Reflections on The Iranian Hostage Crisis Forty Years Later


Forty years ago November 4th, began one of the worst periods in the history of the United States of America.  Iranian students compromised the US Embassy and took the staff hostage.  And so began 444 days of the weakest Presidency and perhaps lowest period of American morale in the history of this nation.

One thing I want to make very clear is that the facts and opinions stated in this post are mine and mine alone.  One of the great things about getting older is that you become part of history and don’t need to read text books to understand the facts.  I remember every detail about that time in our history.

In 1979 I was a Freshman in high school.  The buses and trains were filled with graffiti stating “Death to Iran” and “Fuck Iran.”  What started the ball rolling and was the initial spark, was The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi being permitted entry into this country to receive medical treatment.  Whether one agreed with the decision at the time depended on ones political leanings.  However, the Shah was a friend to the US, brought to power in a 1953 coup d’état, supported by the US.  The Shah was a dictator, a Monarch, who replaced the former democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.  One might argue that we were on the wrong side of history but there was a lot going on in 1953 including the chilling of Soviet relations leading to the Cold War and cessation of violence in the Korean War, one month prior to the coup d’etat.

Whatever one may think about the Iranian hostage crisis and its cause, there is one undisputable truth, the US embassy was breached and fifty-two American citizens taken hostage.  That should not have been allowed to stand.  President Carter did attempt a rescue but it failed miserably resulting in the loss of eight brave American US servicemen.

An embassy, for those who might not be aware, is a piece of your country, in another country.  Invading our embassy was No Different than Iranian soldiers invading the shores of Long Island.  No Different.  The only possible response to that should have been a Declaration of War against Iran, with an ultimatum of 48 hours to return our hostages and restoration of our embassy.  If within those 48 hours our hostages weren’t returned than the bombing of Tehran should have commenced.

When I was in college, I had the distinct honor of interviewing former Iranian hostage Barry Rosen who was working at Brooklyn College at the time.  Unfortunately, I have never been able to find my paper or my notes.  However, I do remember our more than two hour conversation because it was captivating.  One of the questions I asked Mr. Rosen was whether or not he believed the US response to their kidnapping was appropriate.  He said that he “was happy with the result, the way it turned out” but that “the appropriate response would have been military intervention, probably leading to the loss of their lives.”  When the invasion of the embassy started, he said he was in his office trying to dispose of documents.  When they reached his office, “guns were held to his head and he was forced to sign a written admission.”  He was “blindfolded and escorted out of his office.”  Following the failed military mission to rescue the hostages, they were moved to a more secure spot.  Some were beaten and all were subject to intense mental duress.  At some point it became clear that the hostage takers would never return them to the sitting President but only the incoming President as a final slap in the face to President Carter.

Having our Americans back on American soil was a great event.  Our new President Ronald Reagan gave us new and renewed hope that American dignity could once again be restored.  But returning to what would be the most drastic mistake of any Presidency, the entire fate of world changed post Iranian Hostage Crisis.  Had we declared war on Iran and bombed that country for as long as it took for them to surrender and yes Iran would have surrendered, the entire course of history since then, might have been very different.  America doesn’t lose wars when there is a clear and distinct mission in our sights.  We have fought many wars that were far less justified and in the case of Viet Nam, never declared.  The Korean War is still not officially over.  But war with Iran would have been completely justified by International Law.  Instead, Iran became a religious theocracy and has since become the largest sponsor and supporter of terrorism on earth.

We have one man to thank for that, the weak and ineffective President Jimmy Carter.  He may be a very nice man but Presidents need to make tough and appropriate decisions and he clearly wasn’t up to the task.  That is the history as I remember it.

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