November 4, 2002
3:28 PM   Subscribe

On this day, 23 years ago, thousands of radical Iranian students, demanding the return of the shah, overran the U.S. embassy and took about 90 people captive. Most Iranian officials and even ordinary people supported their action. However, today about %75 of Iranians want better relations with U.S.
posted by hoder (21 comments total)
A little historical background: when the fallen Shah (he feld Iran in January 1979) was diagnosed with cancer, some of his American friends -- say, Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller (the Shah's banker), John J. McCloy -- all heavily lobbied the White House to convince then-president Carter to allow the CIA-friendly Persian tyrant to enter an American hospital

Unfortunately, the diplomatic personnel in Iran had warned the White House: people were kind of angry and already the US embassy in Tehran had been occupied in February for a few hours by militants.

Carter said yes, the Shah was admitted into a NY luxury hospital room.

What happened next?
The hostage crisis, of course.
posted by matteo at 3:46 PM on November 4, 2002

My one indelible memory of this crisis was the way it dragged on in the media. For all you kiddies out there on MeFi, it must be hard to imagine, but at the time the most trusted man in America by a landslide was Walter Cronkite, anchorman for the CBS Evening News. For more than a year, in full election season, he finished his broadcast every night by saying "And that's the way it is, Monday, June 20, 1980, the 323rd day of captivity for American hostages in Iran". Of course, the counter went up by one every day. It was like watching the World Trade Center collapse every night, over and over again. Reagan's election was a foregone conclusion.
posted by fuzz at 4:11 PM on November 4, 2002

More historical background: The CIA's covert operation to overthrow Iran's democraticaly elected prime minister and return the shah to power in 1953.

Regime change can be tricky.
posted by homunculus at 4:18 PM on November 4, 2002

and fun
posted by clavdivs at 4:26 PM on November 4, 2002

let's not forget, when the hostages were released it was an October Surprise
posted by jcruelty at 4:50 PM on November 4, 2002

One of the best Onion headlines ever: "Reagan Inagurated - Hostages Released: American People Politely Asked Not to Put Two and Two Together."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:56 PM on November 4, 2002

There's a DVD called "Disneyland USA" that contains rare and old footage of the early days at Disneyland, led by Walt Disney himself. One of the strangest bits is when the Shah of Iran and his Empress join Walt and wife for a ride on the roller coaster. The Shah and Empress are in modern Western dress (for the 50s or 60s, whenever this was shot) and are indistinguisable from Disney and the park patrons. For those of us raised to think mostly of Iran via the hostage crisis and the days after, it's jolting footage.
posted by GaelFC at 5:05 PM on November 4, 2002

I remember all this like yesterday too Fuzz, you're right about how much we heard about it too.

This era will always be remembered by me as, Mickey Mouse giving the finger.

GaelFC, did the Shah have his crown on, I remember some pic at Disney with them in jewels and all. Like they were folks out of the FantasyLand parade.

PS, the Carter/Reagan debate of who actually freed the hostages was like Bush/Gore winning debate of today. Wow another point for my FPP on the similarities of Bushjr/Reagan while in office that was deleted.
posted by thomcatspike at 5:14 PM on November 4, 2002

and didn't Nightline with Ted Koppel start as a special hostage crisis show?
(I miss Cronkite btw)
posted by amberglow at 5:15 PM on November 4, 2002

More historical background: The hostage crisis initially allowed Carter to be re-nominated by the Democrats. In the fall of 1979, Carter was extremely unpopular because of Double-digit inflation, 20 percent interest rates, gas lines, etc. Shortly before the hostages were taken (I think), Teddy Kennedy announced that he would challenge Carter for the nomination. I also recall that all of the polls initially favored Kennedy. After the hostage crisis began, Carter stopped his campaign (the "Rose Garden" strategy), and received a huge bounce in his approval ratings. He was able to trounce Kennedy in the early primaries; as the crisis dragged on, however, Kennedy started to win some important states. He stayed in the race through the convention (which in those days was more than a TV show) and pouted on the podium when he lost. Throughout the campaign, Carter and Reagan were were very close, and we did not really know what was going to happen. The one-year anniversary was on election day, and the entire weekend preceding the election was focused upon the hostages. Carter's fate was sealed and he lost in a landslide. Believe it or not, the size of the victory was a complete surprise to most everyone. Reagan won a huge electoral majority, and majority of the popular vote, even though the race featured a former Republican, John Anderson, running as an independent.

Carter set the standard for how not to manage an international crisis. Today the US government would send the Delta force in within a week. Even after all these years, I have a tough time not hating Iran for what they did.
posted by Durwood at 5:40 PM on November 4, 2002

yes, amberglow, that was indeed the start of Nightline - "The very first edition of Nightline, after all, forced Iranian official Ali Agah to confront Dorothea Morefield, wife of one of the American hostages"
posted by madamjujujive at 5:43 PM on November 4, 2002

some excerpts from a hostage's diary (from the Carter Library):

and thanks madam--all this makes me feel so old....
posted by amberglow at 6:47 PM on November 4, 2002

>> about %75 of Iranians want better relations


Is there some kind of unwritten law requiring a glaring solecism in every MeFi base posting?
posted by anser at 7:54 PM on November 4, 2002

anser, Hoder is Iranian. I believe that in Persian, and other languages using Arabic script, the percent symbol does come first.

Pedantic note: The program only became Nightline after it had become established as the initially irregular nightly update America Held Hostage, with the number of days -- it wasn't just Cronkite. In an era before cable news, a single-issue news update every night was a Big Deal. One can only imagine the level of obsession that would arise today with a continuous news cycle and multiple 24-hour updates; as it was, it was unhealthy and distorting enough.

Durwood, a week might be a little short to prepare for such a mission; as it was, Delta Force was only recently formed. Of course, today, Delta and other units have extensive training in hostage rescue scenarios. A bit on the Desert One Debacle for those who don't know the details. For me, one of those you'll-always-remember moments was when my Dad woke me up to tell me that the mission had been attempted and ended in failure. Note that the American plan envisioned casualties nominally at 30 lives (hostages and commandos), putting some perspective on the recent Russian tragedy.

Of course we should/could have anticipated the embassy occupation and hostage-taking, but as with 9/11, we didn't really believe that a recognized state like Iran would allow something like this to happen; we had a few Marines for security but depended largely on the police assistance of our hosts.

One small note, homunculus: the Shah was always the head of state; the coup, as it were, involved his dismissal of the constitutional government.

There's a growing disconnect between the people and the regime in Iran. It's probably not like it was in 1979, and probably won't end in violence, but there has to be a realization at some point that the nation rejects the theocracy with which they're saddled.
posted by dhartung at 10:28 PM on November 4, 2002

These are Kai Wiednhofer's photos of Iranian youth today.
This one is probably the most characteristic.
posted by talos at 1:50 AM on November 5, 2002

On this day, 23 years ago, thousands of radical Iranian students, demanding the return of the shah.
It was his overthrow they demanded, of course and not his return...
posted by talos at 2:06 AM on November 5, 2002

Enjoy this (and it is not The Onion, unfortunately, it's a "The Times" -- London -- link):

Attack Iran the day Iraq war ends, demands Israel

Isn't this cool
posted by matteo at 4:38 AM on November 5, 2002

"Carter/Reagan debate of who actually freed the hostages was like Bush/Gore winning debate of today. "

Come on, I guess you skipped the "October Surprise" link above? People went to jail for Iran-Contra, Jeb has yet to see the inside of a cell for Floridagate or whatever you want to call it!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:20 PM on November 5, 2002

Talos, he had already been overthrown and was in America. The students were demanding that he be returned TO Iran.
posted by pjgulliver at 1:16 PM on November 5, 2002

Pollpacho, I spoke of the drama at the time of Reagan's and BushJr's early term as President. I grew up in that era. Carter getting credit over Reagan was just as hot a topic as Gore should be President over Bush debate of today. I read October surprise yet I never gave you my opinion about who deserved the credit. But you have already debated my opinion.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:34 PM on November 5, 2002

The students were demanding that he be returned TO Iran.
I misunderstood completely. You are of course right. Apologies.
posted by talos at 1:21 AM on November 6, 2002

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