Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Shah of Iran by Abbas Milani

The Shah
Milani, Abbas, The Shah, 2011; New York: Palgrave MacMillan® 488 pp.

This is a marvelous, wide-ranging and intelligently written story of the reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi. It looks to me to be an excellent piece of scholarship.
I lived just down the street from the Shah for two years, from 1970 to 1972, and I served as an advisor to his Supreme Military Staff, and advised in the creation of his National Defence University, but I don’t presume to be an expert on the Shah.
During the years that I lived and worked in Iran, and in all that I have read and heard since then, the Shah was a good leader for Iran, trying to bring a backward country into the modern world, and to carve out a greater part for Iran in the world.  When I was there, and since the Shah was restored to his throne less than 20 years before, the Soviet Union loomed large on the landscape.  Everything we did in and with Iran reflected our need to keep Iran on our side in the great balancing act between the USSR and the West.
During World War II Britain, the United States and the USSR all stationed forces in Iran in order to ship millions of tons of military supplies and food north to Russia.  At war’s end, the British and Americans began to leave, but the Soviets occupied northern provinces, and appeared very determined to annex those parts of the country.
The Shah, with British and American help, was able to expel the Soviet troops from those northern provinces. 
When I was there the Shah had just about reached the high point of his rule.  The British, in a long-before announced move, had taken their navy out of the waters “east of Aden”, or the Red Sea, and with American encouragement the Shah’s Imperial Navy was taking over a larger role in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and gradually, the Indian Ocean. 
In 1973, the Yom Kippur War took place, and the coalition of oil-producing countries put a giant clamp on world oil supplies.  For Iran and the Shah, the money came flooding in.  Up to that time, he had been able to manage the greed of his relatives and close associates, keeping graft and corruption bubbling below the surface. 
Milani’s book certainly does not paint the Shah as a modern day hero, or the Savior of Iran, but he was clearly a very positive influence on Iran, and his leadership was bringing Iran into the modern world, with education for more Iranians, improvements in standard of living, and a greatly improved standing in the world community.  He was a secular ruler, and he and the Shahbanou set an example for modernizing the role of women in the country. 
It seems to be a very fair picture of a man born to a Persian Cossack officer of very humble beginnings.  That officer seems to have fallen into the role of Shah of Iran, by the events of the time, carried along by crafty and often unprincipled westerners—mostly British, but later, the operatives of the United States took over the care, feeding and steering of the Shah.
In 1965 the Shah, in Milani’s view, had reached about the pinnacle of his reign.  By then he was skilled, principled, and moving rapidly to modernize his country.  If only he could have done more of all that good, but he had a lot of things working against him.

When I arrived in Iran in September, 1970, I was one of a few U.S. naval officers, on a staff of mostly Army officers and men, and a growing number of Air Force officers and men.  The American presence in Iran had begun during World War II, just before President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin had their historic Teheran Conference there. 
In 1970 the United States was busy helping the Shah to build up his armed forces as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and its allies in the region—Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and India.  At the same time, Britain had scheduled a complete withdrawal of its naval forces from the Indian Ocean, and was turning that responsibility over to the United States Navy, and to Iran. 
This book tells about life in the cocoon around the Shah, as he became increasingly protected by a small circle of sycophants, and even foreign diplomats, CIA and MI6 operatives.  Those in that circle became people who told him what he wanted to hear, and at the same time urged him to buy more.  And buy he did.  With all the oil money that was coming to the country, he bought destroyers from the UK, trucks and artillery from the USSR, and state-of-the-art jet fighters, Boeing airliners, and much more from the U.S.
During my time there, my wife taught bright young Iranians English, and I learned Persian from other bright young Iranians, and in our exposure to the unofficial Persian world, we heard bits and pieces of the discontent that was simmering in the country.
However, no one was putting this picture together for the Shah, nor was he listening.  No one would dare darken his day telling him how the world would soon know that SAVAK, his security agency, was more and more shifting to the dark side of doing  dirty tricks.  No one was giving him a good report about how Islamic groups were building up resentment to the Shah.  His efforts to westernize the country naturally irritated those groups, but he had no apparent plan for handling this growing resentment. 

Haile Selassie, Shah, Empress Farah at 2500th Anniversary Celebration

In 1971 the Shah put on a magnificent party out in the desert at the ancient city of Persepolis.  It was a grand party.  He spent millions to put up elegant tents for his visitors, with marble bathrooms and rich Persian carpets, and running water—right out there in the desert!  And they came—kings and princes and princesses—from all over the world.  I remember seeing Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and King Hussein of Jordan.  The U.S. sent Spiro Agnew, the VP, I think.  That whole event did not go down well with the growing circle of Iranians critical of the Shah.
As time went on, the Shah became more disconnected to any voices that would tell him “bad news”.  American diplomats and intelligence operatives reported growing discontent, but back home in the USA, presidents and Secretaries of State dared not rock the Shah’s boat, so did not bother the Shah with their findings. 
By 1975, the Shah was pulling in more money than even he and his circle could spend, and no one seemed to be worrying about how all this would play out.  And then there were the girls.  Lots of girls. 
This was the beginning of the end, as his appetite for debauchery overcame his desire to lead.  He was also facing early signs of cancer, and intelligent Iranians were beginning to see the end.  Some of those bright Iranians were Mullahs and other religious leaders.  

How does the 1979 Islamic Revolution relate to the string of revolutions and uprisings taking place today?

The central point is:  a leader who isolates himself from his people is ruling in the dark.  Even a dictator must be aware of his people, and this is where the Shah failed.  One can see similar failings in Mubarak, Qaddafi, al Assad, el Abadine Ben Ali and Saleh. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran appears to be much worse for Iran than the Shah ever was.  There are a lot of smart, well-educated Persians, both in Iran and abroad, and I feel confident that before long, they will figure out a way to unseat the Mullahs and thugs who are running Iran slowly into the sand.

The Personal Navigator offers these books and papers:


Kasîdah, The; of Hâji Abdû El-Yezdî, Or The Lay of the Higher Law by Abdû the Traveller; Translated and Annotated by His Friend and Pupil, F.B. Sir Richard F. Burton, K.C.B. [250 copies of this edition were published.] 1915    Portland, ME:  Thomas Bird Mosher. Thomas Mosher issued this 1915 reprint of Burton's 1880 Kasîdah, dedicating it to Charles Freeman Libby. This edition has paper-covered boards with gilt inscription in Farsi: "Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî"  Frontispiece portrait of Burton from etching by Léopold Flameng, with tissue guard.  Kasîdah is a classical Arabic or Persian poem, which begins with a reference to a forsaken campground, followed by a lament, and a prayer to one's comrades to halt while the memory of the departed dwellers is invoked. Introduction by William Marion Reedy declares that "The Kasîdah will never be as popular as the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (to which it is often compared), but it will endure...."  Burton (1821-1890) claims to have been the translator of these verses, and in Notes provided describes the author,   Hâjî Abdû as a native of Yezd Province (central Iran), "who has travelled far and wide with his eyes open", and has added to his native Persian, and classic Arabic, some Latin, Greek, scraps of Chinese, Hebrew, Syriac, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Slav, Berber and more;   but it is well-established that Burton, the Victorian scholar, soldier, linguist and adventurer, was the author. This edition contains numerous tributes to Burton, by Theodore Watts-Dunton and Algernon Charles Swinburne. It also reproduces a facsimile of the 1880 first edition.  At end of text is notation that 250 copies of this book were printed on Van Gelder hand-made paper and the type distributed in the month of "October MDCCCCXV". Gilt inscription in Farsi: "Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî". xxvii + 73 pp.  23.5 x 31.7 cm. Paper-covered boards with   cream trim, lightly soiled, with one-cm tear to top of spine. Frontispiece tissue guard loose. Text block excellent.  Deckle-edged pages. Very good. (7314)             $75.00.  Poetry           

Bassett: An Oration Delivered on Monday, the Fifth of July, 1824, in Commemoration of American Independence Before the Supreme Executive of the Commonwealth, and the City Council and Inhabitants of the City of Boston by Bassett, Francis 1824 Boston, MA: Wells and Lilly, Court Street. Francis Bassett (1786-1875) delivered this address in Boston on the 48th anniversary of the American Independence.  Bassett, an 1810 graduate of Harvard, was from Yarmouth, near Dennis, on Cape Cod.  He practiced law in Boston as a contemporary of Webster,  served in the Massachusetts legislature for many years, and was a designated orator in the City of Boston.  In this oration on page 23 he refers to "an American Congress, the Greeks have found an advocate whose eloquence 'may give them courage and spirit, teach them that they are not wholly forgotten by the civilized world...'". And Bassett notes in handwritten mark below "Webster".  It was Webster's eloquent support for  Greek independence at this time to which the orator refers.  American support for Greece became diffused later in 1824 by adoption of the Monroe Doctrine, but the support of Webster and Henry Clay, our "Great Philhellenes" is admired in Greece today.  This copy is inscribed by Mr. Bassett: "Hon. Timothy Fuller from his Obed't Servant, F. Bassett".  Fuller was another Boston orator at the time, noted for his anti-Masonic rhetoric. 24 pp. 13.8 x 21.6 cm. Disbound paper pamphlet, inscription by author on title page. Fair. (7934) $65.00. History/American

Harper:  Speech of Robert Goodloe Harper, Esq. at the Celebration of the Recent Triumphs of the Cause of Mankind, in Germany, delivered at Annapolis (Maryland) January 20th, 1814   By Harper, Robert Goodloe, Esq. 1814 New Haven, CT: Oliver Steele. Harper (1765-1825) was a Congressman from South Carolina, then moved to Baltimore in about 1800, where he practiced law.  He served in the War of 1812, attaining the rank of Major General.  This speech celebrates the Prussian victory over Bonaparte, but then goes into a lengthy discourse about how the debt of southern planters led eventually to the War of 1812 with Britain. He tells about the British attack on the frigate Chesapeake in 1807, looking for deserters, that emboldened the "war party" in the U.S. "The passions of honest zealots; the erroneous theories of visionary, but well-meaning politicians; the cupidity of such as are governed in their political conduct by pecuniary interest; the ambition of demagogues, more desirous of distinction than attached to principle; the weakness of honest party men, and the low prejudices and passions of the vulgar, were all enlisted in the cause." 59 pp. 14 x 23 cm.       Paper booklet, quite browned. Illegible pencil notes on bottom of pp. 32-33. Fair.         (7925) $58.00. History/War of 1812

Hayward's Massachusetts Gazetteer, Containing Descriptions of all the Counties, Towns and Districts in the Commonwealth, and Fashionable Resorts by Hayward, John 1847 Boston, MA: John Hayward.  Descriptions of cities and towns of Massachusetts as they appeared in 1840s.  Description of railroads, colleges, lunatic asylums, hospitals in Commonwealth. Illustrated with engravings, incl. Boston and Bunker Hill from Chelsea, Landing of Pilgrims at Plymouth, 1620. Tables of population, property value, banks, visits by vessels to ports, railroads, lighthouses, latitude and longitude of towns, table of prices of 40 selected articles for fifty years. Viz.: Holland Gin was $1.33 per gallon in 1795, and $1.15 in 1844; Mackerel was $10.00 a barrel in 1795, $10.25 in 1844.  Includes description of "Brook Farm Phalanx" in Roxbury town description. 448 pp. 13 x 19.7 cm. Black cloth on board with black leather spine, spine frayed at heel and toe; gilt design and title on spine, pp. 279-286, one signature, partly detached. Good. (1438) $65.00. History

Indians:  Lives of Celebrated American Indians by the Author of Peter Parley's Tales by Goodrich, Samuel G. [Peter Parley] 1843 Boston, MA: Bradbury, Soden & Co. Goodrich proposed three books on the Aborigines of North America-- this one aims to make the reader familiar with the real character and genius of that remarkable and peculiar race of men.  The conquerors and spoilers of America had strong motives for first hating, and then defaming, the Aborigines.  Cortez slaughtered millions and thus sought to justify his conduct by representing the Indians in the most degrading and revolting colors.  Pizarro also covered up his atrocities by representing the people he butchered as ungodly heathen. Among the  celebrated Indians in this volume are Manco Capac, Mayta Capac, Huayna Capac, Atahualpa, Caupolican, Ycholay, Tupac Amaru, Quetzlcoatl, Xolotl, Montezuma I and II, Cofachiqui, Vitachuco, Pocahontas, Philip, Pontiac, Logan, Brant, Tecumseh, Shongmunecuthe, and Black Hawk.  Illustrated.  Frontispiece is drawing of Logan of the Mingo or Cayga tribe. 315 pp. 11 x 17 cm. Marbled paper on board with quarter calf, front cover detached. Signature of “James A. Pirye, Adjutant" stamped on front free endpaper. Some pencil marks on text.  Poor. (2419) $56.00. History

Reports from Sec’y of the Treasury, Comptroller of the Treasury, Postmaster General, et al on Accounts of the U.S. Treasury  as of 1816 Publ.1817. Washington, DC: William A. Davis. Bound collection of letters from the Secretary of the Treasury, Comptroller of the Treasury, Postmaster General, et al. Includes listings of debt for the late John Adams, ex-President, and Meriwether Lewis, Late governor of the Territory of Louisiana. .   21 x 33 cm. Marbellized paper with leather spine. Rough-cut paper, with many fold-out pages. Fair condition, binding intact.  (0234) $75.00 History.

Revolutionary War: History of the Siege of Boston, and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, also an account of the Bunker Hill Monument, Illus. Second Edition by Frothingham, Jr., Richard 1851 Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown. Author produced this book after he completed his History of Charlestown, MA, using many original sources, and it contains avery interesting 40 x 48 cm. fold-out map of the action at Bunker Hill, by Lieut. Page, which was originally published in England in 1776 or 1777. Fascinating account of Revolutionary War battles in and around Boston, the raising of the American army, evacuation of the British, General Howe, Debate in Parliament. There is a 22-page History of the Bunker Hill Monument, and an appendix.420 pp. 14.5 x 23.5 cm.  Cloth on board, blindstamped with gilt medallion front and back; medallion on front is bust of Washington, and on back cover is medallion showing the Recovery of Boston, March 17, 1776. Spine is torn for parts of front and rear hinge and inside front hinge is cracked.  There is a six cm closed tear in large foldout map of Plan of Bunker Hill Battle, and Plan of Boston and Environs is loose.  Plan of Boston facing Title page is missing.  All other maps and illustrations are present. Fair. (5782) $180.00. History/Revolutionary War/Boston.

1 comment:

  1. You didn't mention that your house was first on the sewer trench below the shah. Did I get that right?