Mutually Assured Resentment
June 22, 1951 — The Argus

The Mossadegh Project | June 23, 2021                     

Lead and sole editorial on Iran in The Argus newspaper of Melbourne, Australia.

Australian media archive


WHAT we are learning in Persia is that acute nationalism can be as inflammable as oil, and far harder to control.

Mr. Herbert Morrison indirectly summed up the Persian attitude when he said that the present Persian Government is blind to its own needs. At the same time, Britain’s Foreign Minister instructed employees of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to carry on, in spite of Persia’s decision to take immediate possession of the wells and refinery.

In pursuing this course, Mr. Morrison has tacitly recognised the gulf between Persia’s material needs and nationalist needs, and that in political crises of this kind the concrete is almost invariably sacrificed to the emotional. These convulsions of Eastern neo-nationalism, and the political sedatives they require, have been too frequently misunderstood by those Western countries which have outgrown and forgotten their own sensitive adolescence.


For these reasons, it is not much use going over the same old ground of how much the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company has meant to Persia, and of how much Persia stands to lose if the company is forced to withdraw. Indeed, as we see from the reports, Persian resentment is partly centred on the fact that Anglo-Iranian headquarters and administration do happen to be models of progress and prosperity.

What inflames the Persians is the knowledge that none of them is sufficiently trained to undertake the higher techniques of oil production. They do not see this lack of training as their own inability to learn, so much as a calculated Anglo-Iranian policy to shut them out permanently from the inner mysteries of how to produce and refine their own oil.

It is essential to understand these Persian attitudes, unreasoning and self-destructive as they may appear to more stable countries. The very instability of Persia is one of the factors which makes the position so critical.

It can impel the nationalists and religious zealots to ensure that, because they cannot get what they want themselves, they can at least see that no one else gets it.


This is not to say that no settlement or readjustment is passible. But it does call for patient and subtle approach on Britain’s part, such as marked British policies in other parts of the East. In India, for example, Britain made discreet concessions to the upsurge of nationalism, and it is no coincidence today that Britain’s moral prestige stands high in India, and that Indian reconstruction policies prefer the services of British experts to those of other foreigners.

We still hear much of the opposing thesis that nothing impresses the Oriental mind like power, and that concessions are taken as a sign of weakness. Power does impress the Oriental mind, but, according to the painful evidence around us, not necessarily in the way we imagine.

It now impresses the Oriental with the necessity of biding his time, of which he has plenty, until he can retaliate with the same medium. In Persia, as in other parts of the East, we can make little headway until we have encouraged the unruly elements of nationalism to subside, and the first step is convincing the East that its nationalism is secure.

Richard Stokes’ Second Thoughts on Iranian Oil (1951 Letter)
Richard Stokes' Letter to Clement Attlee, Aga Khan Concurs (1951)


Related links:

The Road To Disaster In Persia | The Sydney Morning Herald, June 28, 1951

Persian Oil Blaze | The Goulburn Evening Post, June 22, 1951

Political Flames Plus Oil Can Equal Devastation, Too | June 12, 1951

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

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