The Iranian Hostage Crisis

Early in the morning of November 4, 1979, an enraged group of medical and engineering students stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took the whole staff as hostages. The students were enraged that Jimmy Carter had granted asylum to the Shah, the former leader of Iran, viewing that as confirmation that the Americans were planning a coup against the Islamic Revolution in order to reinstall the Shah. None of this was true (the Shah was dying of cancer for one) but it didn’t matter. The students planned to hold the embassy for 2-3 days while they searched for confirmation that the embassy was housing coup planners and spies. The leaders of the Resolution, including Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, however, quickly realized the embassy seizure was a political gold mine that allowed them to consolidate power and eliminate opponents. A completely botched rescue attempt further inflamed the Iranians. The crisis eventually ended with the election of Ronald Reagan, meaning the Iranians achieved their goal of keeping the hated Jimmy Carter to just a one-term presidency. The shameful episode was the first exposure to Islamic radicalism for many Americans, and it wouldn’t be the last.

444 Days in the Dark: An Oral History of the Iran Hostage Crisis, 11.3.09