This sarcastic editorial printed one day after the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh spotlighted the cowardice of the Shah, who fled Iran in a hurry after the first coup attempt failed. Yet despite his demonstrated timidity, they placed confidence in the young monarch’s ability to pull the country together. The Shah, they predicted, would still be a major improvement over the disastrous Mossadegh...
The peculiarities about this piece, however, don’t end with the praise/ridicule of the Shah. On Thursday, August 20, 1953, it was actually published in at least two separate newspapers, which, perhaps not coincidentally, happened to be owned at the time by Scripps-Howard News Service:
• The El Paso Herald-Post (El Paso, Texas)
• The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Showcasing it as their lead editorial, The Pittsburgh Press even advertised "The Reluctant Dragon" on their front page, accompanying a United Press article on the coup. But despite appearances, it evidently was not an original piece. And check out some of the differences between the two, beginning with The El Paso Herald-Post’s version followed by The Pittsburgh Press:
“He let Mossadegh, with his tawdry tricks and his weeping hysteria, drive the nation to the brink of disaster.”
“He let Mossadegh, with his tawdry tricks and his hysterical intransigence, drive the nation to the brink of disaster.”
“They must contend with the establishment the Assassins, a fierce Moslem sect, and the equally fierce extreme Nationalists who owned Mossadegh.”
“They must contend with the bloodthirsty assassins of Ayatollah Kashani, a foreigner-hating Moslem leader, and the equally fierce extreme nationalists who owned Mossadegh.”
“But despite the fact the Shah has mush for a backbone...”
“But despite the fact the Shah has pie-filling for a backbone...”
The Reluctant Dragon
THE TRAGEDY OF IRAN HAS BEEN dramatically illustrated by the comic-opera antics of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, King of Kings, Vice Regent of God, Center of the Universe and a quick man to head for the hills when the going gets tough.
The outcome of the rioting in the ancient land once called Persia will not be known for days, perhaps weeks. But this much is now clear:
The Shah long has had it within his power to bring sanity to that troubled nation. He had the backing of the army and the affection of the people.
The one thing he lacked was courage. He let Mossadegh, with his tawdry tricks and his hysterical intransigence, drive the nation to the brink of disaster.
When it was obvious only a strong, sane hand could save Iran from the death wish of Mossadegh and his fanatics, the Shah stood by and let the crafty, bedridden premier whittle away the power and prestige of the palace.
At last–very late and possibly too late–the army moved against Mossadegh. The Shah, in whose name the coup was launched, was safely tucked away in a Caspian Sea resort and at the first hint of a reverse he fled the country.
Now that the Army apparently has won out, the Shah promises to return to Tehran and lead his people out of the chaos. Says he took the runout powder to avoid bloodshed. But now it is clear whose blood it was the Shah didn’t want spilled.
★ ★ ★
Even assuming that the Army succeeds in bringing the Shah back to his throne, there remain many grave dangers in the Iranian situation.
First, of course, there is the chance that neighboring Russia will march in under a “mutual assistance” treaty. There is enough oil under Iran's eroded soil to fuel the Soviet war machine and the Kremlin doubtless would take big risks to get it.
There is also a chance that that Tudeh (Communist) Party, the strongest and best organized in Iran, will attempt a counter-coup and try to take the country into the Soviet orbit that way.
The Tudeh was manipulated by Mossadegh in the days when he still had hopes of blackmailing the West into an unrealistic settlement of the oil dispute. Mossadegh is gone but the monster he permitted to grow remains. The new regime will have to deal with it or be destroyed by it.
★ ★ ★
A third danger exists. The new rulers of Iran will face the same problems that frustrated Mossadegh. They must contend with the bloodthirsty assassins of Ayatollah Kashani, a foreigner-hating Moslem leader, and the equally fierce extreme nationalists who owned Mossadegh.
In such circumstances the new regime will find it difficult to make an early settlement of the oil dispute – no matter how liberal the terms. The United States would be well advised to counsel Britain to go slow in trying to ram through an oil settlement.
But despite the fact the Shah has pie-filling for a backbone, and despite the other gloomy facets of the situation, the picture in Iran today looks better than it has in years.
With the exercise of moderation in the West and with some firm men rallying around him at home, the Shah may still be able to form a government that we’ll be able to talk sense to.
If he succeeds in doing that, you’ll have to admit that the handsome young man has proved himself a very reluctant dragon indeed.