Study Guide

Answer to History

by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Answer to History Summary

Answer to History (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

In Answer to History, the late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, gives his personal account of the achievements of his thirty-seven-year reign which ended with his overthrow. In fourteen chapters and three appendixes, he argues a case for a monarchical form of government in Iran and the legitimacy of his rule. The final manuscript which was completed shortly before his death on July 27, 1980, opens with a twenty-four page description of his period of exile in the West and his disillusionment with Western hospitality. The document, while largely self-serving, is valuable as a historical record of the reign of one of the world’s last autocratic kings.

From the moment his exile began in January, 1979, the Shah was not eager to go to the United States. The Carter Administration had been ambivalent in supporting his government during the previous year of civil riots and strikes and had not offered him political asylum. After brief state visits in Egypt and Morocco, the Shah sojourned in the Bahamas, Mexico, the United States for medical treatment, Panama, and Egypt where he died. Only in Egypt was he truly welcomed. Government officials in other host countries were alternately welcoming and remote. Price gougers victimized his staff in the Bahamas and Panama. Promises of visa extensions were suddenly rescinded, often without explanation. He had been a strong friend to the West and an enemy of communism; but in return, the West treated him with indifference. In his exile, he was a man without a country. The Shah never blames himself for his predicament although he freely blames others—Western politicians and journalists, the Iranian Communist Party, Iranian religious leaders, and the oil consortiums. His point of view is very one-sided and, as a result, his account becomes a book of heroes and villains.

The Shah is particularly sensitive to Western accusations that he was a despot who violated the human rights of Iranians. He defends the actions of his secret police, SAVAK, in fighting communism and claims that tales of torture of political dissidents were highly exaggerated. He sees himself as a humanitarian who introduced land reform and championed the rights of women. Instead of denouncing him, American Civil Rights advocates should denounce his worst enemy, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the successful revolution against him and is the current Iranian ruler. Khomeini and his henchmen set up kangaroo courts to “try” the Shah’s supporters and quickly liquidate them. Murder, bloodshed, and executions are rampant in Iran again as they were before the Pahlavi Dynasty came into being. Khomeini is destroying Iran’s progressive society with his ultra religious policies. The past and present woes of Iran cannot then be blamed on the Shah. With such faulty reasoning does the Shah escape having to explain why the consequences of his domestic and foreign policies united the Iranian masses against him.

The Shah’s obsessive fear of communism emerges repeatedly when he speaks of the problems facing the West. He warns of the grand design of Soviet expansionism, world domination, and is alarmed that there is no masterplan to stop Soviet domination of the world. The U.S.S.R. will reach the zenith of its strength in 1983 when the United States is at its nadir and most in need of bases abroad and firm foreign alliances. Under his rule, Iran was an accommodating ally. Under Khomeini, Iran is not. The U.S.S.R. will be the ultimate beneficiary of Khomeini’s regime since a chaotic, militarily weak Iran will be unable to resist a Soviet offensive in the Middle East. Since Iran shares a border with the U.S.S.R. and the Shah fought Communist infiltration and attempted takeovers of provincial and national government, his observations about Soviet intentions are convincing.

He continually scolds the West for tolerating communism and abandoning hardline diplomacy. Communism is tyranny, yet anything Marxist is acceptable in the West while right-wing policies are denounced. The West, he concludes, is ignorant and foolish in this flirtation with communism. If no firm stand is taken against the spread of communism, other emerging nations like Angola will become Communist satellites. In this argument, the Shah is really preoccupied with defending his own right-wing policies or strong-arm rule criticized by the West as repressive. By speaking in terms of global politics, he avoids having to discuss what are specifically Iranian problems. His concern is the destiny of the free world; but he never makes clear how his domestic policies helped the West contain communism. The Shah demonstrates a constant propensity for confusing issues. In this light, his arguments become self-righteous.

Why did the Iranian masses unite so violently and successfully against the Shah? He seems incapable of answering this question based on mistakes made during his reign. He has to concoct answers based on alleged conspiracies, historic precedent, and Western indifference. Some of his worst indictments are against the oil consortiums which he calls longtime adversaries.

Since the oil consortiums refused to sign a new oil purchase agreement in 1978, he believes that they knew of the impending revolution and encouraged the revolutionary factions. This was their retaliation against oil price increases proposed by the Shah in 1973 and adopted by Oil Producing Exporting Countries (OPEC). The first increases more than doubled the price of oil with more gradual increases planned. Reaction in the West was immediate and defamatory. The Shah’s character has been defamed ever since, even though major Western institutions accepted his theories as the only worldwide energy policy. Western journalists continued to portray him as the price hawk who undermined Western economic stability.

In his defense,...

(The entire section is 2386 words.)