100 years gone in a minute

I have recently found in a forgotten file dating back more than twenty years, several press snippets about the last days of Mohammad Reza Shah. I thought useful to publish some excerpts in the Iranian.

In may 1980, three months before his death, the last Shah of Iran accorded an interview to the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland whose despatch started in the following manner: “Cairo – The deposed shah of Iran regrets having followed 'a policy of surrender' to his opponents during his final days in power and says he now wishes he had used military force to put down the demonstrations that broke his rule.”

It seemed to me useful to quote from the very long Washington Post article and comments a few excerpts of the shah's own words which clarify a few historical points and evince the monarch's state of mind during and after the 1978/79 turmoils:

“Now people say that if my government had enforced law and order there would have been a hundred times less casualties than there have been in the last fifteen months.”

“As long as the U.S. and others in the West are ready to deal with terrorists and bloodthirsty savages which are now pretending to represent my country, how can anything be achieved? I don't know how people are prepared to shake hands with these people.”

“First when they started to destroy my country and just assassinate all these people, the West tried to almost excuse them and give them some kind of respectability.”

“A military strong Iran would have established and kept peace in the region.”

“I have always been a very mystical person, so I accept everything that happens as the will of God, or destiny, or whatever you want to call it.”

“My biggest mistake was in listening to the Americans and to the British about our internal problems… Looking back [the wrong advice] was freeing all the terrorists from jail and letting them loose,giving them the possibility of leading the band of arsonists and terrorists. And always trying to water down or at least let the government yield to the pressure of the looters and arsonists, that is, permitting the government to follow a policy of surrender to these bandits.”

“Each time I was asking the American ambassador for confirming such kind of news [Washington suggesting the shah uses an 'iron fist' ] he always was saying he had no instructions.”

“Huyser [the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe] prevented the Army to preserve the constitution. And the Army gave up for the ridiculous man Bazargan who was just an Anglo-American puppet.”

“It is not my person that matters. We are all coming and going. But it is my country and what we were trying to build that matters. It takes 100 years for a tree to grow and only a minute for them to cut it. They are destroying the forests, even. They are destroying everything.”

“We were thinking of the Great Civilization. We were thinking life could be enriched by art and spirit, by the blossoming of thought and the spirit. And now it is all destroyed.”

The Washington Post article was published in the Tuesday, may 27,1980, issue.

On August 31, 1980, after the shah's demise, Professor Marvin Zonis, a long time critic of his policies, published in Newsday an article, titled : “A Balance Sheet” from which I excerpt the following lines:

“… aside from a very small group among the Westernized bourgeoisie, democracy is a value for almost no one in Iran: witness the speed with which the people gladly exchanged a monarch ruling for life for a religious guiding for life.”

“In this matter [repression] compared to many other contemporary rulers, [the shah] seems more the 'petty tyrant'. [He] cannot be found culpable of 'wholesale slaughter'…”

“The Shah at least for the last fifteen years of his reign was not the puppet of the U.S.”

“He also did much for Iran that was beneficial. During the course of his 37 year rule , Iran became a relatively prosperous, rapidly industrializing and modernizing country, certainly in comparison to neighbouring Mideastern states. The vast majority of his subjects benefited economically and educationally from these changes.”

Finally, I found in the forgotten file the following excerpt from a 1982 book by professor Ervand Abrahamian, also a long time critic of the monarchy (Iran Between Two Revolutions, Princeton,1982):

“He [Reza shah] successfully implemented many of the innovations that had been unsuccessfully proposed during the previous century by such reformers as prince Abbas Mirza, Amir Kabir, Sepahsalar, Malkum Khan and the democrats of the constitutional revolution. By 1941 Reza shah had established a new order only to have the Anglo-Soviet invasion pave the way for his forced abdication.”

These were some excerpts from the documents contained in my forgotten twenty- year-old file.


Fereydoun Hoveyda is a senior fellow at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and former Iranian ambassador to the UN before the 1979 revolution. He is the author of The Broken Crescent.The Threat of Militant Islamic Fundamentalism (Praeger 1999). To learn more about the Hoveydas, visit their web site.

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