In November 1979, while Iranian students took hostages after occupying the American embassy in Tehran, I was raising my four-year-old son and trying to maintain a household budget in my suburban Long Island home. The books I was reading were undoubtedly Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and every Dr. Seuss written. Quite likely, I was bopping around singing with Gloria Gaynor's hit song at the time and preferring to watch Taxi episodes as opposed to the news. It was easier to watch burnt-out "Reverend" Jim Ignatowski than try to sort out what was actually happening "over there." When I had been a student, I aced tests where I matched explorers with what they discovered, memorized the three ships that Columbus sailed to find the Americas and found the story of the pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower somewhat interesting. History from centuries earlier seemed to be of the utmost importance to my teachers while the Vietnam War and Watergate were topics barely touched upon. Maybe because it was too difficult to sort out while living through it.
Thankfully, I've become less apolitical over the years and often find myself reading accounts from those who lived during certain events that have become important anniversary dates, dates like November 4th over some thirty years ago. One such account is Robert Wright's recently published Our Man in Tehran: The True Story Behind the Secret Mission to Save Six Americans During the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Foreign Ambassador Who Worked With the CIA to Bring Them Home. (Other Press)
I have no strong memory of the hostage-taking, although I do recall when they were freed. I suppose it was because it coincided with President Reagan just taking office. And, I have no recollection of the "Canada Caper" where Ken Taylor, Canada's ambassador to Iran, is the "Our Man in Tehran."
I don't recall learning much about Iran all those years ago in school. I suppose the message conveyed was that they had little effect on our lives here in the states, so there was no need to become educated about a country whose people seemed as alien as Martians, so by the time the Iran Hostage Crisis occurred, it was barely a blip on my radar screen.
There have been many hostages taken from all over the world before and since that long, drawn out incident, hostages that didn't survive their ordeal, which makes me wonder if the more recent eclipses the others, putting them out of mind -- for those of us not directly involved anyway. This is why it's important that books like Wright's matter. They help us remember, or, if not remember since we had no memory of it in the first place, to have a better understanding of why what happened then influences what is happening today. I say "better understanding" because I often come to the page with ignorance and the inability to grasp the whys of what is happening to our world today, while wondering why I hadn't been taught without the complexities being sanitized or skimmed over.
Thankfully, there is no invented dialogue in an attempt to make Wright's book more interesting, yet the details are rich, the research meticulous. Naturally, the bigger story of this time in history has been told by a number of those who lived through it, the major players being former President Jimmy Carter, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Ayatollah Khomeini and many others, but Our Man in Tehran is one that tells a smaller but important story, providing lessons of how we got where we got today, which is sometimes what history books miss.