Dr. Thomas Swan studied cognition and culture at Queen's University Belfast. He enjoys exploring the interplay between politics and culture.
The Iranians Are A Peaceful People
Modern Iran is the extant incarnation of a three thousand year old culture. Before 1935, it was known as Persia – an ancient civilization with a rich history. After numerous Greek, Roman, Mongol, and Ottoman invasions of Persia, the Iranian people established the Safavid Empire in 1501 and have remained independent ever since.
Contrary to popular Western thought, Iran has been a peaceful country for most of its existence. The last time that Iran started a war was in 1856, when they attempted to capture Herat from Afghanistan.
The name Iran comes from the word "Aryan" and literally means Land of the Aryans. Despite usage by the Nazis, Aryan means "noble" and "spiritual" and was ascribed to the Indo-Iranian world over four millennia ago.
Interference in Iranian Politics
Great Britain and Russia had been vying for influence over Iran for centuries. Their interference in Iranian politics came to a head in 1941 when they collectively invaded Iran and deposed the Shah (the ruler).
The Shah had been trying to break ties with Britain and Russia by giving valuable construction contracts to German, Italian, and French engineers. When WW2 broke out, this strategy backfired because Iran was seen as too close to Germany. The Shah was forced to abdicate and the country was conquered to secure Iran’s oil infrastructure and supply lines. The Shah’s son, Pavlavi, was instated as a puppet ruler.
How Did America Become Involved?
America’s involvement in Iran began in 1953. Great Britain had controlled Iran’s oil resources since the start of the twentieth century. When a politician named Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh democratically rose to the position of prime minister, and chose to nationalize Iran's oil industry, Britain enlisted America to restore the status quo.
Operation Ajax was a CIA coup that operated from the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The CIA hired mercenaries to protest against Mossadegh, resulting in violent clashes that left almost 300 dead. The coup successfully deposed Mossadegh and installed Shah Pavlavi as absolute dictator in Iran.
Mossadegh was sent to prison, while Pavlavi set about crushing all political opposition and turning Iran into a fascist police state. The secret police (SAVAK) tortured and murdered thousands of Iranians. According to an ex-CIA operative, the CIA trained the SAVAK in methods of torture.
It took 50 years for the U.S. government to acknowledge their role in a coup that deposed a democratic government and installed a ruthless dictatorship. However, to this day, America has never apologized for destroying the democratic will of a nation.
Instead of apologizing, American politicians have used Iranian distrust of their country to escalate tensions further. The current war propaganda paints Iran as a malevolent entity that is seeking to destroy the free world (see video).
The Iranian Revolution and the Hostage Crisis
In 1979, the Iranian people rebelled against the murderous oppression that had been forced upon them by the United States. The Iranian Revolution liberated Iran from the Shah (who fled the country) and installed the popular leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as Supreme Leader of a theocratic Islamic republic.
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In late 1979, armed Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and accused the Americans of being CIA spies. Khomeini, originally unaware, eventually supported the takeover. The students asked for Shah Pavlavi to be handed over (to receive justice) but America refused to send him back (Pavlavi had been receiving medical treatment in America). After the Shah died in the summer of 1980, the students demanded the hostages be put on trial for espionage.
Eventually, the release of the hostages was secured in the Algiers Declaration, in which the U.S. agreed to release frozen Iranian assets. However, the U.S. reneged on their agreement and refused to return Iran's wealth. Instead, they cut off relations and hoped that the theft would go unpunished.
The Iran-Iraq War
After the Iranian revolution, the country was in a fractured and disorganized state. In order to exploit this situation, the ruler of neighboring Iraq, Saddam Hussein, decided to invade Iran in 1980.
A bloody and desperate war ensued. Despite Hussein’s early advances, which utilized chemical weapons to kill thousands of Iranian soldiers and civilians, Iraqi troops were pushed back by the Iranian military. Saddam Hussein was forced to agree peace with Iran in 1988.
Even though Iraq was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. chose to support Saddam Hussein. Donald Rumsfeld, the then special envoy to President Reagan, met and shook hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983 (see video above). He visited again in 1984 on the same day Iraq launched a chemical weapons attack into Iran.
At the U.N. Security council, America blocked condemnation of Iraq’s chemical weapons attacks. No resolution that criticized their use was passed, despite the objections of most other countries. In 1986, the U.N. Security Council recognized that “chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces;” a statement that was opposed by the United States.
Given that America's excuse for invading Iraq in 2003 was to remove weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, the hypocrisy was sickening.
Despite America’s best efforts, the Iranian government remains an Islamic theocracy under the control of the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Khamenei had previously been elected President of Iran (1981-1989), demonstrating some democratic support from the Iranian people.
The Supreme Leader is in charge of the military and has the final decision on all matters. The second highest authority is the elected President of Iran, currently Ebrahim Raisi.
Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic ties since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. There continues to be antagonism between the two countries, with U.S. economic sanctions killing thousands of Iranians by depriving them of access to medicines and medical equipment: a situation that became worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, in 2020, the U.S. assassinated Iran's top general, beloved by the Iranian people, as part of Donald Trump's attempts to trigger a military conflict with the nation. Despite hopes of a revival of the Obama-era nuclear deal, President Biden appears to be continuing with Trump's foreign policy toward Iran.
The Path to Peace Between America and Iran
Since WW2, the United States has contributed directly or indirectly to the deaths of millions of Iranians. By destroying democracy in Iran, they subjected the population to a ruthless dictator who murdered thousands. By refusing to hand over the Shah, America denied the Iranian people justice. By supplying Saddam Hussein with weaponry and blocking condemnation of his chemical weapon use, America contributed to the deaths of millions of Iranians.
The current tension between the two nations can only be understood in this historical context. The Iranian people have every reason to distrust America.
So, why does Iran hate America? It is not for the pseudo-religious reasons popularized by American media. The distrust comes from a history of America blocking the rights and freedoms of the Iranian people and subjecting them to death and destruction.
For a nation that prides itself on freedom and liberty, the U.S. has done more to destroy it elsewhere in the world than any other country. Like Americans themselves did in 1776, people can and will fight against it.
The path to peace involves acknowledgement of this history, and reconciliation, but there are many obstacles on this path, including a patriotic belief in American (or Iranian) supremacy, the war profiteers and weapons manufacturers who prefer a dangerous world, and politicians who, through either of these influences, are stuck in their ways.
© 2012 Thomas Swan