Chapter 2: Creating the Iranian Crisis


“Slipping Toward Impotence”

When Jimmy Carter became president in 1977, America was entering one of the most productive periods in its history. The Vietnam War, the Nixon impeachment effort and the Ford recession were safely behind us. Our major economic indicators were showing considerable strength. Real Gross National Product was growing at a vigorous 5 percent rate, inflation was still only at 6 percent and even the 7 percent unemployment caused by the Ford recession was on its way down.

Carter was initially pictured as a “strong” messiah.

Carter himself had been nominated during a convention which was overtly utopian in expectations. Reporters covering the convention described it as an “orgy of togetherness,” saying it was “less a convention than a festival” and wondering how Carter and Mondale would be able to give “substance to their promise of a new millennium.”(1) After he was elected president, Carter was pictured as a “born-again” messiah, someone who would lead America to a millennial rebirth’.. merely by his presence, with little effort on our part.

Since people only have such unrealistic wishes about their leader when they are actually feeling very depressed about themselves,(2) it is not surprising that



Carter’s extreme messianic image soon began to decay. By September of his first year, his popularity in the polls began to decline and his media imagery changed from the “strong” imagery of his honeymoon period to those showing that his strength was “cracking.” The occasion for this “cracking” of Carter’s image was actually an insignificant event – Bert Lance’s banking trouble-which was blown far out of proportion to its real importance in order to fit our new fantasy that Carter was growing impotent in solving our underlying depression. Whatever Bert Lance’s banking troubles really were about, they had nothing to do with Jimmy Carter’s running of the government. Yet, after the press magnified the importance of the affair, Carter was seen by columnists as a “political incompetent” whose “shattered” image had left the presidency in a “dangerously weakened state.”(3) Although it is a fact of American politics that all presidents decline in popularity during their first two years, Carter’s polls declined faster than most, and the language and imagery of the media were increasingly dominated by fears of his growing weakness.
Bert Lance was the excuse for the “cracking” of Carter’s image, shown by a cracking egg.
In reality, our fantasies of Carter’s growing impotence were directly in contrast to his actual success in running the government and managing a booming economy during his first two years. The more the economic indicators moved upward-a record four million people were added to civilian payrolls in 1977 alone-the more incompetent Carter was considered to be.
Carter was seen as increasingly impotent during his “cracking” phase.

The same contrast was true of our evaluation of his running of foreign policy. The more successful Carter was


in carrying out his pledge to engage in peaceful diplomacy-negotiating the Panama Canal Treaty, detente with Russia, a reduction in U.S. troops in Korea and the Camp David Mideast Peace Accords-the more he was accused of being an “ineffective leader abroad.” The New Republic captured the attitude most succinctly:


It is hard to pick up a newspaper, foreign or domestic, without encountering the refrain EUROPEANS VIEW CARTER AS WEAK, UNSKILLED LEADER . . . “Our Most Ineffectual Postwar President” . Nowadays, there’s no need to think about what to do. Just say, “Carter’s ineffective” and everybody nods.(4)

Whatever the reason for our fantasies of growing impotence, the reality was quite clear: peace and prosperity seemed to have made us feel worse and worse about our nation’s condition. At the very time when unemployment was at a five-year low, when inflation had been moderating and when production was expanding the fastest, a Time “State of the Nation” survey concluded that a majority of Americans felt “THE TROUBLE IS SERIOUS” in America. Between April 1978 and April 1979, Time reported, the number of people who thought that “the U.S. is in deep and serious trouble” jumped from 41 percent to 64 percent,(5) the highest despair rating in our history. It almost seemed as if peace and prosperity were the causes of our fantasies of “deep and serious trouble” and “presidential impotence.”

Thoughtful reporters could not help but note this strange reversal of common sense, even when they found they couldn’t explain why it might be so. New York Times reporter Bernard Gwertzman noted a “PARADOX IN FOREIGN POLICY. Carter Finds He Gets Less Support, Not More, When Relations With Soviet Union Are Smooth.”(6) James Reston wondered why America seemed to focus so much on shortages, when in fact “it is our surpluses and not our shortages that are choking and strangling us.”(7) Vermont Royster, writing in The Wall Street Journal, located the feeling of how growing prosperity can be accompanied by fears of something terrible about to happen:

We’ve all had the experience one time or another. Everything’s fine at home, the family’s healthy, the children are doing well at school, the job prospers. Yet we awake in the night with an uneasy feeling that something bad is about to happen. Psychologists call it “free floating anxiety” . . . (8)


In fact, what psychologists actually call the “free floating anxiety” which people feel as a result of too much success is guilt, guilt about the success itself. And the “something bad which is about to happen” is actually the wish that something bad might happen to punish us for our growing success and pleasures.

It was as though in the middle of our prosperity during the Carter period a vindictive parental figure awoke in our collective heads, begrudging us our happy families and prosperous work. The more our lives became successful, the more a ghostly conscience disturbed us in the middle of the night to remind us that we should not enjoy more happiness than our parents had enjoyed during our childhoods. Statistics confirmed what our consciences felt: in 1978 we earned double the real income our parents had earned, on the average,(9) we had better health, more personal freedom, more sexual enjoyment, in fact, more of everything worth striving for . . . and it was making us feel terrible.

Just how bad national peace and prosperity made us feel can be seen by examining the fantasy words used in the president’s news conferences during Carter’s third, or “collapse” phase. Presidential news conferences are especially revealing, because reporters express the nation’s feelings and shared fantasies in direct form, while the president answers by telling the nation what he intends to do to relieve our bad feelings. Here is a sample news conference from Carter’s “collapse” phase. As above, only the strong emotional words and body images are considered.

Fantasy Analysis of
Presidential News Conference
March 8,1978
Fantasy Words Interpretation
Q: Deterioration? Collapse? Q: Is our world undergoing deterioration? Will it collapse?
A: Deterioration… rapidly increasing… rapidly increasing… deterioration… deadlock A: Deterioration is rapidly increasing. We feel deadlocked to stop it.
Q: Dead? Strains? Q: Will we soon be dead from the strains?
A: Teeth… tensions A: You feel like biting with your teeth to relieve your anger.
Q: Action? Action? Q: Will you take action to help us? .
A: Act… act immediately… tremendous pressure… crisis A: I’ll act immediately. I feel a tremendous pressure to relieve the crisis.


The fantasy that our increasing prosperity was producing a “tremendous pressure” which might lead to total collapse of our world reached its climax in 1979. Carter’s Gallup Poll dropped from 67 percent to 39 percent approval in one year, the lowest presidential rating for that month since Truman. Newspapers regularly reported such opinions as “Carter is a weak president… Few in Washington dispute the President’s weakness. His cabinet officers and his aides know it to be a fact. On Capitol Hill party friend and foe alike take account of it. The pollsters measure it; the press, for the most part, revels in it…”(10) Newsweek proclaimed Carte; was now on “a downward crumbling path as America’s decline accelerates.”

We poured our “collapse” fantasies into
the Oval Office, and saw Carter as too
weak to prevent our world from collapsing.

The Washington Star declared that America was “SLIPPING TOWARD IMPOTENCE ACROSS THE GLOBE.”(11) In one day, The New York Times carried two articles, the first telling Carter he must resign because he was “the weakest and most incompetent president since Martin Van Buren,” and the second by a psychiatrist saying that Carter needed psychiatric treatment.(12) Speculations about Carter’s sanity multiplied. One day when Carter simply delayed a speech he was about to give to the press, “the unexplained cancellation caused world-wide speculation that Carter had gone bonkers.” His appointments secretary had to assure newsmen that “Carter was sane and in charge and knew what he was doing.”(13) Mrs. Carter even had to be sent out to give several speeches in which she “went out of her way to defend her husband’s mental…health.”(14) Both Carter and the nation were fantasized to be “going crazy,” so split were we between our actual peaceful exterior conditions and our “collapsed” interior state. Several magazines during the summer of 1979 ran front cover headlines reading “THE SUMMER MADNESS,” and James Reston, in a column entitled “THE SUMMER MADNESS,” wondered why “Washington was having a nervous breakdown” at that moment.(15)

That Jimmy Carter felt these crazy projections of ours acutely goes without saying. After all, the main function of a leader is to contain the feelings we inject into him and to do something about them. If we felt we were going crazy and disintegrating, he had to feel the same. If we felt we were dying, he must be made to feel he was dying.(16)

DIE 23

Suggestions that Carter should die proliferated during the summer of 1979. Carter was said to be “among the political ‘walking dead,”‘ “buried politically” and “a terminal political case.”(17) Cartoons increasingly showed him strangled, beaten to death or present at funerals. One major newspaper featured the following interview with a noted labor leader on their front page: “Is there any way the President can redeem himself in your eyes?” “Yes, there’s one way he can do it.” “What’s that?” “Die.”(18)Now when people “go crazy” from too much success, one of the ways they often try to ward off their mounting guilt and depression is by manic spending sprees. The most familiar example, perhaps, is the wild spending sprees of new celebrities.
We felt like we were going crazy by the middle of 1979, as shown in this ad.

Cartoonists saw Carter as falling and disintegrating.

The underlying hope of this defense mechanism is that one can magically get rid of the guilt of having so much money by spending it foolishly.


Death images of Carter proliferated in 1979.

The same thing happens to large groups of people when they feel as if they have accumulated too much. Consumers begin spending more than they should, borrowing the difference. Businesses begin expanding more than they should, again with borrowed funds. Labor begins demanding excessive wages, oblivious of whether the costs can be absorbed. Corporations raise their prices faster than usual, regardless of the effect on sales volume. Banks begin lending more than is prudent, for increasingly risky ventures, both in the U.S. and abroad. Everyone seems to make more “mistakes” than usual. The result of all this manic activity is what is termed “an inflationary psychology.” It is a shared manic fantasy, one that follows a period of prosperity and operates through the magical device of warding off the guilt and depression that go with prosperity through manic spending. As Time put it in an article on the causes of inflation:

“People are to blame in part because they’re greedy. They’ve got to have the bigger house, the extra car, the new refrigerator. And there’s no waiting for a year or two, they’ve got to have it now.” Officials agree.. Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Charles Schultze blames 60% of the problem on the inflationary psychology that keeps spreading.(19)

Accordingly, the first result of the “collapse” fantasies after the steady prosperity of 1977-78 was a jump in inflation rates in 1979 from the 9 percent to the 14 percent range, as everyone began to participate in a manic attempt to spend more in order to get rid of their prosperity.

That this sudden jump in inflation was blamed on Carter’s policies had a certain crazy logic . . . after all, wasn’t it his successful running of our economy that had increased our guilt and made us feel so bad that we had to spend more to try to get rid of it and feel better? No one, of course, analyzed the sudden surge in inflation that bluntly. Usually,


analysts were vague when blaming the inflation on Carter, preferring not to have to point out a particular policy of his that was responsible for it.

The “collapse” fantasies of the summer of 1979 dropped Carter’s popularity polls below those of any previous president in American history, a condition l had predicted would occur two years earlier. In my book, Jimmy Carter and American Fantasy, and in a series of articles, speeches and radio broadcasts during 1977, I analyzed the patterns of shared fantasies of American presidents and forecast that by the summer of 1979 Carter’s popularity would totally collapse. I further predicted that America would then call him impotent and ask him to find an “enemy” by the end of 1979 who would humiliate America and force us into a military confrontation.(20) Two years after these predictions, the national mood was precisely what I had said it would be. Redrick Smith wrote a front-page article in The New York Times in June of 1979 calling American mood “politically explosive” and quoting a high administration official as saying “The American people are mad-hot-summer mad “(21)

Obviously something had to be done by the president, and soon. Carter retreated to Camp David for guidance. Like Moses, he went “to the mountaintop,” listening to the voice of God: the people and their elected representatives. Re jotted down in his diary some of the things the people told him while at Camp David:

“Mr. President, we’re in trouble. Talk to us about blood, sweat and tears.”
“Congress has collapsed . .
“The people are just not ready to sacrifice.”
“There is a malaise of civilization.”
“Be bold, Mr. President.”
“If you lead, Mr. President, we will follow.”(22)

Carter heard what the people wanted him to do. He had to be bold. He had to give them blood, sweat and tears. And he had to end their malaise by providing them with a sacrifice.
After Carter came down from the mountain, but before he had a chance to address the nation, several commentators speculated on what he would tell them must be done to cure the country’s emotional crisis. Max Lerner told him how he must be a shaman:


The leader today must be a practitioner of magic, a tribal shaman who calls on the unseen spirits to work their healing effects.(23)


Harriet Van Home guessed at what the message to the country might be: “From Camp David will shortly come another message of inspiration for the American people. The gist of it: ‘Sacrifice’ . . . What’s left to sacrifice?(24) What indeed? Or, rather, who indeed?

On July 15, 1979, President Carter addressed the nation and told them what he had heard on the mountaintop and what he was going to do to relieve our despair:

Fantasy Analysis of
Presidential Address to the Nation
July 15, 1979
Fantasy Words Interpretation
Pain.. .war.. urgency blood… sweat… tears… love… love… neck… stretched… knife… war… war… guns… crisis… erosion… destroy… emptiness… crisis… warning… shocks… tragedy… bullet… murders… agony… shock… wounds… twisted… pulled… last breath… sacrifice… sacrifice… crying… sweating… war… war… fight… cut cut… war… fight… sacrifice… attack… rebirth I know you are in pain, as though you were at war. I know you feel a terrible urgency. You want me to give you blood, sweat and tears so we can love again. Someone will have to have their neck stretched out and a knife used on him. We may have to go to war, with guns, to end the crisis and destroy the emptiness inside us. I am now warning you: there will be shocks, tragedies, bullets, murders, agony. There will be wounds, bodies twisted and pulled, people taking their last breath. There will be a sacrifice. There will be crying and cutting and wars and fighting. If we sacrifice now, we will attack and have a rebirth of America.

The columnists had been right. There would have to be a magical sacrifice by “a tribal shaman who calls on the unseen Spirits to work their healing effects.” It was the oldest principle of mankind: When the world seems full of guilt, rage and despair, when everything seems polluted and you are certain the end of the world is near, sacrifice. For in this sacrifice-whether of animal or human-the group will be purified. Bad feelings will be purged and all bad blood between us will be cleansed.(25) All rage will be vented on the sacrificial object, the group will experience a rebirth and the nation will feel whole and able to love again.

Jimmy Carter knew well the principle of the cleansing power of sacrifice. Like a majority of Americans, he celebrated the sacrifice of Christ for the sake of the world every Sunday of his life. Like a majority of Americans,(26) he had experienced the rejuvenating power of Christ’s


sacrifice in a personal born-again religious experience. In his July 15th address to the nation, analyzed above, he reminded us of the necessity of sacrifice in bringing about national rebirth. First he described the severi-ty of the emotional crisis: “We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives. . . threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of America . . .” Then he told us the source of our problem, our prosperity: “too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption . . . we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing… piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness. . .” And finally he promised us that a sacrifice, “a little sacrifice from everyone” would produce the needed “rebirth of the American spirit.”

Where, then, might this sacrifice take place? America was, after all, a civilized country, which meant that we would feel guilty about too open-ly sacrificing our citizens for our emotional needs. It was therefore necessary to set up our sacrificial stage on some foreign soil and to find an “enemy” to take the blame for the sacrifice.(27) Which country was the most likely to respond to our suggestion to become our sacrificial executioner? Which country would we most like to designate as our “enemy”?

The answers to these questions could be found in a Gallup Poll taken in February of 1979. Gallup regularly asks people about the popularity” of various foreign nations, and the two which had the lowest favorable ratings in 1979 were Cuba (26%) and Iran (27%):

1979 1976 % Change
Canada 91 91 even
China (Mainland) 29 20 +9
China (Taiwan) 59 55 +4
Cuba 26 15 +11
Egypt 63 49 +14
Iran 27 48 -21
Israel 68 65 +3
Mexico 72 74 -2
Russia 34 21 +13

Cuba, of course, was a previous “enemy” of America, and a brief attempt was made by Carter in the fall of 1979 to stir up interest again in Cuba, with a “discovery” that Russian troops were on the island. Yet Cuba, for its own internal reasons, didn’t seem interested in being our executioner, so the other unpopular country, Iran, would have to help us perform our sacrifice.


The poll cited above was also important in revealing how Iran had fallen in the eyes of the American public in the previous three years. It is rare for any country to fall 21 points in so short a time. Since the poll was taken in February of 1979, the Shah was still in power, so it was not just “revolutionaries” which were hated by Americans. Later in the year, when revolutionaries took American hostages, tore down American flags and chanted “Death to the Americans” in mass rallies, it became obvious that they were willing to participate in our sacrifice. In the face of these threatening actions, the prudent course for America to have taken would have been at least to beef up our security in Teheran and to avoid taking any actions which might provoke the revolutionaries to take hostages again. Yet, despite repeated pleas for help by embassy personnel, Washington refused to do anything to increase security substantially. So blatant was the invitation to grab hostages that after Iranian mobs had again stormed the embassy, one American general asked in frustration, “How many Americans will have to die before we do anything?”(28)

In June of 1979, Newsweek had reported that a White House advisor told them that Zbigniew Brzezinski had said that “a ‘small war’ might be useful to prove the President’s toughness.”(29) Obviously, if Iran grabbed American hostages, this might lead to a “small war” which would restore Carter’s failing potency and divert the country’s rage onto an “enemy” abroad.(30) Though no one said it aloud, the unconscious shared fantasy grew that American embassy personnel would have to be designated as the sacrificial victims. The only problem was to find a way to get Iran to act, and soon.

Despite clear reports from the C.I.A. which bluntly warned that “if the Shah were admitted to the United States, the American Embassy would be taken and it would be a threat to American lives,”(31) important people in America such as Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller began trying to get Carter to let the ousted Shah of Iran into the U.S. By August, everyone but Carter was for letting the Shah in. American officials in Teheran, slowly becoming aware of their possible role as sacrificial victims, sent an urgent Top Secret message to Washington saying, “The danger of hostages being taken in Teheran will persist. We should make no move toward admitting the Shah until we have obtained and tested more effective guard force from the embassy.”(32) Still no additional security was provided.

By October 18th, Carter was the “lone holdout.”(33) When his advisers told him he must now let the Shah into the U.S., he bluntly asked them:
“When the Iranians take our people in Teheran hostage, what will you advise me then?”(34) There was no question by October that hostage sacrifice was the hidden agenda. The only question was: would the will of the people be frustrated by one lone holdout? Carter would have to be told a lie to get him to cooperate. Although every doctor who had


examined the Shah agreed that his jaundice was not immediately serious and could have been treated where he was, in Mexico, and although Rockefeller had sent an American specialist, Dr. Benjamin Kean, to examine the Shah, and he had said that the problem was not life-threatening and he himself could treat him in Mexico, Kean’s statement to the State Department was turned into its exact opposite. Carter was lied to by the State Department and told that Dr. Kean had said that the Shah was “at the point of death” and “could only be treated in New York.”(35) Carter finally gave in, admitted the Shah into the U.S. for his gallstone operation and the Iranians took the hostages as everyone had predicted they would. America had moved from its third, or “collapse” phase to its fourth, or “upheaval” phase.

The hostages were pictured as about to be sacrificed.

The effect on the nation’s mood was dramatic. All “collapse” imagery disappeared, and Carter’s approval rating in the polls jumped dramatically, as the rage which we had previously directed toward him was now split off and directed toward the Ayatollah Khomeini. The New York Times wondered at the reason for this reversal of public opinion, noting a sudden “deification of Jimmy” and an unaccustomed “hushed reverence” in his presence. The New Yorker was puzzled as to why “President Carter’s rating of approval. . doubled during the crisis. The public’s sudden rush of affection for its country seems to have included its country’s president.”(36) At last, we could end our terrible rage against our leader. At last, our ambivalence could be resolved. We had an enemy now to hate, one safely outside our borders. One poll taken during the first week of the crisis revealed how good it felt to have an enemy again. The respondents said things like: “We feel unified . . . we can’t be pushed around any longer… it is good to be an American again. . . my personal life and disappointments didn’t seem so important any more.”(37) Now all we had to do was complete the sacrifice and have our “small war,” and our rage could be vented on the enemy.

In order to give Carter the message that it was necessary to proceed with the sacrifice, tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets to burn Iranian flags, insult Iranians in American colleges, throw rocks


Carter was shown as the all-good leader and the Ayatollah
as all bad, with the hostages needed to maintain the split.

through windows of Arab bakeries, parade posters of John Wayne “as a symbol of two-fisted nationalism,” and shout “Send in the marines and “nuke the Ayatollah.” As Carter himself put it, “I’ve got to give expression to the anger of the American people. I guarantee that if I asked the people of Plains what I should do every last one of them would say ‘Bomb Iran.’ “(38)

Carter was now seen as taking
charge of the sacrifice.
Now that Carter had taken charge of the sacrifice, he was pictured in the media as strong and commanding. Iran had, it seemed, saved us from national disaster. “We have been drifting as a country, stumbling along, lacking a sense of destiny,” said one person interviewed by The New York Times. “Iran could put us back on the right track. Iran has given Americans a sense of purpose, a closeness with the old team feeling that we are in it together.”(39) American national unity seemed to depend on the Ayatollah. In fact, if what Iran did made us feel so good, then the Ayatollah deserved our thanks. One columnist said precisely this, in an article which appeared at the end of 1979:




The Ayatollah and the street mobs. .. have done this country a hell of a favor. And I don’t mean by practically guaranteeing the reelection of Jimmy Carter. The Iranians’ contribution lies in prodding the United States into a renaissance of national pride and unity we feared had evaporated.(40)

Carter, however, hesitated to take military action, having been in-formed by his experts that even a successful raid would certainly result in the death of most of the hostages and “hundreds” of others,(41) and that even a “small war” with Iran could equal Vietnam in toll of lives. The nation, its press and its representatives soon grew furious at Carter’s delay in moving on with the sacrifice. Newspapers assured him, in front-page headlines, that the lives of the hostages were unimportant because they were aware they had to die: “MARINE HOSTAGES: ‘WE ARE NOT AFRAID OF DYING.”(42) Columnists asked “HOW COME WE DIDN’T DECLARE WAR ON IRAN?”(43) Letters poured in to editors from readers angrily asking why “Carter’s all talk and not enough action.”(44) The Republican Na-tional Committee Chairman taunted Carter for his hesitancy, saying he “has engaged in scabbard-rattling in the last couple of weeks, but without anything in the saber [sic].”(45) If Carter didn’t act, said Time, he would not only be proved impotent- he would be like

Carter was seen as impotent if he didn’t act out the sacrifice.

a weak woman: “The most dangerous development in world opinion is the growing belief that the U.S. is weak, that it has lost the will to act . . . You don’t pick a fight with a man capable of killing… Like your wife, America is always around, ready to get a beating.”(46)

The real danger, it was soon realized, was the possibility that Carter’s patient diplomacy would succeed and the hostages would be released unharmed. If this were to happen, the sacrificial rebirth would be “aborted.” William F. Buckley, Jr. summarized this feeling as openly as he dared, with the realization that only if the Americans remain hostages would people be able to be sacrificed:

But what if the Ayatollah merely frees the prisoners . . . The public will be left with a sense of an unconsummated transaction. We will be looking to Carter to see what form he elects for punishing the enduring government of Iran, and here is the rub.


It is unlikely, the hostages having been returned, that the U.S. will want direct military action of the kind that results in death for men, women and children.(47)

Most commentators tried not to say openly that the satisfaction of the emotional needs of the nation required the sacrifice of the hostages. But many came close to giving away the secret wish behind the growing furor against Carter’s diplomatic route. The New Republic, for instance, openly called Carter’s statement that he “hoped to secure the release of the hostages ‘without bloodshed’ . . . a mistake.” The world, it said, was asking “a dreadful question that is more talked about in private conversation than discussed in print and on the air. It is for how long a nation places human life, including the lives of its own people, ahead of the national interest and the national repute . .

By April, the media reported that most Americans were beginning to openly call for war and called Carter a coward for delaying: “Seldom has there been more talk of war, its certainty, its necessity, its desirability . HARLEM KIDS TELL JIMMY TO ‘START SHOOTING’ . .. The feeling is widespread . . . that Carter is spineless . . . Carter’s ‘appease-ment’ is ‘even more grotesquely wrong’ than Chamberlain’s was. . . The mood in Washington has shifted, from anguished indecision over how to secure the freedom of American hostages in Teheran, to a seeming determination to force the issue to a conclusion… “(49) After The Washington Post poll showed most Americans now favored using military force “even if it meant”-that is, unconsciously, because it would mean-the deaths of the hostages, Carter gave the go-ahead to the military “rescue raid” which his military experts said was bound to result in the deaths of many if not most of the hostages.(50)

Carter first prepared the nation for the pain that would be inflicted. The New York Times front-page headline of his March 14th speech read “CARTER… SEES NEED FOR PAIN AND DISCIPLINE,” terms which overtly were a reference to fiscal matters, but which, as with every message during the crisis, were also understood to apply to Iran. So consistent were the hidden messages during March that in several public lectures and radio broadcasts I predicted that Carter would invade Iran by the end of April. In one upcoming public lecture I was scheduled to give at Long Island University on “The Imminent Invasion of Iran” – advertised to take place on April’ 25th – I warned the sponsor that the events which I was speaking about might happen somewhere around the day of my lecture, so that his posters announcing the talk might by then be in the wrong tense.

At the beginning of April, Carter signalled the Iranians that the sacrifice would be imminent by giving a speech headlined by the press as “CARTER SAYS MILITARY ACTION IS THE ONLY CHOICE


LEFT TO U.S. IF IRAN FAILS TO FREE CAPTIVES.” The Iranian militants received the warning and indicated that they were ready to carry out their part: “IRAN: WE’LL KILL ALL HOSTAGES. The Iranian militants vowed today to kill all 50 American hostages if the U.S. takes any military action. The grim warning came only hours after the White House had broadly hinted that U.S. ships and planes might blockade or mine Tehran’s harbor.”(52) Everything was set to “lance the boil,” as Brzezinski put it at the meeting where the decision was made to send troops into Iran.

The “aborted” military action came the morning of April 25, just hours before my Long Island University lecture, with the result that the audience was considerably confused between fantasy and reality as I spoke, some even charging that I must have somehow participated in the decision to invade the very morning of my talk. Since Carter, to his credit, had refused to send in the vast invasion force which waited in the Persian Gulf, I predicted in the lecture that since he had failed to carry out the sacrifice, our hatred would now return back to him, that he would be defeated by a landslide in the November elections, that Reagan would have to deal with our undischarged rage and that America would finally enact the sacrifice which Carter had failed to carry out by becoming involved in some military action during Reagan’s presidency.

After the failed invasion, with eight dead Americans lying on the sands of Iran as further evidence of our impotence, polls confirmed that our

Gallup Poll-Percentage of Americans Who Were
Dissatisfied With the President’s Performance.


rage toward Carter had returned to pre-hostage levels. Few questioned the likelihood that he would have been re-elected if he had sent in an invasion force and if America had been at war during the election campaign. As one politician put it, “most people would have been grateful to President Carter if he had dropped an atomic bomb on Teheran. He would have been reelected.”(53) If Carter couldn’t carry out the sacrifice, if he was unwilling to purge us of our national rage, he would have to be replaced by someone who could.

After the failed sacrifice, Carter was pictured as too weak to fight.

As Richard Nixon put it, “One of the major errors that President Carter made [was] that his primary, and in fact it seemed to me his only concern was the lives and safety of the hostages.”(54)

America felt poisoned by its
undischarged rage.
A leader who refuses to carry out the necessary sacrifices to remove the emotional pollution of the nation leaves us, in the words of one reporter, “choking,”(55) awash in our own poisonous rage. Carter would have to be replaced by someone who would carry out the sacrifice and remove our fantasied national poisons.It would take a modern Hercules to cleanse our Augean stables of so much poisonous rage. It would take a man who could be hard, who this time could wield the sacrificial ax without flinching. It would take an old-fashioned American,


Reagan was pictured as a cowboy hero gleefully
killing weak Jimmy Carter in a landslide.

born in an earlier era than Carter and raised in an earlier, more violent, family atmosphere. It would take a man like Ronald Reagan, who could embody our delusion that our pleasures were sinful and our rages justified. It would take a leader who, frightened about his own manhood, would move decisively to military action when we began calling him a weakling. It would take a man who could promise us, as he did in the fantasy language of his acceptance speech, that he knew how we felt and how to provide the sacrificial rebirth which we wanted:

destroy… disintegrating… weakened… calamity… sacrifice… destroy… rebirth… eaten away… wasted away… renew… renew… sacrifice… flows like a mighty river… harm… injure… turned the national stomach… destroy… freeze… exhaustion… destruction… weakness… disasters… weakness… war… war… war… blaze into life.