A proud member of our country’s liberal establishment, Peter Kuznick has been a civil-rights activist since the age of 12. He most recently made his mark on the popular consciousness as Associate Professor of History at American University and through his book and TV collaborations with Oliver Stone.
Kuznick met Stone in 1996. While teaching a class called “Oliver Stone’s America,” the professor had been bringing in key figures from events in the director’s movies: Daniel Ellsberg, Bob Woodward, Robert McNamara, labor leaders, Vietnam vets and others. Stone heard about it and showed up one day. They went to dinner and started up a partnership.
PETER KUZNICK: We began our friendship that way and stayed good friends ever since. I wrote a screenplay for him. I would say it’s a great screenplay. It’s about the Cold War and Henry Wallace vs. Harry Truman.
Wallace is the hero of your book: a bona fide progressive, socialist Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Henry Wallace was as left-wing a top elected official as we’ve ever had in this country. As secretary of Agriculture, he led a turnaround in American agricultural production in the 1930s during the Depression. He was an outspoken antifascist and antiracist. He could see life through the eyes of other people; he had that kind of empathy. And still, Wallace was a very successful capitalist.
When Roosevelt decided to run for a third term in 1940, he knew we were getting close to a war against fascism and wanted a real progressive on the ticket. He fought for Wallace even though the party bosses resisted. Wallace said the 20th century must be the century of the common man. He called for ending colonialism, imperialism, monopolies and cartels, and feeding the world, raising the standard of living. He said America’s fascists are those people that think Wall Street comes first and the country second. By 1944 the [party bosses] knew [the ailing] Roosevelt was not going to last another term, and whoever got on the ticket as Vice President would become the next President of the United States.