Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Speaker Series: Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

 On the last full day of ALA I heard Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick speak.  They had a new documentary, The Untold History of the United States which they also made into a book.  As they worked on the documentary they realized that it was going to be so controversial that they needed a book to back it up.

Peter Kuznick talked about their research process.  He used many libraries, but mostly America University's library.  In the book he acknowledges several librarian because they were so crucial during the research process.  Kuznick said he probably checked out between 700-800 books.  And he hasn't returned them all yet.  The book goes from the 1890s to the present, so there was a lot to cover.  He had nine graduate students as researches.

Oliver Stone was asked what he thought of how history is taught and represented in schools and libraries.  Stone said it was depressing.  In textbooks that talk about the atomic bomb, there is not discussion or look from the Japanese perspective.  The Soviet Union is rarely mentioned in the context or WWII.  Stone said it was the Soviet invasion, not the atomic bombs that ended the war.  Americans need to learn their own history.  Science and math is not actually our weakest subjects, history is.  Stone claimed that children are bored by history because it's so sanitized.  "Kids like horror movies, they like fear.  Let's put some fear back into history."  Student have no idea how many Vietnamese were killed during the Vietnam War.  We'd be horrified if German students didn't know how many Jews were killed during the Holocaust, but Americans don't know how many Vietnamese died.  The focus is just on the Americans who died.  It's bigger than that.

The moderator asked Stone and Kuznick what they thought the biggest threat to democracy and free speech were.  This is the point where if you weren't aware just how far to the left they both were, you found out.  A major problem they brought up was secretiveness and information being classified.  There were problems with this under Bush, but it really hasn't been much better under Obama.  They felt the America love of money is a serious threat.  Everything is done for money - sports, news, etc.  Money has taken politics victim, and it is ruining the democracy.  "Greed does drive certain people," Kuznick said.  "I don't think it drives most people who become librarians."  Kuznick expressed frustration that America's values are upside down.  People who do good don't get rewarded.

Their final thoughts were that people should keep speaking up.  There will be people who change things and make a difference.  "...can count on librarian to continue to stand up for the truth."  Librarians are one of the front lines in the fight against censorship.  Right at the end they mentioned that they were in talks with Simon & Schuster about doing a YA version of The Untold History and possibly a graphic novel adaptation as well.  That would be very cool.

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