Our 1979

The Year That Was

It has been sort of a topos to evoke the specter of 1979. I’ve done it repeatedly, as have other observers.

Aside from the growing stagflation in the U.S. (I remember farming that year at the ending of an inflation-driven boom), that was the year that China invaded Vietnam. Muslims assassinated the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Russia later invaded Afghanistan. The world seemed to have become unhinged. And there was more still.

The shah was abandoned and soon fell, amid American proclamations of support for him on Monday, and then denunciation of his dynasty by Tuesday, and yet more leaked reports on Wednesday of reaching out to Khomeini in Paris. Soon in his death throes he would jet the globe looking for a home and a doctor, as the U.S. let the phone ring when he called.

Soon Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Teheran from Paris and proclaimed an Islamic revolution. Iranian students (Ahmadinejad probably among them) stormed our embassy and took hostages. In no time Ramsey Clark was denouncing America on Iran’s behalf, and rumors abounded of Carter’s backdoor deal-making to get them home at any cost before the 1980 election. (In 1980 a humiliating and disastrous rescue mission would see imams desecrating American dead on worldwide television. I recall an odious Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhal, the hanging judge who sent thousands to the gallows, zipping open the body-bags to poke and probe the charred American corpses.)

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