Monday, February 25, 2013

The Untold History of the United States – Part 2 – A Review

By Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone
Published by Gallery Books
Made into a ten part documentary by the Showtime network

In my first review of Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s Untold History of the United States, I argued against Stone’s claim that the world would be a better place had Henry Wallace become President.  In looking at the rest of this work, Stone also argues that if John F. Kennedy was not assassinated, and had Al Gore become president, the world would also be a better place. 

My point was that change happens because of mass movements like the labor and civil rights movements.  The general trend of capitalist governments has remained constant through so-called liberal and conservative administrations.

The many crimes of the United States government

While this central theme remains constant in the Untold History, there are some redeeming characteristics to this work.  One of the primary points this book uncovers is the history of horrendous and violent crimes committed in the name of the United States government.  We see the effects of the millions of people who died as a result of U.S. wars against the people of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  We see the vicious policies the U.S. government needed to carry out in their wars against Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Cambodia. 

Another theme of this book is the exposure of the seemingly mindless insanity of the U.S. drive to amass tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.  The government’s explanation for this policy is the belief, by government officials, that the U.S. can win a nuclear war. 

Aside from the fact that a nuclear war would mean the death of hundreds of millions of human beings, there is another basic problem with this point of view.  Some of the people responsible for the invention of the atomic bomb explained that this weapon could, one day, end all human life on this planet. 

A nuclear war could generate a mushroom cloud so large that it might block sunlight from reaching the earth.  Without sunlight, plants will not grow and human life would eventually vanish.  In other words, the policy of developing nuclear weapons is a policy to end human life on this planet altogether. 

These facts underscore the argument that no significant change will come about by supporting liberal or conservative capitalist politicians.  Politicians who supported these policies will not transform this nation into a place where there are harmonious relations between capitalists, and workers and farmers throughout the world.

The First and Second World Wars

Oliver Stone continued his narrative in their Untold History arguing how he is critical of the participation of the United States in the First World War.  However, with respect to the Second World War, Stone argued that the United States needed to become involved sooner than they did.  This review will give the reasons why the U.S. engaged in both wars, and how this participation in no way benefitted working people.  

First we might look at Oliver Stone’s rationalizations for his arguments.  Stone gave evidence showing how the JP Morgan bank had large outstanding loans to Britain.  He also showed how armaments manufacturers reaped in huge profits during the First World War.  Stone concluded that these were the primary reasons for the U.S. participation in that war.

Clearly the facts Stone presented are true.  However, Stone ignores another basic fact.  That is how after the First and Second World Wars, the United States became the world’s superpower.  By dominating the world economy, United States corporations were able to gouge out much more in profits than by merely receiving payouts on British loans.

The facts show that prior to both world wars, the British Empire that once ruled the world, was falling apart.  Shortly before the First World War, revolutions erupted in Mexico, Iran, China, and Tsarist Russia. 

Germany, Japan, and the United States were the emerging capitalist powers that attempted to take control of the markets once dominated by British capitalists.  As I pointed out in my first review, it was the Soviet Union that defeated Nazi Germany.  Most of the Japanese forces were tied down in Asia where they encountered fierce resistance.  The United States entered the Second World War at a time when Germany and Japan were loosing the war.

Understanding this, we can see why the United States made a temporary alliance with the Soviet Union.  Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union were at war with Germany and Japan.  After the Second World War the U.S. government continued to view the Soviet Union as a problem because it existed outside of the capitalist world.

Kuznick and Stone’s mistaken view of the Soviet Union

For Kuznick and Stone, the Soviet Union was merely a developing nation that could have co-existed with the capitalist system in the United States.  They view the fact that the U.S. amassed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons to defend itself from the Soviet Union as irrational.  In fact, the Stalinist government that betrayed the Russian Revolution wanted nothing more than to have peaceful relations with the United States.  These policies started with Joseph Stalin’s idea of “Socialism in one country,” and continued with the policies of “Peaceful coexistence,” “D├ętente,” and “Perestroika.”

Vladimir Illyich Lenin had a different view of the capitalist world.  Lenin wrote a pamphlet titled: Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.  Lenin understood that the capitalist system would always be an obstacle to human development and worked to advance an international political movement to advance the interests of workers and farmers.  This is the kind of movement that we continue to need today. 

When we look at the efforts of the government officials in the Soviet Union from this perspective, it is no wonder that their efforts to peacefully coexist with capitalism in the United States ended in a dismal failure.

In their efforts to make deals with imperialist powers, the Soviet Union worked to compromise workers struggles throughout the world.  After the Second World War there were workers uprising all over the globe.  In the United States, unions shut down entire industries demanding an improved standard of living. 

The Soviet Union had considerable influence within the workers movement because of the prestige of the Russian Revolution.  Yet the Stalinist Soviet government preferred to make deals with imperialists and worked to compromise the struggles of workers throughout the world.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, U.S. imperialists no longer had that government to contain the struggles of workers throughout the world.  For this reason the capitalists of United States effectively lost the cold war.

As a result of this new situation, governments in Latin America are acting more independently of the United States.  Working people have staged massive uprisings throughout the Middle East.

The U.S. war against the people of Iraq was clearly aimed at creating a stable environment for oil to be extracted from the Middle East and sent to the imperialist powers.  That war only created an environment where working people are determined to create political movements where they can live with dignity.

What would a rational political movement look like?

Before we consider an alternative to Kuznick and Stone’s view of the world we might look at a few facts.  Working people and farmers produce literally everything we need and want.  The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the transportation we use, the health care and education we need, all are supplied by working people and farmers all over the world.  Yet, because of the instability of the capitalist system, our standard of living has been deteriorating for the past thirty years.

The idea that the capitalist media refuses to even consider, is the idea that the very people who produce the things we need and want, are the same people who have the potential to transform the world.  Yes, working people have the potential to run the economy in harmony with the environment, using fewer natural resources.  We can do this while working to eliminate alienation, making our day to day lives inspiring.  Just think about it.  If we worked collectively to improve the standard of living in the world, think of what might be accomplished.

Without the drive to maximize profits, working people could easily eliminate poverty.  Many diseases might be eliminated by merely allowing people to live more healthful lives.  Education wouldn’t be seen has a chore needed to “get ahead,” but as a lifetime pursuit to enrich everyone’s lives.

The pro-capitalist media pundits view this political orientation as absurd.  However, if we learn anything from the book The Untold History of the United States, we learn about the horrendous loss of life of millions due to the natural functioning of the capitalist system.

I’m confident that working people have the potential to see through the mindlessness of the capitalist system and create governments that view human needs as more important than profits.     

Monday, February 11, 2013

Flight - A review of the film

I recently viewed the film Flight directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington in the title role.  While the acting was first rate, I found the theme of the film, like most commercial productions, to be lacking.  However, looking at the problems with this film made me look at the plot of this production in a different light.

The Plot

The film portrays a talented airline pilot who battles against his addiction to drugs and alcohol.  This pilot was flying a plane that had defective mechanical problems.  Because of his extraordinary skill, he managed to save the lives of most of the passengers.

However, the press, his employer, as well as the government responded to this heroic effort by making the pilot the scapegoat for the plane crash.  They all responded with righteous indignation about the fact that the pilot was intoxicated when he was flying the aircraft.

The problem with this story is that it has been done so many times in the past, and that most of these efforts fail to look at the causes for drug addiction in this country.  In my opinion, this problem needs to be looked at as a social problem and not as a problem to be solved, or not solved, by the individual who is addicted to chemicals.

The Problem

First, we can look at the problem.  Anyone who lives in the United States has a better chance of going to prison than citizens living in any other nation in the world.  Half of the individuals in prison are there because of drug related charges.  The number of African Americans convicted of drug related offences is grossly out of proportion to the percentage of African Americans who use or sell drugs.

While college students are paying astronomical tuition fees, most of these same students consume huge amounts of alcohol.  One would think that with all the money spent by these students for their education, they would find their studies to be compelling.  If these studies were compelling, why do many students feel the need to drink themselves to oblivion?

Today the U.S. armed forces are carrying out of war in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is one of the primary sources of opium in the world.  The U.S. government also has excellent relations with the governments of Mexico and Columbia.  Much of the economies of these nations has been dedicated to exporting illegal drugs to the United States. 

Cuba used to be a major supplier of drugs to the United States.  Since the Cuban revolution, the illegal drug trade from Cuba stopped.  The United States government has enforced an embargo against Cuba since the revolution.
Drug addiction, Capitalism, and Malcolm X

So, what does all this have to do with the causes of drug addiction?  The answer is that capitalism makes life for working people alienating.  People hold down jobs so a tiny minority of the population can live in affluence.  The number one priority of corporations is to provide profits for the owners.  This drive for profits gets in the way of providing goods and services to the workers who produce all these goods and services.

Denzel Washington also starred in a film about the life of Malcolm X.  Malcolm also had a problem with drug addiction.  However, Malcolm developed a perspective where he understood that society was the cause of the problems in the Black community.  He argued that Black people had the potential to advance a political movement where they would take control of their communities. 

By advancing this political course, Malcolm convinced many people to have pride in themselves, and to be a part of the struggle to transform the politics of the world.  Malcolm argued that he was not about teaching people about their oppression.  He worked to teach people about their heritage, their humanity, and their worth as human beings.  He said that when you do these things, then you will get action.

For me, this is the compelling story that needs to be told about how to fight drug addiction.  In other words the struggle against drug addiction is no different from the struggle to liberate humanity.