
HOLLYWOOD, CA — Oliver Stone places his new 738-page book down on a patio table in his home, a mansion tucked cozily away near the bottom of a canyon, just as his 16-year-old daughter walks into the room.
“Hey Tara, check this book out,” Stone says to her, one of his three kids, suggesting she show it to her classmate who’d come over to study. It’s called The Untold History of the United States, released this week to accompany a new ten-part documentary series set to air on Showtime. “Take it to school tomorrow and show it to your teachers.”
“This?” she says skeptically, picking it up and shaking her head. “Oh, it's by you?! That's cool!”
“It's dedicated to you, sweetheart,” he says. “Your name's there.”
“Wait, oh, okay,” she says. “Thank you — I really appreciate that.”
The proud father smiles — reaching a younger generation, he says, is the point of the project he describes as his most ambitious to date, an energetically suspicious re-telling of American history in the 20th century, documenting the growth of the national security state, the CIA’s secret wars, and various men and women who he thinks “history has forgotten.”
Over four and a half years in the making with co-author Peter Kuznick, a history professor at American University, the series begins with World War II and the atomic bomb, passes through Korea, Vietnam, and Grenada, and ends with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, critiquing leaders current (Obama “doesn’t have the courage or integrity” of JFK) and past (Truman is a “caveman”) and describing a United States that, while certainly more sinister than the one our country’s candidates are currently rhapsodizing, is not necessarily one that readers of radical historians like Howard Zinn will recognize, either. (Stone is a fan of former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle.)
“It's the biggest thing I've ever done,” he says. “It’s a combination of all the themes that I've been interested in — JFK, Nixon, W., the power of money, the corruption of empire. This is a chance to say, 'Hey, I don't have to dramatize it, I can just go to the real record.”
Stone gave BuzzFeed the first extensive interview related to the series. In a discussion, conducted last month, the 61-year-old iconoclast and Vietnam veteran — he was a lowly foot solider in the war — talked Obama (he gave him money in 2008; this time, no dice) Romney, weed, his most recent feature Savages, his encounters with the devious and powerful (Bob Gates, Gorbachev), and his new project, among other things.
The ground rules? I told him I’d publish as much as I could, with the understanding we would likely take the most inflammatory thing he said and make a headline of it, and it’d probably be interpreted wildly out of context elsewhere in the media. He agreed.
“So, I’ll start with the softball question,” I say.
“Softball? There is no softball,” he says, then pauses. “I know that technique. Okay, the softball question.”
Image by John Gara/Buzzfeed
MH: Are you going to vote?
OS: I just got a write-in ballot. I don't know, I think I should, but they demoralize you. They say California makes no difference anyway. And we vote last. In which case they've announced practically the whole thing. So what would you do?
MH: Would you vote for Obama?
OS: I feel like I should. You should, right? [Ed.: Stone did later vote for Obama.] I guess if I was another kind of personality, I would say I'd vote for Romney because it'll wreck it faster. And you know, we're going to go down, but it's going to be faster, and maybe that's better. Maybe we should just bankrupt the whole fucking thing. If [Romney] declares currency war on China…I'm worried about his Iran position, certainly. And, I think if he said geopolitical enemy number one [was Russia].
MH: Yeah, that's a quote…
OS: The more they boast during the campaign, the more danger they put the whole thing in. The boasting is what turns people off the most.
MH: There’s an intoxicating power to the American presidency — you can bomb almost any country, at any time, really.
OS: Well, Nixon said that in the interview with Frost, right? If he's the president, he can bomb anything he likes. Do you remember that? Have you seen that movie?
MH: It's great. What did you think of Obama when you met him?
OS: I thought he was very impressive.
MH: Could you talk about that?
OS: It was his early days in the Senate, but he was starting to raise money for the presidency.
MH: He came out to Hollywood.
OS: I met him here twice. He was hot from the beginning. I was in that anti-Hillary…I was disgusted with Clinton's Iraq vote. I was in that group that gave him money and everything. I haven't seen him since. I'm dangerous to him, in the sense that, you know, he has to be respectable, he can't be seen with me.
MH: You don't think you're respectable?
OS: They would see me as a danger for them — as a radical person and mentality, so it would not be good for the voter to be…He would lose his image as a moderate. Not that I'm not a moderate, but….
MH: Has Obama been that big of a disappointment to you? Did you expect anything different?
OS: Yeah. I mean, I did. But I'm not saying he could have lit the world on fire — he had a lot of enemies right away. But no, I admire him.
MH: Do you regret funding him in the beginning?
OS: No. Listen, McCain — we'd be at war now in about three other places.