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U.S. Should Pay Iran Reparations

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Why would I say such an outrageous, treasonous, delusional, OBVIOUSLY-funded-by-Putin thing? Am I hoping to enrage war-crazed sadists who've seen too much television "news"?

Not at all. I want them to still be around when I say that it would actually be preferable for the United States to pay reparations to the entire rest of the earth.

Well, then, why would I say such a thing, and exactly what type of mental disorder would allow me to believe the Iranian government to be saintly perfection?

Ah, that's the key question, isn't it? Because, as we all know, in every court that has ever ordered anyone to compensate someone else, it's been necessary to prove that the someone else was a flawless embodiment of paradise. Proving that someone was harmed has never been relevant at all. Nope. The burden of proof has always been on the victim to show that they have never once done any unpleasant thing to anyone. This is why reparations and compensation and restitution never ever happen. In fact these things don't even exist as concepts. If they did, the following story might matter.

In the 1720s, the newspapers of the colonies that would become the United States wrote positively about the Persian Empire, that place that 2500 years ago held some 60% of humanity. Various U.S. "founding fathers" like Thomas Jefferson sought models in Persian history. From the 1690s to 1800s, based on their school books, U.S. children were unlikely to think of "xylophone" with the letter "x" and likely to think of "Xerxes." In a staple of U.S. education for generations, Abbott's Histories, four non-Westerners were included. Three of them were Xerxes, Cyrus, and Darius. Examples from Persian history were tossed around in Congressional speeches. U.S. towns named themselves (and they still are named) Media, Persia, Cyrus.

From the 1830s to 1930s Presbyterian missionaries from the United States lived and raised families in Persia with the goal of converting Christians there to a preferred flavor of Christianity. In that, they largely failed, but they succeeded in providing schools, medicine, and generally positive ideas about the United States.

From the 1850s to 1920s Persian newspapers promoted the United States as a model. Right up through the 1940s the Iranian government generally sought greater U.S. influence in Iran, and the U.S. government usually refused, usually contemptuously.

Iran, from the 1820s on was forced by Russia and Britain and other European nations into a cycle of debt and concessions. It was principally as an alternative to Russia or Britain that Iran was attracted to the United States, or at least to the idea it had of what the United States was. In 1849, with the United States never having had an ambassador in Iran, Iran began secret (don't tell the British!) talks with the U.S. minister in Constantinople. In 1851 they signed a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation. It was incredibly fair and respectful by comparison with European treaties with Iran, but it was never ratified. To my knowledge Iran did not ask a single Native American nation what good ratifying it would have done. In 1854, the Shah of Iran asked the United States to put U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf and U.S. flags on every Iranian ship, but the U.S. government wasn't interested. It wasn't until 1882 that the U.S. Congress could be persuaded to send any U.S. representative to Iran, and then only because a key Congress Member had a sister there as a missionary and potential victim of "Mohammedan fury." That representative would not be called an ambassador, due to Iran not being a European country, but his arrival in Tehran in 1883 was cause for a major celebration. Five years later, Iran sent its first envoy to Washington, where the U.S. government generally refused to pay any attention to him and U.S. newspapers were so cruel to him that he resigned after nine months.

In 1891 Iranians publicly rebelled against the Shah's awarding of a tobacco monopoly to the British. In 1901, for 20,000 pounds, the Shah gave a Brit the right to drill almost anywhere for oil for 60 years. Meanwhile, in 1900 a new minister began representing Persia in the United States and significantly increased trade between the two nations, especially in Persian carpets. The Persian pavilion at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was a great success (and gave the U.S. the waffle cone).

In 1906 Persia saw a major popular uprising, including widespread use of the sit-in as a tool of nonviolent action (hey, Iran-hating auto worker with a good salary, I'm looking at you), and won the creation of a representative parliament. In 1907, Russia and Britain sought to divide Persia into zones for their respective control. The parliament (Majles) resisted, and the Shah tried hiring bands of thugs to instigate a coup against the Majles. The nation descended into civil war. In 1909 an American named Howard Baskerville became a hero still honored in Iran when he was killed by the royalists.

In 1909 the Majles asked the United States to provide a treasurer-general to oversee the nation's finances. W. Morgan Shuster got the job. He became more than an accountant. He became a leader of the constitutionalist resistance to the efforts of royalists to overthrow the Majles. In this, he was not acting on behalf of the U.S. government. When Russian forces demanded Shuster's ouster, the Majles wrote to the U.S. Congress for help, but Congress had no interest (it did get a good laugh). A violent coup followed. Shuster was out. A Russian puppet government was in. Back in the United States, Shuster was a star. Persian fashion was hot. The U.S. Post Office took its motto from Herodotus' description of the postal system of the Persian Empire. But actual Persia was of no concern.

When Europe launched the insanity of World War I, Persia declared neutrality. This was simply ignored by both sides, which proceeded to use the place as a battlefield and to cut off supply lines, resulting in some 2 million Persians starving to death or dying of disease. When Christians massacred Muslims, with the complicity of U.S. missionaries, the good impression those missionaries had made for decades were ruined. Persia nonetheless kept asking the U.S. government for help and for the return of Shuster. In 1916, the Shah asked permission to hide in the U.S. legation and to fly the U.S. flag from the Imperial Palace -- both of which requests were turned down. At the end of the war, Persia hoped for some justice out of the negotiations in Paris, but was shut out by British maneuvering, including bribing the Shah. This left Iran without the chance to have its hopes in Woodrow Wilson shattered like the rest of the world's, blame going instead to Britain. The U.S. minister in Tehran handed out a public statement claiming that the United States had tried its best to get Persia included in the Paris Peace Conference. The country was shut down by pro-U.S. riots. Read that last sentence twice.

The secret dealings of Britain with Persia, behind Wilson's back, was a key argument in the U.S. Senate for refusing to join the League of Nations. Persia offered the United States oil and continued to implore it to become more involved, but the U.S. government had a higher priority, namely not offending the British. In 1922, the U.S. State Department sent a new financial advisor, but he was no Shuster. When a U.S. oil company was finally chosen to work in Persia, it immediately was hit by the Teapot Dome scandal, and those plans collapsed. Then, in a case of mistaken identity combined with insane murderousness, a mob beat a U.S. consul to death, and the U.S. government insisted that three boys be killed as compensation, and so they were.

Iran kept reaching out to the United States, turning over its archaeological efforts to Americans, welcoming new missionaries and their schools. Up through 1979, many Iranian government officials were graduates of a U.S. missionary school called the Alborz School.

The Shah flirted with Nazism. The theories of an "Aryan" (Iranian) origin of a superior Nordic race -- theories largely of U.S. origin -- were used by Nazi Germany to appeal to Iran. Yet Iran still declared its neutrality during the sequel to WWI, and it still didn't matter. The Soviet Union and Britain invaded. Iran, of course, asked the U.S. government to object. The U.S. government, of course, ignored this. During the war, in fact, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin used Tehran as a place to meet while doing their best to ignore the fact that anyone lived there. Stalin was effectively the host. Even the Shah was not invited to a birthday party for Churchill. But when the Great Men left, Roosevelt sent the Shah a note saying he hoped the Shah would someday visit Washington. The Shah clung to that hope and pushed to make it real for years after. Meanwhile some 30,000 U.S. soldiers were in Iran from 1943 to 1945 with the usual drunkenness and rape and Apartheid flaunting of wealth in the face of hunger that has been the trademark of U.S. bases around the world from that day to this.

Once the two world wars had ended, Iran began a golden age of democracy and relative well-being. It wouldn't last long. In 1947, an Iranian democracy movement asked if it could hold a sit-in demonstration at the U.S. embassy as a symbol of democracy. It was of course told to get lost. The U.S. Ambassador from 1948 to 1951 had extremely Churchillian attitudes toward the irrational natives, who were of course incapable of and unready for democracy. He and the Shah got on well. It was in 1949 that the Shah finally got his first of many visits to the United States, land of democracy. In 1950, Iranians learned of U.S. complicity in British manipulation of their government, and persisted in criticizing the United States in tones of shock and disappointment, using all the language of straying from principles that is so routine in this-is-not-who-we-are speeches from U.S. politicians. Then the Iranians, despite Britain and the United States, elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 
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