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General History/Hostage Crisis of Nov. 4, 1979

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Question
Hello, I am taking American Heritage II and I had a few questions over some things were going over in class but is largely in favor of the book Taken Hostage, by David Farber.
How would you describe the motives of the students, Khomeini, and the broader revolution. Why was there opposition to the shah, and how did it coalesce around anti- Americanism? What were their stated demands and what specific strategies were considered by the carter administration to end the hostage crisis?
-Also, how would u compare Farbers depiction of different policy makers. How does he distinguish between the policies of the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations and how are they similar?

Answer
Hi Alexander,
I am not familiar with Farber or his book, but here's what I remember of the hostage crisis. In the 1970s, the oil kingdoms of the Middle East organized into OPEC, the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries. They used their combined power to form a monopoly in the global oil market and dramatically raised the price of oil. This brought in a lot of money to the oil kingdoms, and those petrodollars did not just sit there. People used their new wealth to import things from the West like blue jeans, T-shirts, movies, music, etc. People who had grown up with a traditional Middle Eastern culture felt threatened by this pervading Westernism and turned to Islamic fundamentalism as a defense of their own culture. Contrary to popular belief, most Islamic fundamentalists are not poor, but middle class. The poor could never afford to buy western imports, and the wealthy Middle Easterners had for generations sent their sons to Europe to be educated and so were comfortable with Western culture. It was the middle class that was first exposed to Western culture in the 1970s and reacted so negatively toward it. The Shah of Iran was seen as too friendly to the West and responsible for bringing so much foreign culture into Iran.

The Iranian students that formed the backbone of the revolution were from the middle class and were motivated by a desire to purify Iran of the new, all pervading Westernism. Khomeini was an elderly cleric who sold the students on his vision of Islamic purity. The global oil markets have always been conducted in dollars, so all of that oil wealth was in dollars which made it easier for Iranians to buy American products rather than European or other Western goods. The Americans had put the Shah on the throne back in the 1940s because his father was seen as too friendly to Hitler and Stalin. For more than 30 years thereafter there had always been a close relationship between the Shah and the Americans. For instance, the Iranian military was equipped with American weapons. In the middle 20th century, when Iran's oil infrastructure was built, Americans really dominated the oil market, so all of those Iranian oil wells, pipelines, etc were built by Americans. Khomeini had a long-standing grudge against the Shah. He had been forced to leave Iran and live in exile for many years. I don't think the students' anti-Americanism grew out of resistance to the Shah so much as resistance to the Shah grew out of the students' anti-Americanism.

The seizure of the American embassy was more of a spontaneous event rather than the result of a concerted plan, so I don't think the students had any serious demands, at least not at first. They may have come up with some later as an afterthought. Carter tried both diplomatic negotiations and a military rescue mission to end the hostage crisis. Both were unsuccessful. Iran only released the hostages after they had milked the situation for all it was worth. They released the hostages on January 20, 1981, the day Reagan was inaugurated president. It was how the Iranians said 'We are doing this because we want to, not because any American president made us do it.'

Hope this helps,  C.M.

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C.M. Aaron

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My interests are pretty diverse: military history, technology, and social trends for most historical eras, general U.S. history, European history, especially Roman and early medieval history but also the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, European colonialism in Africa, a little bit of Asian history, especially as it relates to European and American imperialism. I'm also pretty good with presidential history.

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I've read hundreds of history books on various subjects. I've also been writing historical fiction for about twenty years. Story development drives my research. I am also a tour guide at a local museum.

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Bachelor's degree in history and geography.

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