Sunday, November 4, 2012

Seeing “ARGO” on the Anniversary of the Embassy Takeover in Tehran


Seeing “ARGO” on the Anniversary of the Embassy Takeover in Tehran

The visceral reaction I had to seeing the movie “Argo” surprised me. It reawakened long dormant feelings and memories of that time in 1979 when it suddenly became dangerous to be an American overseas.  What I expected to be a typical Hollywood film about an historic event in my lifetime actually punched me in the gut. Tears welled in my eyes for much of the film. It was exhausting to watch and mesmerizing all the same.

At the time of the takeover, I was an American student studying in England at my university’s facility in Grantham, a village in Lincolnshire most famous for being the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher. The student body was small – approximately 140 students, many of which were young people from the Middle East and Europe looking to transfer to the US. I loved the multinational environment and embraced the opportunity to meet students from around the globe.  There were a few student from Iran attending the school, one of which I came to know quite well.  It is because of my closeness to the situation and my reaction while traveling that the event is seared so thoroughly into my psyche.

For the Iranian students in England, the political instability was devastating. The embassy was invaded November 4, 1979 – 33 years ago today.  My friends had family back in Tehran. Some had been supporters of the Shah. Some were of unpopular religious backgrounds. One young woman called the number for the Tehran Country Club and let the phone ring just for a connection with home. These were people that all of a sudden knew they could not return to their homes.

For me as a student traveling with a backpack in Europe over the holidays, it suddenly became unsettling to admit to my American citizenship. If somebody asked me I would tell the truth. But if one inquired if I were French or Canadian, I would respond affirmatively. During the Carter administration is was from my perspective dangerous to admit my nationality.

In subsequent years while I was living in Asia, I met people who were in the US Embassy in Beirut during the bombing and who had been in Tehran at the time of the hostage taking.  These people suffered nightmares and daily anxiety a decade later.  My friend who was evacuated from Iran said she was given an hour’s notice and told she could bring one bag.  Wow!

Seeing this film brought back all of those feelings of long ago – my compassion for my Iranian friends struggling with fear for family and friends and horror at what was happening, my embarrassment at failing to acknowledge my national heritage, and my amazement at the resiliency of those who survived such an ordeal.

This is a powerful film that does honor to the previously unsung heroes of this time. It also caused me to reflect on the subsequent hostages that were taken in Beirut and held for years as political pawns. We’ve not yet learned our lesson. It is time to pick up our marbles and go home – leave Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel to determine their ow
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