Iran: Everything Old Is New Again
Anti-Iran fervor explodes during hostage crisis (1979)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | November 4, 2019                     

“They say that we learned nothing from the Vietnam War, and I’m afraid they’re right.”

Anti-Iranian protest in Washington, D.C. — November 9, 1979

Today in history, November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the United States embassy in Tehran and took 60 Americans hostage, sparking what would become a 444 day U.S.-Iran showdown. The Iranian revolution and accompanying hostage crisis awakened an indignant nationalism among many Americans, thirsting for a muscular U.S. response to the outrageous ordeal.

Much of this angst was absorbed by Iranian-Americans, whose ethnicity alone made them targets for harrassment. Across the U.S., demonstrators clashed in heated public protests, college campuses became overnight scenes of discord, and the stars and stripes were hoisted defiantly as Iranian flags burned in the streets.

On Nov. 15, 1979, the University of Iowa’s student newspaper, The Daily Iowan, published a string of letters on the Iranian ordeal with a common theme: the perils of machoism in foreign affairs. 40 years later, the pointless chest-beating continues.

In today’s toxic atmosphere of anti-immigrant xenophobia, violent ‘white nationalism’, and heightened U.S.-Iran tensions, these letters are yet another reminder that when we fail to learn from the past, as the song from the hit 1979 film All That Jazz goes, ‘everything old is new again’.

The Daily Iowan
Thursday, November 15, 1979

Readers: Empathy, not machismo, needed

To the editor:

I have been following the American knee-jerk macho reaction to recent events in Iran with great feelings of weariness and foreboding. As witnessed by the student demonstration on the UI campus Sunday, the macho mentality crosses all class lines (and unfortunately sometimes also crosses the sex line also, although the demonstration here appears to have been mostly male). Media photographs of demonstrators carrying posters of John Wayne have also been common this week. The Des Moines Register’s inflammatory headline on Monday, "Khomeini Hurls Taunts at U.S.", brings to mind images of bullies in the schoolyard. The shouted racist epithets such as “camel jockies” recalls the racism of our dealings with the Vietnamese – the “gooks” and “slopes”.

Where were all these anti-Iranian demonstrators when the shah was in power and held 100,000 political prisoners, more per capita than any other country in history, according to Amnesty International, which documented the unimaginably brutal torture of these prisoners? Under the shah, almost every citizen in Iran had a family member in prison. Calm down and think about how you would feel about an exiled ruler who had been responsible for the brutal torture and perhaps death of one of your own family members. The American sense of rage against such a ruler would be just as great as the current Iranian anger. The unarmed takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran may have been wrong but it doesn’t begin to compare with the takeover of the country of Iran by the United States in 1953 when the CIA installed the shah in power against the wishes of the people.

Jim Hagen

Heavy date

To the editor:

On Thursday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. on the steps of Old Capital on the UI Pentacrest, a peaceful candlelight vigil-rally will be held to show support for all hostages in Iran and to show support for pro-American (anti-Khomeini) Iranians here in the United States.

Come! Bring your friends, a date and a candle. If you don’t show support for the hostages, then who will?

Keith Gormezano
UI Student Senator

The other side

To the editor:

We are all uneasy and afraid these days. The U.S.’s dominance of the world, which has benefited most Americans and impoverished much of the rest of humanity, has begun to slip. American corporations are still profiting nicely, but the expectations of most Americans are diminishing all the time.

I’m sure the large oil corporations are chuckling all the way to the bank with their gigantic profits as they watch Americans scapegoat Iran. (Carter’s halting oil imports from Iran will undoubtedly provide them with even more excuses for profit making.) With all the little people of the world fighting each other, the corporations can make a bundle on everything, including the instruments of nuclear holocaust, with absolute impunity. No one seems to notice that we came close to having a nuclear war the other day — oh, no, they’re all too busy making threatening phone calls to Iranian students.

They say that we learned nothing from the Vietnam War, and I’m afraid they’re right. Why are people with liberal and even radical views on many issues suddenly ready to bully and threaten Iranians? Please, before you take to the streets, take time to inform yourselves. Find out about the role of the U.S. government in bringing the shah to power as its Mideast “regional policeman,” about the shah’s impoverishment of the country for his private gain, about his torture and imprisonment of tens of thousands of Iranians, about the U.S. Embassy’s connection to the CIA. Imagine that someone in your family and several people that you knew had been tortured and killed by SAVAK, the shah’s secret police. Perhaps then you’ll understand why Iranians will do anything to get the shah back to stand trial.

I am sickened by the demonstrations which scapegoat Iranians while the really big criminals make their getaway. There will be many more times in the years ahead when the U.S. will appear (in the words of Richard Nixon) to be a “helpless giant” in the theater of the world. I suggest that instead of lashing out in rage at the loss of our national “manhood” to the point of nuclear war, we figure out a way to be a neighbor to the rest of the world. The very survival of the species might depend on it.

M. Cathcart

1,500 angry Texans, chanting "Take the oil and shove it", burned two Iranian flags Thursday in protest...

Sexist racism?

To the editor:

Last Friday’s DI coverage of the Iranian hostage-taking incident featured a front page photograph of an anti-Iranian demonstration in Houston. Prominent in the photograph was a placard which read “KO-HOMO-IN-I’S PRIVATE HAREM —THE GAY ISLAMIC COUNCIL.” The UI Gay People’s Union sees a bitter irony in the protesters attributing a gay sensibility to the viciously anti-gay Khomeini government, which since February has executed at least nine men and imprisoned or flogged countless others for performing homosexual acts. Homosexuality offends Islamic morality, it appears, in much the same way it offends the Judeo-Christian ethic of the West. The Islamic Revolutionary Council is just more up front in how it would have gays treated.

It was not, however, to raise public awareness of the Khomeini government’s crimes against homosexual people that the Texans raised the gay issue. Rather, they wished to express their anger and hurl an insult. That the worst insult they could think of was to insinuate gayness speaks well to the irrational hatred against lesbians and gay men experienced daily in this country.

Iranians in the United States are becoming the target of Americans’ frustration at the hostage-taking incident. Iranians here are being blamed for actions in which they have had no direct participation.

Gay men and lesbians know too well what it is to be scapegoated. GPU wishes to voice its solidarity with the Iranian students under attack simply because they are Iranians. Especially we wish to support lesbian and gay Iranians who now experience the double isolation of being at odds with the sexual attitudes of their own culture and being subjected to racist attitudes here.

Michael Blake
for the Gay People’s Union

Divvying Up the Loot: The Iran Oil Consortium Agreement of 1954
Divvying Up the Loot: The Iran Oil Consortium Agreement of 


Related links:

Hostage Crisis Not the Fault of Iranian-Americans, Writes Cal Poly SLO Student (Nov. 1979)

Iranians and their supporters are enemies of America | Letter to Florida Flambeau (1978)

Iranian students accuse Cal Poly SLO of discrimination (May 1970)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Tumblr   Instagram