Happy Fourth of July!
As we approached celebrating our country’s 241st birthday, I thought about a couple of my memorable Fourths of July. Two things made the two mentioned below memorable: they diverged from the usual picnics and fireworks, and both involve Iran.
July 4, 1976
The first was July 4, 1976, our Bicentennial Independence Day. While Americans in the US experienced months of listening to 76 Trombones as a lead-up to the big day, I was one of 25 American teachers with the University of Southern California among an estimated 25,000 Americans living and working in Iran. The week before July 4, the US Embassy contacted all businesses with American employees to advise that we keep our celebrations low key. While rumors of disgruntled persons planning to do harm to Americans by attacking locations where large numbers gathered had not become common at that point, the embassy advised that we avoid large gatherings to reduce the possibility of such an attack being carried out.
A group of us from USC drove out of the city to a grove of trees beside a creek near Karaj, a village to the northwest of Tehran. We held our low-key picnic there, out of sight from everyone. We weren’t afraid. We were just being cautious.
We talked a lot about the successful raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda earlier that day. Israeli commandos freed 102 of the 104 Air France passengers and crew who had been held there since June 27 after their flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked. The success of the rescue contributed to our sense that we in the West were invulnerable.
Three years after the Bicentennial Independence Day, on November 4, 1979, American employees at the US Embassy in Tehran were taken hostage by Iranian students who wanted to overthrow Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the autocratic ruler they blamed the US for putting into power through a coup in 1953 that removed the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The recently released Foreign Relations of the United States 1952-1954 papers prove the students were right about the role of the US and the CIA in removing Mossadegh and returning the Shah to power. We learned we are not invulnerable.
Six months after the students kidnapped US diplomats, our attempt to repeat the success of Entebbe failed spectacularly in the deserts of Iran outside Tehran. Instead of bringing home the 52 hostages, the bodies of eight service members who died were left behind. We learned we are not infallible.
July 4, 1988
The second memorable Independence Day came twelve years later, in 1988, the day after the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over Iran’s territorial waters of the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people aboard. The plane was on a flight from Bandar Abbas in southwestern Iran to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
I was working then at the US Embassy in Doha, Qatar, directly across the Persian Gulf from Iran and to the northwest of the United Arab Emirates. We spent that July 4th on the phone calling all those we had previously invited to celebrate July 4th with the ambassador to tell them we had canceled the event. We were learning to admit when we are responsible.
In spite of the dark lessons of these two unique observations of Independence Day, I returned from the first committed to celebrate the rights and privileges I have as a citizen, having learned how many people in the world do not have that freedom. I became involved in local politics. I caucused in my precinct. I served as a delegate in my district. I attended state conventions as an observer. I attended district meetings between election cycles.
I encouraged my friends to do the same, even friends whose political viewpoints did not match mine. I knew it is important that we all take part in the system we have in order that we not allow someone to take it away.
The only presidential election I missed voting in was in 2000 when I was in Yemen, dealing with the “new normal” of life in Yemen after the USS Cole had been attacked. I didn’t think it mattered if one person missed voting that year. The outcome of that election made it clear how wrong I was. Every vote counts.
What have you learned from your Independence Day celebrations?