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On History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone in Conversation
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
"Question everything."
¯ Karl Marx

For those of you that read The Secret Government: The Constitution in CrisisThe Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis : With Excerpts from an Essay on Watergate by Bill Moyers (©1988 Seven Locks Press) or were lucky enough to have watched the documentary by the same name that aired on PBS in 1987, you were privy to a clandestine world of espionage and covert back channels of our government during the Cold War, the JKF assassination and the Regan years with the Iran-Contra Affair. The takeaway was, "The secret government has no constitution. The rules it follows are the rules it makes up." That book cited that there were at least eight documented attempts to kill Castro (two dozen according to Richard Bissell, a veteran of the Guatemalan coup who went on to become the CIA's chief of covert operations). The secret government turned to the mafia' yes reread that and ruminate on JFK' and as pointed out in the book, "once we decide that anything goes, anything can come home to haunt us."

Fast forward to 2011 On History (Haymarket Books: ISBN 978-1-60846-149-3) by Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone, which offers the same veridical insights and intimate erudition as The Secret Government. You have to dig deep to unearth gems like this in a world of superficial news and citizen journalism, and you have to have a thirst for knowledge and be willing to drink from a firehose so to speak. As Stone pointed out to Ali in the book: "For decades now kids are either being taught rubbish prepackaged as history modules or nothing." On History is ingenious. It is incisive and impugns textbook history and cuts through the BS as Stone asks the tough questions of our refracted past, reminiscent of the condensed version of the classic Frost/Nixon interview. It's history on the hook from these two gentlemen who also collaborated on the documentary South of the Border (2009)South of the Border.

Compared to Oliver Stone's other voluminous writing, don't be fooled by this seemingly tenuous publication (105 pages). Sure, you can read it in one sitting, but when you stand up your head will spin with so much information that you will find yourself reading it again. The quest in which Ali and Stone have sent you on will either cause you to curse or congratulate them for their candor none-the-less... you decide. You are either a fly on the wall or a fly in the ointment. Again, you decide. When On History discusses the industrial workers of the world, we should be reminded that even Henry Ford said, "History is more or less bunk," back in 1929. Chapter 5 of BlowbackBlowback, Second Edition: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (another excellent book) underscores the repercussions of America's involvement with Arabic Jihadist in Afghanistan, the odd concept of "the war on terror," and the lies sold to us on Iraq. The conversation does not end there. This is only a teaser. It is a precursor to Stone's new forthcoming project, The Untold History Of The United States to be rendered in a 12-part series. I personally can't wait to see it. These men are seasoned writers and Stone continues to provoke thought and demand answers.

Being a voracious reader of poetry, I loved that this book concluded with the cogent Iraqi poem: On the Bird, and Rudyard Kipling's poem to his son (who was killed in war). "If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied..."

So I will end this review quoting my favorite poet William Blake, "The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind." We must always keep an open mind, especially when it comes to history.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2012
"On History" is a nice little compilation put together from a conversation between filmmaker Oliver Stone and author/activist Tariq Ali on the topic of, well, history. This is a very entertaining, sharp and informative collection because it explores history without a dry, traditional narrative. Ali and Stone are interested in discussing actual history in the sense of the finer details and hard truths that traditionalist historians who like to keep their manners rarely mention in their own, more pompous works or the History Channel (whenever it isn't focusing on UFOs). Both authors are a perfect match. Stone is famous, respected (and loathed) for his bold, risky film projects ranging from the superb (JFK) to the somewhat miscalculated (Alexander) but always original and sharp, Ali has been a powerful voice for radical social change since the 1960s and his books are rich collections of history and commentary such as the recent "Clash Of Fundamentalisms" and "The Obama Syndrome." Here they travel continents to look at the past and where we are today.

The conversations in the book are fascinating explorations of key moments in recent history. The first chapter looks at World War I and it's impact on the rest of the 20th century. Ali discusses topics such as the Bolshevik Revolution's impact on world workers' movements it's later aftershocks during the Great Depression. While World War II is the conflict endlessly explored in books and film, Ali argues that the first Great War is really the defining event, it set the stage for a conflict of ideaologies that would continue through the Cold War well into the early 1990s. Ali and Stone also explore how the rise of fascism was another outcome of the general fear of the capitalist world of growing, radical popular movements, Ali reminds readers that Benito Mussolini was a darling of both England and the US, the first biography of the dictator even featured an introduction by the US ambassador to Italy and Churchill also adored Il Duce's iron fist. The New Deal is provided as an example of how popular pressure can influence presidents to pass populist legislation. Hitler's rise is also framed in the context of the continuation of World War I's aftershocks and Ali again looks at the more unpleasant truth behind the more nationalist narratives: Before the US eventually jumped into the war, the FDR White House was planning to adjust to a Nazi-dominated Europe, Hitler was seen as a pretty good business prospect and there was hope he would wipe out the Soviet Union.

Anti-colonial struggles are also given a much-needed focus as Ali and Stone discuss the post-World War II order now set by the United States which cut major deals with the Saudis and helped put the Shah of Iran back on the throne in a 1953 coup. Communism, socialism and social alternatives are also disucssed in a clear, intelligent way where the general reader can enjoy the air of intelligent conversation. The new, emerging multi-polar world is also explored including the emergence of popular governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, key issues in a world being rocked by economic uncertainty as societies also try to figure out alternatives for planning and building.

For fans of Ali and Stone, a lot of the material here might feel too familiar, these are topics and themes one can easily find explored in Ali's books or Stone's films and documentaries, both men collaborated on the 2010 film "South Of The Border" which chronicles many of the social, governmental changes happening in South America. But for students or average readers wanting a good, sharp quick read on topics rarely discussed in the mainstream, this is a nice volume. It's only major fault is that it gives us so little. Stone reportedly interviewed Ali for seven hours, there is no doubt more material. This book is also reported to be a small prologue to an upcoming, 10-hour documentary series directed by Stone on 20th century US/world history, so maybe we will get more soon. "On History" is still a breath of fresh air and a nice alternative to a market dominated by books authored by MSNBC and Fox News hosts.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2012
I needed to bone up on my world history since, mainly, World War I. My grandfathers were in World War I. My father was in the Korean War; he was in the Naval Reserves and got called to duty in 1950. The separation and moving around killed my parents' marriage, meaning that the Korean War had a direct effect on me. Or that Truman's presidency had a direct (negative) effect on me. Probably no other events effected me negatively more than what Truman did during his presidency. I needed to sort that time out to see where I fit. I was a child-of-circumstance, being pushed around by forces way bigger than me--as happens to everyone sometime(s) in their lives.

Americans have collective amnesia. We keep making the same mistakes over again. There are virtually no programs on TV that help us become better people. I am able to catch the rare TV documentary worth watching. Other than those rarities, TV is drivel. I don't understand why the networks don't have more history shows--which could really help Americans sort things out. But alas, that's not happening.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, I watched Vietnam unfold during each evening TV newscast in horror. After 1975, I thought "We won't do that again." But we did. The American military entered more Vietnams: Iraq and Afghanistan, to name two. I couldn't believe the personal axes to grind of the two Bush presidents: idiots. Americans didn't learn a thing from Vietnam.

It appears Americans are doomed because we can't learn from their mistakes; we continually let the US government walk all over us, again and again and again. Americans have turned (themselves) into milquetoasts (couch potatoes). Americans have themselves to blame for their own apathy and ignorance: when the economy tanked, they were surprised and upset, yet had they kept themselves informed and involved, they would have been (and now be) less disturbed, less caught off-guard, have made better financial decisions, and faster to recover career/job-wise. Things are foreseeable when you know history. A person has to dig out information, use their minds to sift out true and false stories from many sources, and make up their own decisions on issues. The info is there. Americans feel that making up their own mind takes too much energy, determination, and time.

This small book fills the history gap.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2012
Wonderful book. Kind of like a Howard Zinn kind of thing. A little too realistic for most people because Ali is a mixed bag of political belief's. Intriguing given that his background is very diverse and different from an American understanding. Oliver Stone is no newcomer to political rhetoric either. Saw the two of them on c span's book review. After listening to them more or less debate one another, I stepped up and bought the book. Not a bad move as it is revealing and well put together. If you question history as it was explained to you in high school, then here's a counterpoint. Always healthy to view the other aspect for one sided thinking is the bane of the political scene right now.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 3, 2012
I rarely pick up a new book and finish it in one afternoon. I did with this one. It is informative, revealing, interesting, thought provoking, and well written. Our history books are filled with lies or twists of truths. Many of the falsehoods are brought to light here. This book appears to be a preview of the Showtime documentary debuting in 2012. It's a short book, 105 pages. I found the final chapter filled with interesting and hopeful ideas about what is needed to change things. I find it interesting that the environmental disasters, economic meltdowns around the world, and increased disgust of wars, give some hope that enough people will demand change. If not this empire we live in is doomed. Let's hope it's not too late. History ..."should be learned from---and not repeated. If politicians are only destined to repeat themselves historically, the world has a very sad fate ahead for it". This book is highly recommended. You need to read it with an open mind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2013
I have enjoyed Tariq Ali's clear thinking in other books, and he reiterates that in this conversation with an interesting film maker.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable read! I love this other look at what makes history. Reminds me--history is written by victor and their is no one answer to the questions looking back!!
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on June 6, 2015
This book vividly shows insightful explanations of the crucial 100 years of the modern world. Those who want to understand what and why two world wars happened are strongly recommended to read this book.
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on April 14, 2015
You can see the interview on Youtube, a delightful intellectual exchange and so many intriguing facets of history.
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on November 22, 2014
Tariq Ali hits the mark so many times in this interview that I have to shout: Well Done to the roof tops!!
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