Stone: When I was a young boy growing up in New York City, I thought I received a good education. I studied history extensively--especially American history. It made sense. We were the center of the world. There was a manifest destiny. We were the good guys.
Well I've traveled the world now. I continued my education as an infantryman in Vietnam, made a lot of movies--some of them about history, and I've learned a lot more than I once knew. And when I heard from my children what they were learning at school, I was perturbed to hear that they were not really getting a more honest view of the world than I did.
We live much of our lives in a fog, all of us. But I would like my children to have access to something that looks beyond what I would call "the tyranny of now."
We watch the media, and everyone talks about that thing--the news of the day, and all the sub-conscience really important stuff that's going on is being neglected.
Napoleon said that history is a pack of lies agreed upon. Well, I'm not sure I agree. I believe history does have a meaning--does have a purpose. And there is a pattern to found.
Stone: Trying unsuccessfully to exclude Churchill from the meeting, Roosevelt accepted Stalin's invitation to stay in the Soviet embassy. But Roosevelt found Stalin cold and aloof during the first three days of meetings and feared he would not succeed. But on the fourth day after teasing Churchill in front of Stalin about his Britishness and about his cigars, Churchill, according to Roosevelt, grew red and scowled. And the more he did, the more Stalin smiled until finally Stalin broke out into a deep hardy guffaw at the expense of Churchill. And before long, Roosevelt was calling him, "Uncle Joe." The ice had been broken, and Roosevelt felt that he and Stalin were now talking like men and brothers.
Stone: The dictionary definition of "empathy" is the imaginative projection or capacity for participating in another's feelings or ideas. But Truman did not seem capable of comprehending the pain and suffering of the Soviet people or their motives. Roosevelt, a man who had suffered from polio in his life, had understood the war had been won by Soviet sacrifice, and that peace now depended on mutual respect. Even Churchill had admitted the Soviet army tore the guts out of the German military machine.
Stalin was a tyrant absolutely; a ruthless paranoid dictator who destained the U.S. concept of democracy. But he was also in the tradition of the cruelest tzars. He had clearly gone along with Roosevelt and had, according to several high-level whiteness, kept his word to Roosevelt. He desperately wanted friendly relations with the U.S. to continue. But as the cold war descended, the laurels of the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany were stolen--or rather, forgotten. It would take another twenty years for another U.S. president and veteran, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who had lived his entire life in some degree of pain and with the prospect of death, to pay homage to the Soviet contribution in World War Two.
Kennedy: No nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union in the second world war. At least twenty million lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and families were burned or sacked. A third of the nation's territory, including two thirds of its industrial base, was turned into a wasteland--a loss equivalent to the destruction of this country east of Chicago.
Stone: The horrors and bloodshed of world war two coarsened a lot of people to the suffering of others. Freeman Dyson, the renowned future physicist, who was part of the "Tiger Force Fleet" of 300 British bombers explained:
Dyson: I found this continuing slaughter of defenseless Japanese even more sickening than the slaughter of Germans. But still I did not quit. By that time, I had been at war so long, I could hardly remember peace. No living poet had words to describe that emptiness of the soul which allowed me to go on killing without hated and without remorse. But Shakespeare understood it, and he gave MacBeth the words,
Stone: We wisely resisted becoming a colonial empire, and most Americans would deny any imperial pretensions. Perhaps that's why we cling so doggedly to the myth of American Exceptionalism; American uniqueness, benevolence, generosity…
Maybe in that fanciful notion lies seeds of American redemption: The hope that the United States will live up to that vision which seemed within grasp in 1944 when Wallace almost became president, or 1953 when Stalin died with a new U.S. President in office, or JFK and Khrushchev in 1963, or Bush and Gorbachev in '89, or Obama in 2008.
History has shown us, the curve of the ball could have broken differently. These moments will come again in a different form. Will we be ready?
I think back to Franklin Roosevelt on the last day of his life, cabling Churchill: "I would minimize the Soviet problem as much as possible, because these problems in one form or another seem to arise every day, and most of them straighten out."
Stone: Herodutus wrote in the 5th Century before Christ, "The first history was written in the hope of preserving from decay, the remembrance of what men have been." And for that reason, the history of man is not only one of blood and death, but also one of honor, achievement, kindness, memory and civilization.