On April 5, noted filmmaker Oliver Stone and American University History Professor Peter Kuznick came to BC to screen a chapter of their Showtime series, “The Untold History of the United States.” Stone, a three-time Academy Award winning writer and director, is known for his work on films such as Platoon and Midnight Express.
The chapter of the series screened at BC was “Bush and Obama: Age of Terror,” and focused on post-9/11 America, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, government spying, the economic collapse in 2008, torture and other aspects of war and government conduct.
Stone and Kuznick began working on the documentary in 2007, and it was released on Showtime in 2012. An accompanying book with same title, which is over 800 pages long, provides greater detail into the topics explored in the film.
In both the series and the book, the authors argue that the Bush administration used public panic after 9/11 to begin two unjustified wars, commit crimes such as torture and other breaches of wartime conduct and begin a mass-spying program on the American public. The documentary focused on the supposed justifications for the war in Iraq, depicting it as an example of government conspiracy and deception.
While initially highly critical of the Bush administration, the episode should not be described as partisan, as it was also highly critical of President Obama’s policies. Obama’s continuation of Bush’s spying programs, the routine incidences of torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the drone program were the focuses of the second half of the film.
Besides war and military issues, the documentary also focused on the economic turmoil following the recession in 2008 and the social and political responses, including the Occupy Wall Street movement.
After the screening, Stone and Kuznick, along with BC professors Seth Jacobs and Charles Derber, who moderated the event, took part in a brief discussion and question and answer session.
The panel discussed the role of presidential politics, and the influence of the president in the global political scene. Stone and Kuznick argued that the president is influential, citing the examples of President Kennedy's actions during Cuban Missile Crisis and Al Gore's loss in the 2000 Presidential Election.
On the other hand, Professor Jacobs was unconvinced that the personal policies or beliefs of a President really make a difference in the international context.
The evening did not end on a positive note, as Kuznick left the audience with his thoughts on climate change and the lack of response in the United States. “For the first time, we may not have a future history of social movements that can address these issues,” he said.