John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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“Argo” and “Third-World Rage”

by John Campbell
March 28, 2013

Director and producer Ben Affleck accepts the Oscar for best picture for "Argo" at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 24, 2013. (Mario Anzuoni/Courtesy Reuters) Director and producer Ben Affleck accepts the Oscar for best picture for "Argo" at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 24, 2013. (Mario Anzuoni/Courtesy Reuters)

The celebrated historical-thriller “Argo,” directed by Ben Affleck, tells the story of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. It has been a critical and commercial success. The film won three academy awards, including “Best Picture” at the 2013 Academy Awards in February.

It is also a reminder of the reality of “Third-World Rage.” The gripping opening scenes of the movie recall the role played by the United States in placing the shah on the Iranian throne and the subsequent tyranny of that regime as it became ever more distant from the Iranian people. There is a wonderful scene in which the deposed shah assures an American interviewer that the abuses of his regime, including torture, were never brought to his attention—an excuse often provided by tyrants who have lost power.

Those opening scenes of the film also show the popular rage against the shah that accompanied his overthrow and the establishment of an Islamic regime. The film also depicts that rage against the United States and the American embassy as being a consequence of Washington’s largely uncritical support for the shah, crystallized by his admission to the United States for medical treatment. The storming of an embassy while the police do nothing is any professional diplomat’s nightmare. That is what happened in Tehran in 1979. To this viewer, the film accurately portrays that the attack on the American embassy was a manifestation of popular rage, even if it was manipulated by Iran’s new leadership as a tool to solidify its position.

The film is thus a reminder of the possible consequences to the United States of its association and identification with tyrannical rulers ranging from the shah, to Cuba’s Batista, to Zaire’s Mobutu. Washington has too often simply looked the other way from African tyranny when it seemed to be in American short-term interest. Someday, we pay a direct price.

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