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Double Take

Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone by Jeff Watts

 When Peter Kuznick held his first class on Oliver Stone’s America in 1996, he expected his students would enjoy it. He didn’t expect to get a call from Stone offering to give a guest lecture, or that this visit would mark the start of a friendship with the film director that would last more than a decade and lead to collaboration on a television series.

Scheduled to air on Showtime in January, the Secret History of the United States seeks to expose the hidden stories of America’s empire and national security state.

Kuznick explains, “It asks how a nation with democratic ideals can become a hypermilitaristic state that is involved in two wars, has a thousand bases spread across the globe, and spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined?”

The film and its tie-in book will cover the beginning of late-nineteenth-century American expansionism to the Obama administration and will explore topics including the Spanish- American War, the invasion of the Philippines,intervention in Latin American gunboat diplomacy, and the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran.

“This is material that’s really going to shock people,” says Kuznick. We’re looking to puncture a lot of the myths and self consoling illusions that Americans hold about themselves and their place in the world.”

Kuznick, who cowrote the documentary with Stone and screenwriter Matt Graham, identifies its target as the “frustratingly naive American idealism . . .that leads us to make the same kinds of mistakes over and over.”

He hopes the 10-part series will help change this by educating Americans about their own history and how they are seen in the rest of the world.

“This was too good an opportunity to pass up,” says Kuznick. “As a historian, you’re lucky when you reach tens of thousands of people. With the series, we’re going to have the chance to reach tens of millions. Historians rarely get an opportunity like that.”