In 1963, the first volume of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Presidential memoirs, Mandate For Change, was published, with about 7 of its 650 pages devoted to Iran. One particular line from this section (which also appeared in his posthumously released diaries) has proven irresistible to many writers, and thus has been quoted widely in historical accounts of the 1953 coup.
After describing his version of the whirlwind days leading up to Premier Mohammad Mossadegh’s overthrow and arrest by military forces loyal to the Shah, Eisenhower marveled,
“...it seemed more like a dime novel than historical fact.”
Dime novels, popular in late 19th-early 20th century America, were cheaply produced fiction, usually featuring sensationalistic adventure, Western, or detective/crime stories. Basically, a common ancestor of comic books and paperbacks.
It so happens that in recent years, some prominent revisionists have begun arguing that the CIA role was negligible in the coup. To support their theory, they’ve decontextualized and reframed this quote to make it seem as though Eisenhower was expressing disbelief over the idea that these stunning developments were attributable to the machinations of U.S. agents in Tehran. Of course, Eisenhower wasn’t offering an honest or complete account of the coup, Mossadegh’s premiership or Iran’s dispute with Britain – but the purpose of this article is to disprove this pernicious little “dime novel” hoax once and for all.
Naturally, Eisenhower wasn’t at liberty to reveal the covert operations that he himself had ordered and his government had bankrolled. Legally obligated to keep the back story of the coup private, he had to edit things down considerably for public consumption. Nevertheless, Eisenhower made no secret of his government’s full support for the Shah, contempt for Mossadegh, and jubilation at the results of the coup. He even dropped some subtle hints, implying that America was anything but passive in the coup’s final stages. Recounting how on August 16th, 1953, the Shah fled the country, believing he would never return, Ike continues:
“But we did not stop trying to retrieve the situation. I conferred daily with officials of the State and Defense Departments and the Central Intelligence Agency and saw reports from our representatives on the spot who were working actively with the Shah’s supporters.”
Eisenhower then describes the exciting turn of events that followed the Shah’s hasty departure:
“Then, suddenly and dramatically, the opposition to him [Mossadegh] and the Communists–by those loyal to the Shah–began to work. The Iranian Army turned against officers whom Mossadegh had installed. The Army drove all pro-Mossadegh demonstrators off the streets, leaving them open to anti-Mossadegh rioters who swarmed through government buildings, and looted and burned Mossadegh’s residence. General Zahedi rumbled through the avenues of Teheran in a tank and led in the capture of the main Iranian radio station. Rumors spread that the Shah, by then in Italy, was coming back.
The next day Mossadegh, in pajamas, surrendered. He was placed under arrest. Zahedi’s forces rounded up and jailed the Tudeh leaders. It was all over.”
“Throughout this crisis the United States government had done everything it possibly could to back up the Shah. Indeed, some reports from observers on the spot in Teheran during the critical days sounded more like a dime novel than historical fact. On the Shah’s triumphant return, I cabled him, as well as General Zahedi, my congratulations.”
No one reading Eisenhower’s book could possibly conclude that he was disputing the truthfulness of what had been reported to him. Yet when taken out of context and framed misleadingly, the “dime novel” phrase conveniently appears to convey the direct opposite of its intended meaning!
The first time I ever noticed this hoax was in Professor Abbas Milani’s 2009 article for The New Republic called The Great Satan Myth: everything you know about U.S. involvement in Iran is wrong. In it, Dr. Milani attacks the Kermit Roosevelt account in Countercoup with gusto:
“Despite having little knowledge of Iranian society and speaking no Persian, he describes launching an instantly potent propaganda campaign. Eisenhower, for one, considered reports like this to be the stuff of “dime novels.”
Unfortunately Milani’s anecdote is misplaced, as Eisenhower wasn’t responding to the CIA propaganda campaign, but the final action-packed days of the coup. He also misquotes him slightly by taking the liberty of pluralizing “dime novel” for some reason. This, along with other errors, were corrected when Milani’s employer, Stanford University, republished the article under a new title in April 2010, in direct response to my detailed rebuttal in December 2009:
“Dwight Eisenhower, president during the 1953 coup, was to characterize Roosevelt’s report as seeming “more like a dime novel.”
However, a variation of Milani’s “dime novels” line later ran in his subsequent book The Myth of the Great Satan: A New Look at America’s Relations with Iran (2010), also published by Stanford’s The Hoover Institution:
“Kermit Roosevelt was dispatched to Iran with plans for regime change, plans that Eisenhower called the stuff of dime novels.”
The next time the hoax appeared was in Council on Foreign Relations fellow, author and professor Ray Takeyh’s 2010 Op-ed in The Washington Post, which argued that the CIA had little to do with unseating Mossadegh:
“Through all of this, Roosevelt and his conspirators were more surprised observers then active instigators. Roosevelt’s most significant contribution to Iranian history was to publish an embellished account of his misadventures more than two decades after the coup. This flawed account went on to define the debate and capture the popular imagination -- even though, in reality, Washington was caught flat-footed about how to respond to events in Tehran. President Dwight Eisenhower conceded to his diary after hearing Roosevelt’s account, “I listened to his detailed report and it seemed more like a dime novel than historical fact.”
Takeyh misquotes the diary version ever so slightly, however, because it contained a missing ‘an’ (“an historical fact”). However, the fact that he cited the diary version and not the book excerpt is fortunate, for it proves he is guilty of lying by omission, as I will demonstrate shortly.
In June 2013, Ray Takeyh revived the hoax in his article for The Weekly Standard titled The Myth of an American Coup: What really happened in Iran in 1953:
“Eisenhower, who as supreme commander of Allied forces during World War II knew something about covert operations, dismissed Roosevelt’s narrative as “more like a dime store novel than historical fact.”
Never mind that Takeyh again misquotes Eisenhower by writing “dime store novel” rather than “dime novel”... Contrary to Takeyh’s claim, Eisenhower was not even the slightest bit ‘dismissive’ of Roosevelt’s handiwork in Tehran. Just ask the numerous authors who have included the “dime novel” quote in their books with the correct interpretation. Here’s how they characterize Eisenhower’s reaction to Roosevelt’s report: “enthralled”, “spellbound”, “ecstatic”, “raptly” “gushed”, “praised” “rapt fascination”.... In his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Prize (1991), Daniel Yergin noted that the dime novel comment was written “with admiration”.
Eisenhower’s aforementioned diary entry on October 8, 1953 makes this crystal clear. His affirmation of the U.S. role in the coup — and high regard for Kermit Roosevelt’s diligence in the operation — is positively indisputable. As the U.S. President wrote:
“Another recent development that we helped bring about was the restoration of the Shah to power in Iran and the elimination of Mossadegh. The things we did were “covert.” If knowledge of them became public, we would not only be embarrassed in that region, but our chances to do anything of like nature in the future would almost totally disappear.
Nevertheless our agent there, a member of the CIA, worked intelligently, courageously, and tirelessly. I listened to his detailed report and it seemed more like a dime novel than an historical fact. When we realize that in the first hours of the attempted coup, all elements of surprise disappeared through betrayal, the Shah fled to Baghdad, and Mossadegh seemed to be more firmly entrenched in power than ever before, then we can understand exactly how courageous our agent was in staying right on the job and continuing to work until he reversed the entire situation.”
Eisenhower’s glowing praise for Kermit Roosevelt speaks for itself, and no other available circumstantial information would suggest that Eisenhower lacked any confidence in him. In a closed-door ceremony on September 23rd, weeks after the coup, Eisenhower awarded Roosevelt the prestigious National Security Medal. And when, in 1954, his administration sought to duplicate the success of Operation Ajax in Guatemala, whom did they turn to? — Roosevelt (who rejected the offer).
Abbas Milani and Ray Takeyh must have thought nobody would notice their pathetic little shell game. Well, we noticed. Besides, this fraud is no isolated incident. They’ve engaged in so many similar shenanigans, it’s difficult to keep up with them all.
Perhaps these gentlemen should publicly apologize for abusing their lofty academic positions by deliberately and repeatedly lying before the entire world.
• Ray Takeyh’s email address:
• Abbas Milani’s email address:
ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi