Subscribe
Scheer Intelligence

Oliver Stone on Interviewing Putin, Documenting Snowden and Making Controversial Choices

From “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July” to “Snowden,” director Oliver Stone’s film projects have zoomed in on some tough topics and larger-than-life figures. In this week’s edition of “Scheer Intelligence,” Stone—who is not one to shy away from challenges or controversies—tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer what has motivated him to choose the subjects he has brought to screens big and small.

“I’ve always managed — miraculously — to do what I wanted to do,” Stone says. “I never did a movie because it was good for my career.”

Scheer recalls Stone’s dogged determination to make sure that author Ron Kovic’s book “Born on the Fourth of July” became a film with Stone at the helm. Scheer also engages the director on other topics, including Stone’s upcoming documentary that features lengthy interviews with Vladimir Putin. “The Putin Interviews” will screen on Showtime beginning June 12.

Stone has conducted filmed interviews with other “unpopular figures,” as he puts it, such as Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. (Foreign Policy magazine deemed the latter interview “disgraceful.”) But the filmmaker says his work, which involves getting out into the world and interacting with real people, gives him a “tremendous sense of satisfaction” and keeps him grounded.

Below, via KCRW, listen to Stone and Scheer’s discussion about filmmaking, America’s military exploits, surveillance, Russia and other far-reaching topics. The full transcript follows.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Oliver Stone. And there’s no question, he’s got a lot to say. I want to just right out say, this show is about American originals and how–you know, I’m not glorifying America; every country is interesting and varied. But the crazy-quilt of American culture, the different ethnic backgrounds, racial backgrounds, a mixture of slavery and freedom and everything else has produced a remarkable group of people, from Tom Paine to Oliver Stone, to Martin Luther King, to Jesse Jackson–there’s a lot of people, you know. And you can go down the list. And Oliver, first of all I would argue you’re, if not the greatest American director I will say you’re certainly the most interesting. And you’ve been able to take an industry that was designed to control people, with the old studio system, and somehow produced the most provocative, interesting, thoughtful movies and challenging, basically, the established point of view. And so I want to begin at the beginning. You’re Yale, and you know, you come from–your father was a stockbroker, you were educated in France, you’re a smart guy, and so forth. And your rebellion against the establishment, against the meritocracy, really begins then, and you go off to become a merchant seaman. Not a lot of people walk away from Yale.

Oliver Stone: Yeah.

RS: And were you there, what, around George W. Bush’s time?

OS: No, I went to Yale in 1960–’65, and it was two years after Mr. Kennedy was killed. By the way, it was a very sweet introduction, thank you, Bob. I mean, I’ve known you long enough, and you always put this tremendous responsibility on my shoulders in calling me an original and stuff. But I really thank you for, thank you for what you said; I value it, and I don’t make light of it. It means a lot to me, because I don’t hear it a lot, and it’s great. I know you think for yourself, and you’re one of the few that I know who really sees things in an original way. You’re an original.

RS: Enough of the flattery, let’s do the– [Laughs]

OS: I’ve known you 30, 40 years, so it’s about time I said that, you know. And although we’ve been ornery together, and we like to mix it up, I just want to say you’re a very special man.

RS: Yeah, but let me say as a confession, I actually worked for you on the Nixon movie with my son Christopher Scheer–

OS: You did.

RS: –and you yelled at me plenty. And I remember one particular scene, because we did a lot of writing on that movie, mostly Christopher did, and we put a dog in the movie. And you had trouble controlling the dog in an air-conditioning scene, because Nixon liked to have the air conditioner on–

OS: Yes.

RS: –and a fire. And I remember on the site, in front of all these people, you came up to me and said, “Don’t ever put a fuckin’ dog in a movie!” Blah, blah, “You’re ruining everything!” You know, so I–

OS: Well, that’s a bit of the cliche of the director, but you know, I don’t–I try not to shout.

RS: Yeah, OK. So let’s go back to this, though, Oliver. Your father was, and you’ve had a great deal of respect for your father; you’ve shown on Wall Street, you did the movie, two movies in Wall Street that, you know, really critically examined and profoundly criticized what happened. But you respected your father. And you also, your French mother, you had a respect for French culture and so forth. And, you were at Yale. [Laughs] And you walked away from this.

OS: Yes, I mean, I didn’t see any pattern except failure at that time; I didn’t think of it as a rebellion in that way. I was a failure in the sense that I was, boarding school for four years had been so tough–you know, it was an all-male school, the Hill School in Pennsylvania–that I found Yale to be, again, a continuation of that. Another four years of this, I thought to myself; I can’t take it. There’s an elite here, they act like they own the world; and there were many rich kids, including George W. Bush, you’re right, he was in my class; I didn’t know him, but that kind of personality, a lot of them. And of course there was also, I have to be honest, there was a tremendous scholarship group too, that were very poor kids, not rich kids at all; and they were doing the best at Yale, because they were working. In fact, I had two of those roommates my first year. But I came from another world that was a privileged world, and I didn’t really relate to them at all. So I left; it was isolating, it was an isolative school; I didn’t like most of the people who I was going to class with, didn’t admire them, felt something was wrong with me. And you know, these were problems of, also, rebellion against your age group and against schools, and against being told what to do all the time. I didn’t know what to do, Bob; I just went out to the Far East. I saw a note on the bulletin board that said, you know, you can get a job here as an English teacher, mathematics teacher in a high school in Vietnam–if you could get there. And my father agreed that he’d let me go for a year from school, and I went to Vietnam. And I became a teacher for two semesters, which is a grueling job, by the way; I learned a lot. And then I went–

RS: This is the Chinese section of Saigon–

OS: Yeah, mostly Chinese, rich Chinese kids.

RS: –under Ngo Dinh Diem, right?

OS: Under Diem, yeah. No, Diem was out of that time; Khánh, I think, was in. He’d been killed, Diem was killed right before Kennedy. And it was a demanding experience, because I had 150 kids, or 20 kids in each class; [laughs] each one had to be monitored, and so forth. But after two semesters, I’d had it as a teacher; I knew I wasn’t, in my gut. And I went off, out of my sense of Joseph Conrad adventures and Hemingway, I went to the merchant marine as a wiper. And I got a job on a couple of ships, one of them coming back to the States.

RS: What does a wiper do?

OS: A wiper is the lowest guy in the engine room; he cleans everything, including all the bathrooms, all the engines, the boiler. A lot of grease, a lot of oil, a lot of heat. And it’s a dangerous job, actually; the boiler can blow out at any point, and blow you away ‘cause you’re right in front of it. We took a 37-day trip back to America to Port Coos Bay, Oregon. You’re making me remember all this stuff. We had giant waves, it was the winter, winter North Pacific. It woke me up. A lot of men, I loved the men on the ship; they were all great storytellers, liars, divorcees, all broken lives. You know, there was all, it was a mess, in a way. But I got back to the States, and I started to write; I started to write about these adventures. And one thing led to the other, I wrote a book. It was called “A Child’s Night Dream.” And it was rejected, and it broke my heart, because it was like 1500 pages, but it was fascinating, young man’s point of view. I went back 30 years later and got it published as “The Child’s Night Dream” in 1997 by St. Martin’s Press. And it’s, to me it’s still an authentic view of a young man’s point of view of the world at that time.

RS: So let me pick up with the Vietnam, because you have obviously made many movies; you’ve made three really important movies on Vietnam, one about your own experience when you ended up volunteering for the Army.

OS: Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and then Heaven and Earth.

RS: Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic and then Heaven and Earth, which I have always been very impressed with, because it’s one of the rare attempts to explain war from the point of view of the vulnerable. The people that are being shot at, bombed, and in this case particularly women, who are trying to survive–

OS: Well, that’s what Heaven and Earth was about. I went back to Vietnam, because you know, basically I went back to Yale for a second time to give it a shot. My father really wanted me to get an education. And I was more concerned with the book, finishing the book, than I was getting–I never got, I got zeros in all the courses and I was asked to leave, basically. And I went, and my father really was in despair, he thought I’d be a bomb; I thought so, too. So what else can you do? I mean, the book was rejected, there’s no place to do, you’re 18, 19 years old; I went off and joined the Army. No, 20 I joined the military. I volunteered for the draft, went back to Vietnam. And there I said, you know, let the gods deal with me the way I am; if I’m fated to survive, I will, or if not, fine. You know, I can take it. And sure enough, that’s what happened, you know. [Laughs] It’s a very thin line between life and death over there.

RS: And Platoon is really that story, right?

OS: Platoon is about that person, yes. And it’s a lot of, half that story happened. It gave me a, it was a tremendous success; I never expected that. You have to understand, this was written in despair. But first of all, I came back from Vietnam, I survived, I was wounded twice, I got the Bronze Star. And I ended up years later going back to NYU film school, where I finally completed my education on the GI Bill, where they were paying me $10,000, I think, in tuition; they paid that. My father, of course, thought I was going to end up in trouble; my father was at Wall Street, he was a republican, a conservative. And by the way, I was, too. I had doubts about the left, I had doubts about Kennedy and Castro and so forth, very strong doubts. And it took me about 10 years after the war until I started to really, until I went back to Central America for the film Salvador, to do the research with Richard Boyle, that was a friend of Kovic’s, that I actually started to see the situation in Central America very much like the Vietnam situation. In other words, I was a slow learner.

RS: And what years were you in Vietnam?

OS: As a soldier, ’67-8; as a civilian, ’65-6.

RS: And so actually, I was in Vietnam as a reporter in ’65 and ’66.

OS: Yeah. You were there in ’65, in the early war.

RS: Yeah, and to my mind, Platoon was incredibly important as, you know, the answer to John Wayne and the whole glorification of war. I don’t think there had been anything like that since All Quiet on the Western Front, that actually–

OS: It had its impact, it really did, and I’ve never seen a movie go around the world like that. In other words, we made a low-budget movie; very difficult to make, it had been rejected for 10 years as a script. And it was an English producer, John Daly; he gave me a break, he said go make the movie; he also gave me the money for Salvador. Very little, but enough to get it made, and then he backed me again on Platoon. So we did it for very little money in the jungle in the Philippines, and came out and before you knew it, a few months later, people were starting to see it, talk about it. There was no stopping it, no critic could stop it. It was just destined. And I can’t tell you, it just came at the right time. We were very lucky, because it was in the wake of the Rambo movies, and the Chuck Norris movies, which were extremely heavy-handed, pro-American films; as you know, made a lot of money, though, they made a lot of money, much more than probably Platoon ever did in the end.

RS: But Platoon was embraced by the Academy Awards.

OS: Oh yeah. Rambo never was that way. But in the end, I’m saying that that militarism still exists in this country, in the movies especially. And they’ve made a lot of money.

RS: Well, this is what I wanted–I wanted to ask you about that, and I should have done my research a little better; I thought I was thoroughly familiar with it. But when did you write Midnight [Express]–

OS: That was my first legitimate success. In 1978-9, it came out, a low-budget film about the Turkish prisoner.

RS: Right, you won the Academy Award for that.

OS: I won the writer, out of nowhere I won a writer award.

RS: Yeah, a writer award. So I wanted to ask you that, because I’ve gotten to know Ron Kovic real well; I’ve known him now for 40 years, and for people who don’t know him, I think he’s one of the great figures around, incredible–

OS: Ron is going strong, he looks as good as you.

RS: [Laughs] He looks good, but he’s still in that wheelchair, and now you got to lift him out of the chair into bed with a crane, and you know, his life is threatened. And you, I know you and–you know, Tom Cruise, who played him in the movie that you directed, still sends flowers every time he hears that Ron’s in the spinal ward center in Long Beach. You know, these wounds don’t go away; they threaten his life all the time with infections and everything. And Ron Kovic is very clear. He said you, after his book, Born on the Fourth of July, came out, you were interested in making a movie about it. And that the effort failed in terms of financing and the star, I forget all the people–

OS: Oh, it was a big deal, yeah.

RS: Yeah, but I mean, Sean Penn was going to play him at one point–

OS: No, Al Pacino was going to play him. For Ron, it was devastating; for me too.

RS: I mean, you’d already scoped out the site–

OS: It was a big-sized movie, and it was being done by a Hollywood, major Hollywood group, and it all fell apart two weeks from shooting with all the rehearsals having been done. I saw Pacino do the rehearsals, and Ron was, he was–he was devastated, it was like being shot again. And he chased me down the boardwalk in Venice, ‘cause I said Ron, whenever I get any power in this town as a director, I’m going to come back and make this fucking movie. And believe it or not, it happened ten years later.

RS: And it was because you won the Academy Award, or–?

OS: It was because of a combination of the success of Midnight Express, Platoon, Salvador–

RS: Yeah, and so he remembers that, because he, as he puts it–and I’ve done one of these interviews with him, Ron, so he talks about that if people want to go listen to it. But he said, you know, he didn’t know whether you really meant it that you would come back for him.

OS: No.

RS: And then when you had that success, you did. And still, you needed someone like Tom Cruise to make the movie. And Tom Cruise gets a bad rap now for a whole bunch of things and so forth, Scientology, what have you. But I remember interviewing him then for Playboy when you’d brought out Born on the Fourth, and for a couple of other magazines and stuff, and I think for the LA Times. And I just remember you being–and not only you, anyone who looked at the making of that movie–Tom Cruise really knocked himself out. I mean, he learned what it meant to live in a wheelchair like Ron Kovic, and–

OS: Listen, Tom’s a pro. I still see, when I see his movies, he’s very good. He really goes all out, and if it’s an action movie he does it as best he can. And this movie, he was in a wheelchair, he trained, he listened very closely, he’s sensitive to Ron. And he went all the way. I mean, it was a tough shoot all around.

RS: And he was sacrificing an image that he had already developed with another movie where he–

OS: Yes, Top Gun, which was a horrible image in my opinion, but it was a sexy one, made a fortune, much more than we ever made. And you know, Top Gun is still very much a paradigm; you realize at the end of that movie, of course, he’s willing to blow, he’s ready to go to war with Russia and blow it away, and he’s looking forward to it, you know. It’s like, it’s a crazy fantasy movie, but very successful. Tom turned around and did this because he believed in me and Ron and the script. I really don’t understand sometimes why actors go and do these movies that make a lot of money, but how can they feel good about it, if they ever think out the implications of what war means?

RS: Yeah, so then there’s the third movie, which you should feel very good about, but didn’t make any money, Heaven and Earth. And I remember I went to an early screening of it, you invited me to it. And I told you, yes, very good movie, I liked it very much, whatever cut that was. And then I drove about 10 blocks and I said, no, I got to go back. I went back and I said, you know, ah, are people going to really watch this movie? What do I know, I don’t know anything about sales. But it seemed to me, you know, that you really went through a lot with this woman–I forget her name, Hailey–

OS: Le Ly Hayslip.

RS: And I actually met her there; she was at, I think, the screening. And I thought, you know, so many terrible things had happened; and we know that’s what war is, is these terrible things; but I said, is anybody going to watch a movie with an unknown actress, right, and–

OS: Yeah. Tommy Lee Jones was in the second half of the movie, he’s very good.

RS: Yeah. And what happened? You just were compelled to make it.

OS: I had to make it, yeah. I was also riding high in Hollywood, so I did have power to will it into being. And we did it very first-class, Warner Brothers made it. And we spent the money, we made Vietnam look as beautiful as it did agriculturally. And it’s a terrifying story about a woman who goes through both sides of the Vietnamese, she works with the communists, she works with the U.S. And she sees the agony of war, the destruction of her village, her parents. And she maintains a Buddhist soul in the sense that she’s resilient and compassionate beyond belief. Although she does have a lot of missteps, she comes to America, marries Tommy Lee Jones, who courts her in Vietnam; you think it’s over, but it’s not over. It shows you the lingering effects of war on the United States domestically, and how Tommy Lee is a tortured soul and ends up, you know, committing suicide. It’s a very strong story. And big fights with his wife, but it’s very real to her life. And she ends up, as she says, between two worlds; heaven and earth, between Vietnam and America, going back, doing a lot of good there, working for peace. Her mother lived to about 104 years old, so it’s a really touching story.

RS: [omission] So let me just ask as sort of a footnote to this. I remember once interviewing Francis Coppola, and I actually wrote for a magazine he had in San Francisco. And he had moved up there to get away from Hollywood, he said, to San Francisco. And he told me, he said you know, what you get are two movies–I don’t know if he said two or three–you get two or three on the way down, where you can challenge, you can challenge what they want. And he had already had a great success with The Godfather, obviously, series, and now he was making Apocalypse. And he asked me one morning to read it, and left it at Clown Alley, this fast food place, under a mat, and: Wake me up when you’ve read it! You know, and everything, and I read it. And I don’t know how to read scripts [Laughter] and it seemed to me to be absolutely brilliant. And so I told him [Laughs], and I asked him, what are you doing? And he said: I’m pushing the envelope. And he said: And that’s what you do. He said: I’m not looking now for commercial, I’m trying to raise some issues that are not going to be raised, and I get the opportunity to do it because I’ve had this success. And in a way, that’s what your career has been about; you know you’ve got that moment, you can push it, and you take risks, right?

OS: I’ve always managed, and I look at it now somewhat miraculously, to do what I wanted to do. If I wanted to do a crime movie, I did it, and if I wanted to do a seedy little lowlife movie like U Turn, I did it. I never did a movie because it was good for my career. I never thought like that, and I’m lucky. Then I pranced into documentaries in the 2000 era; I’ve done seven, eight documentaries about unpopular figures like Mr. Castro and Mr. Chavez and so forth, and Mr. Arafat. And none of them were helping my career, but it gave me a tremendous sense of reality and satisfaction to get back out into the world and really meet real people, like you did as a journalist; it was my way to stay real. And I did each one of those movies and suffered for it in the sense that, you know, it didn’t help my career. A lot of the critics were very mean after JFK, you know; that was a big one in terms of, call it the critical consensus, had turned, that I was too much of a troublemaker and so forth.

RS: Well, the amazing thing about JFK is that it’s not as if anyone else has figured it out. It still remains this incredible unknown, this mystery, I mean, you know, how did Oswald get shot, what was with security–I mean, the same thing about the killing of Martin Luther King. You know, the guy was the most–we just went through the 50th anniversary, or we’re up to the 50th anniversary of the killing of Martin Luther King, I guess, this year, coming year. And it’s amazing, you know; how could this guy who was under the microscope of the FBI–they were trying to destroy him. Planting letters, blackmailing him; you know, J. Edgar Hoover and Deke DeLoach and Sullivan and these top guys–this guy couldn’t go to the, you know, take a, go to the bathroom without being observed, you know, in every which way. This is pre-surveillance society, they were following him all the time and then boom–he’s killed and you don’t know who did it, you don’t know anything about it. I mean, you know, how do you guard the president? You were watching this guy, Martin Luther King, probably more closely than you were watching the president; how come you didn’t know? And so you got a lot of heat for, OK, maybe you gave too much credit to Jim Garrison, or maybe you followed this theory or that theory, or so forth. But you would think from the critics that they’ve got it figured out, that the Warren Commission figured it out, or–right?

OS: Well, that’s the least–I mean, the Warren Commission is really a farce, and you can tear it apart if you do any amount of research or thinking of your own. And unfortunately, the critical consensus in our country forms around the Life magazine, Time magazine middle, and the Washington consensus, call it what you will, establishment. We’ve seen that all our lives, both of us; we’ve fought it. And it’s because they have the power of repetition and the money; they’re able to repeat and repeat and repeat the scenario.

RS: Well, the other thing they’re able to do is say: We know, we have the facts, we have the information. If you knew what we know about any place in the world, then you would see, we had to do what we did. And the one example that I pull up a lot–because when I worked at the LA Times my publisher, a very good guy, Tom Johnson, he had been in the White House, he was close to Lyndon Johnson; Bill Moyers had been in the White House as press secretary at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin. And this is before you went to Vietnam, and this is before Ron Kovic got three-quarters of his body paralyzed, and has been in a wheelchair forever. And it was all based on something called the Gulf of Tonkin attack, the second attack, right? And you know, I was sitting there at the LA Times 20 years later–and I had been in Vietnam around that time, and I thought OK, there must have been an attack by some ridiculous PT boats from North Vietnam, they didn’t have a navy, they didn’t have an air force, but maybe some PT boats went out there and shot at this huge aircraft carrier and destroyer. And it was absurd, but nonetheless that was the excuse for bombing North Vietnam, which that war, you know, McNamara said three and a half million people died, Indochinese, maybe; now people feel it’s more like six, seven million died; it was one of the great acts of genocide in human history. Twenty years later–and they always said, if you know what we know, we have this other information, we know this thing–20 years later, it turns out they knew in real time, Lyndon Johnson, McNamara, that there was no second Gulf of Tonkin attack. That the [captains] had said: We have no evidence. You know, the pilots flying above, including Admiral Stockdale later, who was a longstanding prisoner of war, he was flying above it and he said there was no attack, and yet he was one of the people sent off to bomb Vietnam, and he gets shot down and he’s held as a prisoner. So it’s really interesting. The argument that’s used up to this day, you know, what happened with Sarin gas in Syria–they always say: We have information.

OS: Right.

RS: But you know, they don’t give you the accurate information. They invent information. And yet that does not give pause. I want to ask you about somebody who really–they couldn’t use that argument against Snowden. What Snowden did, he said: I had to release all this information or they would have dismissed it. I had to give this broad picture. And he did it in a responsible way by their standard, gave it to standard news organizations, and use what you want, and you know, you don’t have to get anybody killed over this. But the fact of the matter is, his revelation–and no one–I mean, people said, why did you have to give this and why did you have to–well, if he hadn’t done it that way, it would have been dismissed.

OS: That’s correct.

RS: And the people who knew, whether it’s Adam Schiff, the democratic leader in the House, or it’s Dianne Feinstein, the democratic leader in the Senate [laughs], let alone the republicans, the people who knew–they never told us anything about this. So you got to know Snowden, who I think of as one of the great heroes of our modern history. What made this–what was he then, 29 years old–what made this 29-year-old guy do–

OS: Well, if you see the movie, it’s a very precise development. And the story is his; it comes from his point of view. I can’t speak for the NSA, because they never cooperated with us. And frankly, what they said about the movie was baseless. This young man did what he did, in my opinion, after he told us the story–he did have a strong conscience like Ron Kovic did. In the sense that it came out under duress because the more he traveled in the upper brackets, the more he saw of how extensive this surveillance was. Not only that it was worldwide, not only that it was not based against terrorism; it was based on pure power, the desire for knowledge of everything, economic, social control for the U.S., supremacy of our country. And some people defend that argument, but it really leads to so many distortions and dangers to the world, that actually we can take that into another argument where the United States becomes the greatest, as King said, Martin Luther King, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. We bring intervention, regime change, coup d’etats on various countries that get in our way of the world, the way we see the world.

RS: OK, that’s what I really want to get at in this series, which to my mind is the really big question: Why do we have so few people of conscience? Because after all, we’re raised on a mythology about the American Revolution–

OS: That’s true.

RS: –of it took–I mean, it did. They–Tom Paine certainly had, great guy–but you know, George Washington and people like that, they knew they were risking their lives; they knew the enemy was very strong; they knew that a lot of their own compatriots thought this was bad, right? And yet they stood up; they took these actions and so forth. And so we’ve always had this idea that if we have freedom, there will be some souls, brave souls who will tell us the truth and fight for the truth, right? And then you have the counter view of an Orwell or a Huxley saying, no, you can actually have a sort of pretend free society in which, through consumerism or coercion or manipulation or agitprop, you take away freedom without people even acknowledging it. And when I look at your life, I wonder, well–not why did Oliver Stone, or what drives Oliver Stone–why aren’t there more Oliver Stones? You know, why did it take so long for Hollywood to make honest movies about war? They didn’t make them during World War II; there were a few, Coming Home was one about Vietnam, a few others. But in the main, if we take your three movies out of it, then where was Hollywood, you know?

OS: Well, there’s other movies, there have always been brave ones. But you know, you have to look at the post-World War II climate in the United States. This was a key moment. We did our series, The Untold History of the United States, and we pinpointed the acceleration of state power after World War II when–McCarthyism is the ugliest side of it, but basically the national security state took hold under Harry Truman. But McCarthy represents the very worst of it, and J. Edgar Hoover. Look at the charges he brought against innocent people, look at all the people who he got fired, who he accused of being communists when he had no evidence. Owen Lattimore stands out as a very courageous American, he was an Asian scholar, he had never been a spy, anything like that; on the contrary, he had been very honest in his assessment of the Communist Party in China. And of course, he was brought to trial five times until 1955. It’s a great story, maybe one day I’ll live to tell it, Owen Lattimore against Joe McCarthy. But he attacked everybody, McCarthy. George Marshall, the greatest general we had in World War II, resigned because of McCarthy’s irritations, the way McCarthy [accused] him.

RS: I know, but we’re–

OS: How can you get away with that in this country when we had fought a war against fascism? We should have been–John Wayne, who ended up being the, what do you call it, the symbolism of that war, that desire, ended up being one of the greatest outers of communists; he became a right-wing McCarthyite.

RS: John Wayne, as opposed to Oliver Stone and Ron Kovic, had not seen–

OS: But that happened, and they get away with it like that–

RS: But he had not seen conflict.

OS: Exactly.

RS: He was a war hero who had not actually witnessed war. And the only reason I bring that up, and it wasn’t just about Vietnam, it was about what was–Hollywood actually had a lot of Jewish executives, didn’t make a movie about the Holocaust until many years later. Didn’t address what was going on during World War II, turning back Jewish refugees and others. But it’s easy to pick on a McCarthy or even a J. Edgar Hoover and say, OK. Some grotesque figures got excessive power and somehow won in the moment. But I think of what David Halberstam, the title of his book, which was really important, even more so than the book, The Best and the Brightest. And this takes me back to Yale, and you: Why did all the others go along? And again, that’s why I bring up somebody like Snowden. But it could be Thomas Drake, it could be Bill Binney, it could be any of the people that have actually–Ray McGovern who I’ve done, 27 years in the CIA, I did a podcast with him. But we have, it’s a handful–Daniel Ellsberg–you could name them all right now, 15, 20 people in this whole period, and yet you had these tens of thousands of people–

OS: You said “careerism” to me in the car coming over here.

RS: Yeah, careerism trumps everything. That’s the basic religion, that and consumerism are the two things–right? You got the toys you want and get, right, and they’re going to be symbols of your success, and that includes even being able to endow buildings and have things named after you and so forth. That’ll excuse everything else, right? And you know, integrity be damned. No one really believes they’re going to be judged by some almighty, right? You know, that’s gone. Very few people believe that, and they certainly don’t rise to power. And so I just, I want to take one movie, like Zero Dark Thirty, for instance. OK? There’s a movie that, you know, was made with the cooperation of people who did torture. Right? I mean, the CIA, whether run by democrats or republicans or professionals or what have you, the only person, the first person and really only one to this day who really exposed the torture program was John Kiriakou, and he goes to jail for two and a half years because he talked to a New York Times reporter. And you know, these people, Hollywood, after everything is said and done, they go and made a movie with the CIA justifying torture as being necessary–which was a lie–to get Bin Laden. Turned out to be a total fraud. And in the way, they’re giving the names of Navy Seal people who could be targets, they’re exposed, you know, giving real secret information, there’s actually an inspector general report which criticizes the CIA for that. So it’s not just the Joe McCarthys and it’s not just the Donald Trumps. I mean, Donald Trump is actually, aside from that he has his finger all the button and all that, it’s quite dangerous, but Donald Trump is actually in some ways less of a threat because he has so many people critical of him. All the mainstream media is critical of him–

OS: Well, we’ve seen that, yeah.

RS: Yeah, I mean, they’re just going after this guy. But what about the ones who don’t come on excessively, who you know–

OS: Well, that’s the middle, that’s the careerism aspect.

RS: Yeah.

OS: Listen, Hillary Clinton is that kind of person. She should be standing for something, but she stands for herself and her selfishness. And I think she’s driven the Democratic Party into a place–I don’t recognize the Democratic Party that I liked as a younger person. When it was anti-war, it was about let’s lessen the foreign interventions. It’s become something else now. Trump, the only good thing I liked about Trump, the only thing that stood out to me in the campaign, was his statements about Russia: what’s our beef with Russia? And that became the target point for all the democratic attack on him. They started early with the hacking claims, which they couldn’t prove, and then it’s turned into a monster brouhaha, like McCarthyism, where they’re accusing anybody who supports anything about detente with Russia as an enemy, as somebody who’s against the interest of our state.

RS: Right. Now he’s got to go blow up some, you know–

OS: And he has to blow up a Syria to prove that he’s not Putin’s puppet, which is a ridiculous charge. The Democratic Party is completely fractured on this issue. They’re scared of their populist base, which was apparent with Mr. Sanders. But now, because Sanders didn’t contest this thing, didn’t go far enough in my opinion, and is not a foreign policy expert, it seems, they have the elite of that party, the big banks, the big Democratic Party does not want to hear from the populist segment. And the only way to defuse that argument was to blame Russia, which goes back many years in our history.

RS: OK, Oliver. That’s, I want to thank you for this interview. Not as fascinating as your movies, but people can watch that on their own time. Our producers are Rebecca Mooney and Joshua Scheer. Our excellent technical engineers are Kat Yore and Mario Diaz. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

Now you can personalize your Truthdig experience. To bookmark your favorite articles, please create a user profile.

Personalize your Truthdig experience. Choose authors to follow, bookmark your favorite articles and more.
Your Truthdig, your way. Access your favorite authors, articles and more.
or
or

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles and comments are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.