Let’s Blame Today’s Leaders For the Sins of the Past
American Butterfly Episode 16: Iran Just Took Us Hostage
My friends and I were not nearly as politically aware as my children today. Politics in our family was a lot more local then.
We heard Dad complain about proposals in the city council, the Memphis Mayoral competition, and the ethnic makeup of neighborhoods that impacted the values of homes and businesses. Dad planned the location of his glass company, then art gallery, then framing shop based upon the ever-shifting demographic forecasts of Shelby County.
The first national election I recall was in 1976 between Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford of Michigan. It would have been easy to think that Carter’s background would make him a shoo-in for the Memphis vote. He was from Georgia, a deep Christian, and a sincere man.
I asked my parents who I should vote for in my 3rd-Grade class straw poll. The next day my vote proudly stood with those of the majority of my friends and family. President Ford, a tall, athletic Republican, a good man, who just happened to be the former Vice President of Richard Nixon, won over my classroom 17-to-1.
I was shocked to see on the news that the diminutive Carter would win the electoral college by 57 votes and earn 50.1% of the popular vote, even though he carried only 23 of 50 states. He squeaked by.
The moment Rick Rhone walked into class the next morning, he yelled out, “I told you so!”
Rick had cast the sole Democratic vote in our grade. Rick was not exactly movie star material. This was his only moment to shine.
The 70’s started teaching me the international impact of local events. In 1977 Elvis Presley died, and the whole world came to Memphis to mourn. President Carter invited Middle East leaders to a Camp David Summit and appeared to solve that long-time crisis.
The seizing of US hostages in Iran brought the world even closer. My Dad was angry and had choice words for the Iranian people, “What had we ever done to them!?!”
I assumed he was right. I was angry, too.
Today I am certain that Dad did not know that the United States had helped overthrow the only democratically-elected Iranian government ever in 1953.
Or that the US had installed and propped up an absolute military dictator, the Shah of Iran. In 1978 the Iranians rose up to overthrow the Shah in a revolution not so different than the American Revolution of 1776.
As a young man, Dad would not have cared. As an old man, he might have.
The morning of the aborted Operation Eagle Claw rescue attempt in April 1980 brought it all home.
Kids were talking about the failure in the school hallways. It didn’t matter whether the rescue was too complex, poorly executed, or just unlucky. The US military was inept due to failed political leadership and the de-funding of our brave soldiers.
It was time for a change, Dad thought. Ronald Reagan would bring that change after the 1980 presidential election.
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The above is a modified excerpt from the novel, American Butterfly. The story is told through the eyes of a man raised in the South, living in the North, and struggling to understand love in the modern world.
It directly engages recent decades. It embraces the events that have shaped today’s world. And it draws upon the past to help us understand the many sides fighting America’s Culture War.
All through a family story, different and similar to yours and to mine.