Iran and the Crisis of '78

Jimmy Carter and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in formal dinner in the Niavaran Palace in Tehran, Iran. 31 Dec 1978. Public Domain

In the turbulent world of the Middle East, there have been few islands of political stability that have been able to survive the storms of revolutionary change. Iran, with its political system directed by an absolute monarch and an enormous wealth of natural resources, has been widely viewed in the Western world as the most important such refuge in the area. American opinion leaders have long admired the sturdy consistency with which Iran has maintained its orderly existence, and in seeking a reliable partner and client state upon which to rest U.S. political and economic interests, American decision-makers chose to place their bets on Iran.

In 1978, however, opposition to the Shah of Iran's political rule took the form of a mass movement, and during the first eleven months of the year riots shook hundreds of villages, towns and cities. The estimated death toll resulting from these public displays was over 3,000 persons. The total casualty figures were four times this number. Martial law was instituted, and during the course of the year's disturbances, the Shah ordered his troops to fire on demonstrating crowds in Tehran. Whatever sturdy consistency has obtained in Iran up to now seems to have been shaken - possibly for good.

America knows astonishingly little about Iran. Other more visible issues have deflected much of our attention elsewhere. Turkey and NATO, Saudi Arabia and its stupendous oil wealth, and the always-explosive Arab-Israeli issue are three cases in point. The hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lived in Iran since World War II have seldom penetrated the glittering surface consisting primarily of north Tehran and its charming, well-to-do, English-speaking inhabitants. Occasional forays to Isfahan and the Shah Abbas Hotel, Persepolis and the gardens of Shiraz, and the resorts along the Caspian Sea have not served to sharpen our appreciation of the social, political, economic, and religious realities of the country. The American mass media's coverage of Iran has over the years been consistently sparse, superficial, and distorted. Major

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