Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oliver Stone,Jews and Numbers Games

Oliver Stone, who has made his name with films about Vietnam, Wall Street and the John Kennedy assassination,as well as a long list of other acclaimed and noted films. In The Sunday Times of London, Stone achieved notoriety with some comments about Jews and Israel. Comparing Jewish and Russian casualty figures, Stone notedHitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 (million),”

What is Oliver Stone's explanation for what he feels is a disproportionate focus on Jewish suffering? The Atlantic relates Stone's spin on Jewish influence as follows.

“The Jewish domination of the media,” he says. “There’s a major lobby in the United States. They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f-cked up United States foreign policy for years.”

Oliver Stone boils it all down to numbers. On the one side is 6 million Jews. On the other is 25 million Russians. Confined to Stone's frame of reference, it all sounds so unfair. What Stone left out of the picture is the fact that most Russian deaths were combat casualties and collateral war damage, along with some atrocities. The 6 million Jews killed were civilian men,women and children who were slated for extermination. A Russian citizen under Soviet rule stood an 11% chance of being killed during World War Two. If you throw in injuries, starvation and atrocities, the grimness of the Russian picture is hard for us to imagine.

Despite the grim reality of life in the USSR during World War Two, there were Jews who risked their lives to trade the near 100% certainty for Jews of death under Nazi rule for life under Soviet rule.The Germans wanted to subjugate Russia. By contrast, they wanted to wipe out Jews. Fully 1/3 of all Jews alive in 1939 were murdered by the Nazis in 1945. How one chooses to emphasise the death of the 6 million in general European history is a matter of for discussion. But the Final Solution is an integral part of Jewish history.

Concerning the "Jewish domination of the media" it is worth noting that America is a nation of immigrants. Some ethnic groups established a strong presence in America through immigration. Irish Americans, Greek Americans and Armenian Americans have a strong presence in America. Each group advocates for the nation to which they feel an ancestral connection. In America, it is easier to find advocacy for Greece, Ireland and Armenia than it is to find the Turkish or British point of view. Croatia had an advantage during the war in Yugoslavia of having a strong Croatian immigrant presence in America. In addition to industrial and business interests, immigrants are a major factor in the alignment of America's national sympathies.

Oliver Stone tried to make a point by throwing around statistics without shedding any light on the context of those statistics. Stone rightly points out that Hitler, Stalin and Mao should be viewed in context. Despite this, Stone takes facts and statistics out of context and turns their presentation into a propaganda statement. Rather than being a documentary film maker, Stone was for the duration of his Times of London interview more a propagandist than a historian.

Whatever Oliver Stone has said to apologise for his remarks, he has already shown that his political perceptions impart a certain blindness to his view of history. This is a temptation common to many people. The difference with Oliver Stone is that he is not only reading history but presenting it as well. Crunching numbers and interpreting what one sees is an integral part of writing and presenting history. Hopefully. Oliver Stone will be mindful of this as he presents history to move goers. Like any good history teacher, Oliver Stone urges us to consider history in "context". I hope he listens to himself. Sphere: Related Content


Steve said...

A life is a life - and Germans did do a hell of a lot more damage to Russians than to any other nation. It does not in any way diminish the horror of 6 million dead Jews, but certainly should be not be overstated as more important or worthy of remembering than almost 15 million murdered Soviet civilians. Your criticism of that particular statement will only increase tensions rather than alleviate them.

Magdeburger Joe said...

The Soviet nationalities suffered an incredible ordeal during the war, which was fought in their front yards, literally. One in every 9 Soviet citizens lost their lives in combat, famine, collateral damage and atrocities. This generatiuon is not taught nearly well enough to bring Russia's ordeal to life for students.
Oliver Stone has the artistic gifts to bring the Russian ordeal to life and to explain how it affects russia's current world view. Phrasing his respect for what the Russians and other soviet nationalities went through is his choice, not mine.
It should be noted that the Soviet nationalities also suffered millions of deaths in stalin's purges as well as the Ukrainian forcef famine of 1932,1933, in which millions died.
There was no need for Stone to put Jewish suffering in a head to head competition with russian suffering. The underlying problem is that Russia's role in World War II gets treatment in american schools that is at best superficial. Numbers, body counts and dates have real human beings behind them. artists of the canvas and of the silver screen have the duty to bring this to life.