|THE "UPHEAVAL" PHASE||29|
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:|
|NOT AFRAID OF DYING||31|
WHY THE AYATOLLAH DESERVES OUR THANKS
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
|WE'LL KILL ALL HOSTAGES||33|
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
CARTER'S POISON INDEX
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
|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
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,
|A MAN LIKE RONALD REAGAN||35|
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.