Freedom’s Never Easy – Amanda Green
Last week, I read a comment from someone on Facebook that brought back memories. Not good memories, not by a long shot, but not terrible ones either. No, the memories were of a time when the nation had been beaten down emotionally and psychologically. It was also a time when I saw up close for the first time just how dedicated so many of my fellow Americans are to the continued survival of this country. It is a memory I mean to hold onto and not let be overshadowed by the white noise of everyday life.
No, I’m not talking about 9/11. In many ways, that was the Pearl Harbor of the current age. Unfortunately, our leaders in Congress and in the Pentagon – and, yes, in the White House – didn’t have the guts to do the job that needed to be done. We are constrained to fight a civilized war, something that is an oxymoron at best and, at worst, the slow surrender of our country to an enemy the powers that be don’t want to defeat.
But that’s another topic and many other posts.
What I’m talking about is 1979. Yes, I know, a number of you weren’t alive back then. But a lot of us were and we remember those days. Trouble was brewing in the Middle East, particularly in Iran. The Shah was losing power. His son was in Lubbock, TX, training at Reese Air Force Base. Gasoline prices had gone through the roof and the supply was limited – at least that’s what we were told. In parts of the country, gasoline was being rationed. Here in TX, you were able to buy gas based on the last digit of your license plate. Odd numbers could buy on odd numbered days and even on even. If you were traveling – and I don’t remember for sure but I think it was 100 miles – from home, you got an exemption. IF you could find a station with gas where you were. Yes, there were even lines at stations to fill up.
My grandparents talked about how it reminded them of the Depression. Oh, not that it was anywhere near as bad but the signs were there that, if something didn’t happen soon, it could be. We looked to Washington and nothing happened. We had a president who very well may have been a very good man but one who was totally out of his element and in over his head. We had a Congress that took more pleasure in harping across the aisle than in taking direct action to deal with the problem. Instead, we were told to conserve. Turn down the thermostat. Use public transportation – which was a laugh in this part of Texas because there was no mass transit, not even on the drawing board.
Then came the Iranian Revolution. Protests against the Shah and his rule had begun approximately two years earlier. Those protests had grown, despite the attempts by the Shah to not only quell them but to silence his detractors. January 1979 saw the Shah fleeing Iran. Gone was a supposed ally and in his place was a government that had no respect and even less regard for this country. In fact, that enmity extended to any western country that wasn’t ready to fall in line with what the Ayatollah and his advisors wanted.
As a country, we watched – much like we are now – as journalists and businessmen, government officials and more – were kidnapped in Iran and held for ransom. We were worried about those people but there was a part of us that said they should have realized the danger of the situation and gotten out. That changed the morning of November 4, 1979 when the American Embassy in Tehran was stormed and more than 60 Americans were seized. Thus began 444 days of uncertainty and anger and frustration for this country.
I’ll never forget that morning. I was living in Lubbock at that time and attending school at Texas Tech. When I walked into the Commons, the group I usually met for coffee before class were all there. Like me, they had already heard the news. Unlike me, they had been busy in the hours since it had been announced.
You see, each and every one of them were either retired military or in the Reserves. Every one of them, male and female, had been on the phone to either the commanding officers or former commanders to see what they needed to do. They were ready to pull on their BDUs, lace up their boots, grab their battle rattle and go bring our people home.
They were determined. They were angry. They were ready to take action. They were, in short, willing to lay down their lives to protect the lives of not only our citizens who had been taken hostage that day but all those the Iranians had abducted over the years.
Unfortunately, it didn’t appear that our government was willing to do the same thing.
Instead of answering the calls that we do something, the government told us to be patient. They were doing their best to get our people home. Negotiations were underway.
Those failed. As did the one attempt by the military to rescue our people. In April 1980, Operation Eagle Claw was launched. We lost 8 servicemen, an Iranian civilian was killed and we also lost two aircraft. And back home we took another blow to the solar plexus.
Each night we listened to Frank Reynolds, and then Ted Koppel, on Nightline, which first broadcast four days after the embassy was stormed. I don’t think I will ever forget the way the show would display America Held Hostage Day (and the appropriate number was inserted). We watched, praying to see good news but, all too often, seeing instead images of our countrymen and the others held hostage. For many, it brought back memories of the films the Viet Cong would release of our POWs.
We truly were held hostage.
As Texans, some of us looked at H. Ross Perot and what he did to try to free two EDS employees who had been arrested not long before the revolution. He put together his own team of experts, former military and paramilitary, and tasked them with getting his two people out of the prison where they were being held. When they realized they couldn’t come up with a plan to do so, a plan that had a higher chance of success than of failure, they started thinking outside the box. They saw the writing on the wall, to continue with the clichés, and knew the day would come when the followers of the Ayatollah would storm the prison in an attempt to free their compatriots who the Shah had imprisoned. When that did, in fact, come about, the EDS employees managed to slip out and meet up with Perot’s team and they were whisked off to safety.
And yet we continued to watch as nothing, seemingly, was being done to free all those other hostages.
What had happened? When had the United States gone from a respected country, one the rest of the world knew would rise up like an angry giant when provoked?
A country is only as respected as its leader. If those who hate us have no respect for our president, if they know he will not take quick and decisive action to counter any move they make against our interests, they will do as they wish. We saw that in 1979. We had a “nice” man in the White House, one with little to no real experience on the national level, much less the international. He wanted to hold out the olive branch to the wolf who was waiting to eat the lamb. With each day that passed, the Iranian revolutionary government thumbed its nose at us because it knew Carter would not order a decisive action against it.
As a country, we were frustrated. We were demoralized. We knew we needed new leadership. We needed someone who would stare the Ayatollah in the eye and not blink. So, when the Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan, we had the cowboy we wanted to ride, not into the sunset but into the thick of the battle. The results at the polls and in the Electoral College showed just how tired the country had gotten of having a “nice” man in the White House. In the popular vote, Reagan received 43,903,230 votes to Carter’s 8,423,115. Reagan received 489 electoral votes to Carter’s 49.
And we still had hostages being held in Iran.
What we didn’t know, and probably shouldn’t have, is that negotiations were going on behind the scenes. Carter and his advisors were negotiating paying what was nothing more than a ransom to get our people out. The Algiers Accord was finalized January 1981. The election had put pressure on Carter and others to quickly conclude the negotiations because Reagan had made it clear during his campaign that he would not pay ransom for our people. The implication, if you want to be nice about it, was that he would take a much more direct form of action.
Would the election have turned out differently if we had known Carter and company were in serious negotiations with the Iranians? Probably not. Most of us wouldn’t have had much patience for the fact the Iranians refused to deal directly with Carter or his advisors. Instead, they would work only with the Algerians. According to Carter, that meant translating anything he or his people said into French for the Algerians who then had to translate it into Farsi for the Iranians.
Am I the only one who has visions of the Keystone Cops dancing in her head?
So, how does this apply to today?
It’s simple really. We have another president, now a lame duck, who has proven to be much like Carter when it comes to foreign relations. Instead of standing up to our enemies, he tries to court them, often to the detriment of our allies. He has shown, in my opinion, that he puts our relations with those enemies above the safety of not only our troops but of our country as a whole. Once more, I see a country that is beaten down. Will our next president be the one to bring us out of this depression, for lack of a better word, or will he (or she) drive us further down the hole?
That is the question we have to ask ourselves when we look at the candidates. If the answer is yes then, for the love of all that is holy, we have to do everything we can to make sure that person is not elected. Unfortunately, I’m afraid we will be faced with a “lesser of two evils” choice. Sometimes, that’s the hand we’re dealt. If that is the case, we do whatever it takes to make sure our senators and representatives are held accountable until the next presidential election.
In short, it is time to make America great again. It is possible but it won’t be easy.