If the trumpet give an uncertain sound,
who shall prepare himself to the battle?
— Corinthians XIV c 55,
New Testament Bible
I once asked my boss British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan what he thought were the most decisive factors in politics and government, “Events, dear boy, events.” replied Macmillan. Events turned decisively against the Shah in 1978–79. Asadollah Alam, his closest—and shrewdest—confidant died of cancer. A terrible fire that may well have been the work of an arsonist broke out in a cinema in Abadan killing 177 people, many of them children, because the exit doors were locked. The Shah and his wife at the same time were attending a fireworks display celebrating the twenty-third anniversary of the fall of Mosaddegh. When they failed to visit the site of the disaster, Iran’s bazaars and mosques rang with the cry, “While an entire city wept there was dancing and fireworks at the court.”
As discontent spread and challenges to his authority multiplied, the Shah sought to place the blame for the court’s misjudgments on his advisers, his ministers, the Brits and the Americans, on anyone except himself. Following the sacking and arrest of Hoveyda, the Shah appointed as head of the government an unimaginative technocrat, Jamshid Amouzegar who served as prime minister for fourteen months. Amouzegar pressed for “deceleration” in the speed of Iran’s unsustainable economic growth which was fueling double digit inflation but the Shah refused and instead went on a borrowing spree to pay for it. The balance of payments turned from a surplus of $2 billion in 1974 to a