Untold History Of The United States Highlights Obscure Stories, People And Events

untoldhistoryOliver Stone established himself as a film director in the mid-1980s with Platoon — the classic Vietnam War movie that make Charlie Sheen a household name.

But, in his 2012 10-part documentary Untold History of the United States, Stone re-establishes himself as a historian on the small screen as he offers a fresh view of 20th century America history. He does this by telling the stories mostly lost — or underreported — in America. In the opening episode Stone sets the stage for where he is going by quoting Napoleon:

History is a pack of lies agreed upon.

Vice President Henry Wallace

The series begins with WWII, but instead of simply displaying reel after reel of war scenes, Stone ventures into the backstory and political maneuvering that unfolded among the world leaders at that time. The series ends with the Age of Terror of the modern era.

One of the most interesting episodes for me was Episode 2 when I learned about Henry Wallace. Wallace, a vice-president in the FDR administration, was instrumental is salvaging the farming industry in the 1930s– but, he also fostered some odd beliefs. He was eventually pushed off the ticket during FDR’s final presidential campaign. Stone poses the question about what type of world would have existed had Wallace, and not Harry Truman, become president upon FDR’s death.

America as Empire

Throughout the series, Stone presents the United States’ history as one of an imperialistic country expanding its empire. He shows her strengths and weaknesses, but mostly he challenges the conventional story we learned in high school.

The series is very information dense, so if you are looking for a surface understanding of the United States in the 20th century, it will not appeal to you. Those viewers, though, could view a condensed version of the documentary by watching episodes 11 and 12.

Those watching the entire series will walk away with a more complete understanding of their country. The hour-long episodes are entertaining and thought-provoking.

My only criticism of the series is, unfortunately Stone does not have a good ‘narrator’ voice and, at times, it lacks inflection.

The series is available on Netflix and online.

Categories: American History, WWII

My Grandfather Was Not Eager To Fight in WWII

Rob Beaty

Rob Beaty ‘working’ tobacco.

I started watching Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States and my first impression is it is a well-researched, critical view of American history. The series challenges some of the commonly held beliefs about our country — including our telling of WWII.

In Stone’s telling, during the late 1930s Americans were not overly interested in going to war. His assertion is not unfounded. It was the era of isolationism — and much of the ‘good feeling’ associated with the war came in the years after it was over. As NPR reports in a review of ‘Angry Days,’

The conscription bill (i.e. the draft) was one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation, at least in the beginning, because we only had had a draft twice in our history before: the Civil War and World War I. The idea of a standing army was anathema to most Americans, as it had been to the Founding Fathers.

Anti-War Movement

Our standing army is a modern invention that grew along with the military industrial complex president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about. As a society we have embraced our military and, today, opposition to any war tends to be seen as un-American. And, when Americans think about anti-war movements most recall Vietnam, probably because much of it was capture on film. However, one of the largest anti-war organizations in American history actually occurred during WWII. Its chief spokesmen was Charles Lindbergh. The organization, America First Committee, formed by Yale students included famous members — like future presidents Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy.

Congresswoman Votes Against War

The first woman elected to Congress, Jeanette Rankin, has the distinction of being the only member of Congress to vote against entry into WWI and WWII. Rankin, a pacifist, believed that president Franklin D. Roosevelt permitted the Pearl Harbor attack to galvanize Americans into supporting the war. Although the allegation was never proven, as one author notes, at the very least, FDR did fail to interpret a ‘basket load of tips‘ showing an attack was imminent.

When Rankin cast her opposing vote on Dec. 8, 1941, in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, she said,

As a woman, I can’t go to war and I refuse to send anyone else.

Appalachia: Never Saw A War They Did Not Support

But I knew none of this when my maternal grandfather told me his WWII experience. Nor had I read American Nations. In the book, the author quips that the people of the Greater Appalachian region (which extends into my portion of Ohio) never saw a war they did not like. In a general sense, that has proven true with many of the people I know.

However, it was not true for Grandpa.

Regrets and Memories

Rob and Malinda (smith) Beaty with their great-grandchildren. (Click to enlarge)

Rob and Malinda (Smith) Beaty with their great-grandchildren. (Click to enlarge)

One of the biggest regrets of my life is taking too long to get to know Grandpa. Even though in my youth my family travelled ‘back home’ on a regular basis, it was not until after my father died in 2000, that I really saw the need to get to know my grandparents. By then my paternal grandparents were deceased. But, I did spend time with Grandpa and Grandma Beaty and I still remember conversations with them — especially ones with Grandpa on his porch.

We talked about everything. He reminiscenced about cutting lumber — and I discovered he knew a lot about it. He mentioned diseases that ravish stands of timber — a subject I knew (and know) nothing about. He also talked about working on the Dale Hollow Lake project — and becoming very ill. He also just couldn’t believe that they (he and other workers) were instructed to leave felled trees to be covered up by the lake.

To him that was just wasteful.

Family vs. Nation

His WWII story surprised me, though, because I thought everyone wanted to ‘go over there and fight.’ That was the history I had learned. Because his story does not fit the national narrative, I’ve always been reluctant to tell it — especially in our era of hyper-partisanship and hyper-patriotism. Dissent and resistance tends to be vilified these days.

I also feared some would find it un-American and unpatriotic to put family above a nation. I don’t.

And neither did he.

Rob Beaty’s War Experience


Rob and Malinda Beaty would end up celebrating more than 70 years of marriage.

Rob Beaty was born in 1915, which means when the war broke out in December, 1941 he was just a few months away from being 27. Married in 1933, Grandpa had been wed for nearly a decade and had three young children and a pregnant wife. My mother would be born within six months — in June of 1942.

So, to put his life in perspective, he was a father, a husband and not prime soldier age. Although I do not know the exact age when he was called before a draft board for active war duty, he would have been between 27 and 30.

Again, not an age most (except professional soldiers) head to war.

Grandpa Works In War Effort

After Pearl Harbor the war was largely supported by the American public. Even America First dropped their opposition — encouraging former members to embrace the effort. There was also local support for the war — WWI hero Alvin C. York, who lived in nearby Fentress County, Tennessee was actively encouraging citizens to buy war bonds. After years of refusal, York had agreed to let Hollywood film his story — garnering an Academy Award for Gary Cooper.

It was in this era that Grandpa’s first foray into WWII began when he went to work at a Indiana munitions plant (most likely Charlestown). When I spoke with him I was unaware that he had been required to register for the draft nearly two years before the Pearl Harbor attack. Since he was not in the 18-20 year-old range, he was sent to work and not to the front line.

According to my grandfather, in the war factory he was working overtime every week — and it was ‘the best money he ever made.’ Undoubtedly this is true since he would have entered the workforce during the Great Depression — and up until the War job, he worked as a laborer  — clearing lumber — and as a farm field hand.

But, earning ‘good money,’ would not be reason enough for one woman to leave the Clinton County, Kentucky area. Grandpa said my grandmother refused to move to Indiana. So, when it was official she was not moving, Grandpa told his boss he would be quitting, because for Grandpa there was not really a decision to make.

He would choose his wife over war.

Grab Your Gun

Upon hearing Grandpa’s decision, the boss bluntly informed him, “If you quit Friday, by Monday you will be drafted.” Drafted, of course, meant heading to the front lines.

The situation brought out an angle I never knew about Grandpa, his willingness to resist. I knew he cared deeply for my grandmother because I heard him tell her when she had open heart surgery. He even used the L word, something I had never heard him say. His affection began in their teenage years — according to Grandma — he just never would stop ‘pestering her.’

But Grandpa’s resistance to the War, also exposed his inventive side. After all, he may be legally required to stand before the Draft Board, but that did not mean they had to want him.

He had a few tricks up his sleeves.

Have a Drink On Me

Although I can easily understand why a 27-30 year-old man would not want to take up a new career as a foot soldier, especially in an era of isolationism, the U.S. government could not.

“I didn’t want to go (to war),” Grandpa frankly admitted as we sat on his porch.

So he arrived at his hearing ‘under the influence’ (whiskey, I believe) making it difficult for doctors to examine him. He also pretended to be unable to see clearly during his eye exam — intentionally misreading the letters on the chart. (Of course, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, he may not have been able to clearly see the letters.)

In his words, he ‘hemmed and hawed” around — and his plan worked.

He was not accepted into the military which meant he was able to grow old with my grandmother — celebrating more than 70 years together — which, I imagine, was all he ever wanted to do anyway.


Rob and Malinda Beaty inside their Albany, Ky. home with my daughter, Molly — their great-grandchild.


Categories: American History, Family History, WWII

WWII Museum In New Orleans Worth 2-Day Ticket

28090156122_434df13030_zI recently spent several days in New Orleans and one of the sites I visited was the WWII Museum. It was actually the first museum I have ever been in when a second-day pass would have been a good choice. It can be purchased for an additional $6 — when you buy a regular ticket. If you have the time, it’s worth the few extra dollars.

The reason I recommend it is the museum is divided into two floors: the European campaign and the Pacific Theatre. There is enough to read and see on each floor to easily take several hours.

One of the Best Museums

Two things make this museum one of the best. First, you are issued an interactive ‘dog tag’ with your ticket. Once you register your dog tag in a kiosk or by boarding a fake train (which is neat), you then follow the person — a real soldier — along their path through the war. They will most likely fight in one or the other campaigns — I do not know if any of the soldiers in the interactive piece fought in parts of both campaigns.

This brings the war to life in a more personal way since you get to hear their story as you make your way through the museum.

Since the museum is associated with some of Tom Hanks’ work it includes soldiers from Band of Brothers (the author was one of the museum  founders) and The Pacific (Eugene Sledge, for example), so if you have seen those series, you will recognize some names.

The other aspect of the museum that adds to its appeal is the 4D special effects movie — Beyond all Boundaries which highlights the war’s beginning. It’s worth the extra $5. The film is about 20 minutes long. We chose to watch it before walking through the museum. (you have to choose a film time when you buy your ticket).

My only criticism of the museum is there are not enough stations for listening to the soldiers’ stories and, even on a mildly crowded day like the day my daughter, her boyfriend and I went, you often have to wait too long to use a listening station. Since there are several stations to visit this can slow down your walk through the museum. They have offset this somewhat by making the content available at home by logging in with your email address.

The museum is open seven days a week, except for a handful of holidays.

27913063470_10d5245318_mCivil War Museum

Just across the street from the WWII Museum is Louisiana’s oldest Civil War museum. The museum is a repository of Confederate items and includes artifacts owned and used by Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders. Although the museum is small, everything is housed on one floor, what they have is authentic and interesting. You can probably view everything in an hour or so.

Categories: Civil War History, Things To Do, WWII | Tags: , , ,