The United States and Iran
But over near the White House the nation's official Christmas
tree is dark except for one star at the top, because the hostages
in Iran have yet to receive the Christmas gift of freedom from
the unwise men of the East.1
An imposing calendar hung on the wall of Mrs. Soderlund's fourth-grade class at Field Elementary School in Minneapolis. With each day that passed in 1979–80 during which fifty-two American diplomats were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days, Mrs. Soderlund would cross out the date with a thick red “X.” Marking time in this way was not unusual during the crisis. Melani McAlister notes that during those months “the United States existed on two calendars, with the number of days in captivity superimposed over the Gregorian dates.”2 The red marks on the calendar in my classroom sparked a sense of curiosity about those whose actions warranted the symbolic obliteration of an entire day, day after day, month after month. We were told that the Iranians were angry at the United States and that they had taken innocent Americans hostage. They were religious fanatics, very distant, and completely different from us. Americans, as I interpreted the situation, were not Iranian, not fanatical, and not particularly religious. Americans were rational, secular, and democratic. It was the first time that I had ever heard of Iran.
For U.S.-Iranian relations, the hostage crisis of November 1979 was the most politically inflammatory episode in the rejection of the shah's power and Western influence in Iran that was the Iranian revolution of 1979.3 Iranians were frustrated with what they perceived as long-standing and excessive U.S. intervention in Iranian domestic affairs, evidenced at the time by a meeting in Algiers on November 1, 1979, between U.S. National Security Advisor Brzezinski and Iranian Prime Minister Bazargan and Deputy Prime Minister Yazdik, and many believed that the United States was sheltering the shah in exile in preparation for returning him to power.4 Given the events surrounding the coup of 1953, Iranians were suspicious of U.S. government claims that the shah was being treated for cancer in the United States.5 The hostage crisis was significant inside Iran because, as Maloney observes, it “fused the extremist dimensions of the divergent worldviews remaining within the revolutionary