“Roosevelt and the shah spoke for a few minutes, but there was little to say. Then General Zahedi, the new prime minister, arrived to join them. These three men were among the few who had any idea of the real story behind that week’s tumultuous events. All knew they had changed the course of Iranian history.”
Coming at the conclusion of chapter five in Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow, the preceding paragraphs are filled with immoral international covert operations that would feel right at home in any summer action blockbuster. False political framing, death threats, and obscene amounts of bribery build the unbelievable but true tale of America’s involvement in the successful overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government from the early 1950s. With the institution posing no physical threat to anyone, distant communism scares and direct economic impacts were the only items influencing this coup that was organized and implemented by very few under veils of the utmost secrecy. And that was enough for them.
The aftermath of these atrocious actions attributed to a current cultural climate of US-Middle East relations far different from what we might have seen had even one of the key men refused to cooperate in the coup. Some, like Mark J. Gasiorowski in an article with The International Journal of Middle East Studies, believe these events were a significant contributing factor to the 1979 Iranian Revolution that resulted in the replacement of a government that liked us with one that certainly doesn’t. Entire anti-American sentiments throughout Iran are possibly the products of a single historical happenstance. Which, of course, was the product of a mere handful of powerful people.
After discovering this disgraceful detail in my country’s history, it’s difficult to tell which is worse: the unjustified acts themselves, or the fact that I had no idea any of this happened. Sure, the Iranian overthrow occurred nearly 40 years before I was as much as a thought, but I rebut that argument by reciting any number of personally less important Civil War facts. The active hiding of this history is in itself a form of brainwashing, giving American citizens no reason to know why any Middle Easterner would resent their nation with such fierce passion.
As a child in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, I remember wondering what we did to deserve this violence. When no one could give me an answer, I ate up the media’s depiction of Islamic radicals and their hatred for anything non-Muslim. As a clarifying preface, I am not condoning terrorism by any stretch of the imagination. But little did I know that the United States might be one of the bad guys.
Present predicaments can never be understood without assessing the past, and this basic fact cannot come to pass while world-changing events are continually swept under the rug and out of the public eye. Like the contact hypothesis outlines, group communications must go beyond the context of the here-and-now if we, as a human race, are ever to hope for peace. Only time will tell if we will be able to confront our mistakes and engage in remedying compromised relations. In the meantime, every dusted off dirty secret makes me a little less proud to be an American.