Friday, June 10, 2011

Iran and Potemkin Villages

Iranian girl students 2009

When I was sent to Iran in 1970, we had a large American presence there.  A U.S. Army Major General was in charge of an American Advisory group.  I was part of a staff advising the Shah’s Supreme Military Staff, helping them to develop all the planning capability that the American military has.  The thing we did the most is to work with the Iranians to buy a tremendous amount of military equipment, and in the bargain, commercial airliners and factories.  We tried to teach them Long Range Planning, but from the Shah on down, they were impatient.
 They wanted to create a more powerful army, navy and air force, and fast.  Long Range Planning was something they did not seem to embrace. The idea of an orderly schedule to develop schooling for operators and maintenance people, creation of an automated system for handling maintenance and repairs— they figured they could overcome all of that by just spending a few million more.

            The Shah was trying to take a backward, nineteenth-century country into the twentieth century.  He had ordered great improvements in schools all over the country, but his people had learned that they could sometimes fool the traveling bureaucrats, and perhaps even the Shah, by creating things that looked good on the outside, but were not changed, really.  You may have read about Potemkin Villages in Russia, fake villages created to impress Prince Potemkin —-which were the same. 
 Iranians launch “Omid” (Hope) Satellite in 2009

            At this time the Shah had ordered a huge telecommunications project to be installed.  This multimillion dollar project was being handled by a consortium of contractors from all over the world—Siemens, RCA, General Electric, Philips.  They were spending all this money to install nodes all across the country to transfer information, but there was little information to transfer, because few people had a clue about what needed to be done. 
 Iranian Telecommunications Node
                I had a friend, John Babbin, who was one of those men you meet at the ends of the earth, who are soldiers of fortune.  They get paid large amounts of money to go to these places and get things built.  John told me about going down through the desert in the southeastern part of Iran to look at a telecommunications node.  He hired a driver and Land Rover, and drove to this magnificent concrete building out in the desert, miles from anything.  It was splendid—big troposcatter antennas, log periodic antennas, and microwave dishes, and freshly planted palm trees in a garden inside the complex.  They had a cafeteria for the workers, and all the comforts of home.  But there was just one thing:  Inside the equipment rooms, where all the switching equipment was supposed to be, was NOTHING!  Empty.  This station really looked good, but was useless.

The Iranians did stuff like that. 

I found that for someone interested in geopolitics, I had hit the mother lode.  Not only did Iran have huge oil and natural gas resources, but even from the early days of the Silk Road between the Mediterranean and China, it was a key to world trade.  During World War II, the United States brought millions of tons of equipment, supplies and foodstuffs to Iran to be shipped overland to the USSR.  The Russians greatly desired to take Iran for their own when the war ended, and might have, except for American intervention. 

            When we were there, Iran was strongly supportive of the United States, and we supported the Shah and his country.  However, they also maintained friendship with the Soviet Union.  The Iranians bought first-line jet fighters and other military equipment from the United States, and jeeps and artillery from the Soviets.  They bought destroyers from the British, and converted other destroyers that had previously been in the U.S. Navy.  They often flew their military aircraft to Israel for repair by Israeli mechanics.  That meant they first had to fly them to Cyprus, where their markings would be painted over, then flown into Tel Aviv.   

            The Shah’s big enemy in those days was Iraq.  Afghanistan was simply a very backward country next door. Another neighbor, Turkey, was not really an enemy, but Iranians did not seem to appreciate the Turks, a sentiment that was centuries old.  They had a lot in common, though.  Kemal Attaturk, a Turkish sergeant, had taken over an Islamic state and was very successful in making it much more secular, even converting their written language to western type, instead of Arabic script.  Today, Turkey is an excellent example of a progressive, forward-moving Islamic country.

The Shah, whose father had also been a sergeant, had taken over Iran, and was converting the country to a secular state.  In spite of failures, the Shah was making good progress in bringing Iran forward.

However, in about 1974, after the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Arab states, oil prices went up so much that Iran simply could not handle the money that came flooding in to the country.  The Shah had managed to control graft and corruption up to that point, (although that is debatable), but after this, with epic spending on necessities, and exotic aircraft and weaponry, commercial jets and many, many other things, graft and corruption spread throughout his inner circle.  
            For those who had long resented the Shah, and his efforts to make Iran a secular state, this was their invitation for change. 

            Many books have been written about the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, and what the Shah could have done, what America could have or should have done.  Many want to criticize the United States for its efforts to “meddle” in Iran’s life in the time of Mohammad Mossadegh, when CIA agents reportedly organized the removal of this man, whom many believed to be aligned with the Iranian Communist party and with the Soviet Union.   The Shah came back then, in 1951, and seemed to start on a fast track to modernize his country. 

            The United States enjoyed a close relationship with Iran from the days of World War II, when we shipped Lend Lease tanks, aircraft, ammunition, and millions of tons of other supplies to the Soviet Union from the head of the Persian Gulf, by rail, up to Soviet Azerbaijan.  American diplomats followed in the footsteps of British diplomats in Iran.  The British had been strong players in this whole area for decades.  It was their initiative that created modern Iraq.  
            It was also the plan for British withdrawal of naval forces “East of Suez” in 1971 that propelled the Shah forward in his assumption of duties as naval policeman for the West in the Indian Ocean. 
            During the Cold War it didn’t  take long for nations all over the world to realize that if their nation had raw materials that the Super Powers wanted or needed, or if they were positioned in a strategic location, they could play the U.S. against the USSR, and vice versa. 
            The Soviet Union had long lusted to acquire Iran, and when World War II ended, when the U.S. and U.K. withdrew from Iran according to the Potsdam agreement, Stalin’s USSR, with help from Pro-Soviet Iranians, hunkered down in northern Iran.  The United States stepped in to help the Shah kick the Russians out.  This was one of the first encounters of the Cold War.
            When I was there (1970-1972) the Shah held a huge military parade in Tehran each year, celebrating the anniversary of this event, and at the same time impressing Iraq with his military might.  As we watched this parade we noticed that we were seeing the same faces (of those any of us recognized) over and over as  the Imperial Iranian Army recycled men and weapons in the parade to make it seem like they had more of each. 

            Iran has a large number of well-educated young and middle aged people, and there are millions more living abroad who would willingly return to a rejuvenated Iran, free of the despotism of the Mullahs.  However, they would not be interested in the despotism of monarchy, either.  Iran may be positioned better than any of the Arab countries currently going through turmoil today, to build a free state.

The Personal Navigator has books and papers to offer you:        

Boston Courier, Semi-Weekly, Monday, September 28, 1829  Boston, MA: Adams & Holden, Printers. 4 pp. 39 x 50 cm. Prince Polignac is now at the head of the French cabinet. Story relates his background, including his, and his brother's, attempts against the government of Buonapart in 1806. He gave proof of his congenial feelings toward this country in 1816 by marrying Miss Campbell, a young lady of large fortune.  Ireland is in a most horrible condition now. From John Bull, a high church anti-Catholic paper, reports gangs of murderers, fiends who take the opportunity of waylaying Protestants. Burning, slaughterings and abductions continue in that "priest-ridden land."  Long report on imaginative robbery of the Suffolk Bank by John Wade, who took $5100 and boarded a schooner for Hallowell, Maine. He made it to Bath, bought a sailor suit, re-boarded the schooner under the name of Mr. King, sailed back to Boston, where the ship lay at anchor and he and crewmates went ashore to play nine pins, with Wade (alias King) paying all the bills. Gentleman from the West Indies says he has been exporting 2000 to 3000 puncheons of rum, but now, owing to the Temperance societies, demand for rum in the United States has fallen off, and he will have to sell his plantation and leave the island. USS Constitution has arrived at Norfolk, in 40 days from Rio de Janeiro. The seven mutineers were left on board the Hudson, to be sent home for trial. Advertisement for Patent Sponge Boots for Horses.      Newspaper, small holes in folds,  good. Inscription on top of page one "G. Wilkinson".    (8137)  $26.00. Newspapers  

Boston Courier, Semi-Weekly, Monday, October 1, 1829 Boston, MA: Adams & Holden, Printers. 4 pp. 39 x 50 cm.            Excellent two-column dissertation by J.R. Poinsett of South Carolina, who has been the United States' Envoy to Mexico, but accused by the Mexicans of meddling in their internal affairs and fomenting revolution.  This discussion of accusations and Poinsett's explanations is tremendously valuable to anyone interested in the history of Mexican-American relations preceding the annexation of Texas, and the war that ended with the accession of much of the southwestern United States.  Erasmus Doolittle writes a lively, humorous column about his travel to China.  It is interesting to see how much Boston readers were exposed to in 1829!  Report from England of events in Turkey, where the Russians are at the gates of Constantinople.  The Sultan has removed to Broussa (Bursa), about 100 miles from Constantinople, across the Propontis (Hellespont). Report from the Allgemeine Zeitung states that Russian troops have landed at Sizeoboli, and the whole army of the Seraskier has been dispersed.  The Armenians, whom the Sultan has by his very ill-judged policy alienated, every where united with the Russians as they advance.            Newspaper, small holes in folds,  good. Inscription on top of page one "G. Wilkinson". (8138) $40.00.  

Sermon Preached August 9, 1826 at the Ordination of the Rev. Stephen Thurston over the Congregational Church and Society, Prospect, Maine, by Rev. David Thurston of the Winthrop, Maine Congregational Church. Hallowell, ME: David Thurston, Pastor, Winthrop, Maine Congregational Church.  If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. I  Timothy, IV, 6
Sermon by famous anti-slavery preacher, David Thurston, with theme from I Timothy, IV, 6. Cites requisites for a good minister of Jesus Christ. This copy inscribed by David Thurston to his uncle, Samuel Bacon. 16 pp. 14 x 21 cm. Paper booklet, covered with coarse heavy paper. First four pages have 10 cm closed tear across middle, other pages have 2 cm tear in edge. Soiled, worn, poor. (5727) $46.00.

[Rev. David Thurston was one of the Congregational church's most prominent ministers. Reform-minded and idealistic. He started the first Sunday school in New England. He was a pioneer in all matters of reform and a leader outside of his community on the great questions of the day. He formed the Winthrop chapter of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1834, and for years before the Civil War he was a leading voice in the cause of abolition of slavery. In fact, he was so strongly anti-slavery that his parishioners forced him to resign, ending a 44-year stint as pastor in Winthrop.
Church members today say they carry on Thurston's message of social activism by running programs on family violence and an after-school program for middle school students. ]

Seven Sermons, On Different Important Subjects; by Robert Russel at Wardhurst, in Sussex 1791 Philadelphia, PA: Peter Stewart.  Small book offers sermons on:  I. The Unpardonable Sin against the Holy Ghost: or the Sin Unto Death; II. The Saint's Duty and Exercise: Being an Exhortation to, and a Direction for Prayer; III. The Accepted Time, and Day of Salvation; IV. The End of Time, and Beginning of Eternity; V. Joshua's Resolution to serve the Lord; VI. The Way to Heaven made Plain; VII. The future State of Man: Or, a Treatise on the Resurrection. 144 pp. 8.5 x 14.2 cm. Paper on board with leather spine, very worn, but intact. Inside front hinge cracked. Front pastedown contains name that is heavily scratched out. No free endpapers. Fair. (6991) $115.00. Religious

Shocks from the Battery; or Sermons and Sayings by Rev. Benjamin Pomeroy of Troy (Methodist) Conference with an introduction by Rev. Jesse T. Peck, D.D.. Sixth edition. 1874. Albany, NY: S.R. Gray , State Street. Sermons and sayings of a remarkable man, eccentric, bright, powerful. At Camp Meetings he has shown a wholly unusual power of thought and expression. Frontispiece engraved picture of Rev. Pomeroy.
To the backslider:  "Yes, you are there in murderous blood -- the mark is on you--it's on your feet.  How hard you trod Him down when you treated with contempt His salvation! Oh! How drabbled in atonement blood you are! As these blood-spotted multitudes are made to face retribution, I seem to see restrained lightning grow restless and fiery. O,  how its forkedness shoots out like adder's tongues -- lurid and red, all tremulous with charged damnation, as if to be avenged on that spotted throng! How atonement blood on feet stirs the vials of wrath!"
300 pp. 14 x 21 cm. Quarter black leather with cloth on board, edges scuffed, very good. (5391) $44.00. Religious

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