Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Iranian hostage crisis began 30 years ago today

On this date in 1979, a group of radical Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking sixty-six American hostages and keeping most of them for 444 days.  Those were dark days for America.

As a college senior at the time, I was riveted to the television in the lobby of my dorm each evening, and watched Jimmy Carter grow old and impotent with each passing speech.  On November 8th, ABC launched a nightly news show to cover the crisis:
Four days later at 11:30 P.M. ABC News aired a program called The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage anchored by Frank Reynolds. Roone Arledge, ABC News president, decided this program would continue till the hostage crisis was over, and that it would eventually become a regular late-night newscast. After about five months The Iran Crisis became Nightline, and Koppel, who had anchored The Iran Crisis several times, became the permanent anchor for the new program.
The previous year I had become friends with an Iranian electrical engineering graduate student who worked in the physics department as a lab instructor.  I knew him only as Mehdi.  After the taking of the embassy, he changed.  He would cross the street to avoid making eye contact with me.  If I saw him first and spoke to him, he would just act like he didn't see or hear me.  It seemed he suddenly hated America and everyone in it, including me.

Now I realize that he was probably worried about his own safety and wondering if and when his student visa would be revoked by the U.S. State Department.  By the spring of 1980, he was gone and I never saw him again.

In 2006, I was prompted to read Mark Bowden's book, Guests of the Ayatollah, The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam, by a post on The book is a comprehensive narrative of the hostage crisis developed through countless interviews with most of those involved.  I highly recommend it.

In his blog entry about the book, Scott Johnson at Powerline quotes a Wall Street Journal review describing one of the most fascinating hostages captured that day:
The most brazen and hard-edged of the hostages is Michael Metrinko, a street-wise former Peace Corps volunteer and Persian-speaking diplomat who declares war on the gerugangirha, the hostage-takers. Using his vast knowledge of Persian culture, psychology and slang, Mr. Metrinko fights back. Beaten repeatedly, held in solitary confinement, hooded, tied up and denied food, he never stops searching for means to annoy and emasculate his captors. At one point he tries to derail the interrogation of an Iranian friend before him by baiting his interrogators to beat him (he succeeds). Even on his last day of captivity, on the bus to the airport, Mr. Metrinko verbally lashes out at a guard's offensive behavior by making a very Persian reference to the guard's mother and the procreative act; he is again beaten and then thrown off the bus. (A last-minute intervention by Iranian officials gets him on the plane to Germany.) Throughout, Mr. Metrinko is a proud, outraged man whose anger grows more intense precisely because he loves Iran so profoundly.
On Friday, November 6th, "On the Record" host Greta Van Susteren hosts "Fox News Reporting: Americans Held Hostage in Iran" on Fox News Channel. This hour-long exclusive Fox News documentary commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis.

You can watch a preview here.

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