Myth Of The 20th Century – Episode 3: The Iranian Revolution

Welcome to the Myth of the 20th Century. The podcast airs on Fridays.

— Brought to you by —

Adam Smith, Hank Oslo, and Nick Mason.


After nearly two years of demonstrations against the Shah and his subsequent exile, on April 1st 1979 Iran elected by referendum Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the Supreme Leader of a new Islamic republic, thus ending the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had held power since WWII.

To Western eyes, the Iranian Revolution may appear to have come out of nowhere, considering economic progress in Iran and the good relations the Western powers had with the Shah. However, the conflict between modernism and traditionalism stretch back as far as the 12th century as Iran observed economic and scientific progress in Europe, compounded later by the military and territorial gains of European colonialism, it struggled to reconcile its own traditions dating back to Persian empire and Zoroastrianism prior to Islam’s rise in 7th century. After being exiled in 1964, Ruhollah Khomeini had become a symbol for many in Iran seeking a return to traditionalism, and a voice for many in the country as they listened to his widely distributed audio tapes who were frustrated with what they saw as corruption in the Shah’s regime and illegitimacy of authority stemming from his backing by the US and the UK after the 1953 coup of the Mossadegh government.

As the price of oil collapsed in 1976, and with the election of Jimmy Carter in the United States and liberal media and NGOs such as Amnesty International openly criticizing the Shah’s human rights record, Khomeini and his followers were able to instigate a revolution that overturned the weakened and discredited Shah. Since then, the theocratic government of Iran has in many ways become more autocratic than its predecessor, and has counterposed itself explicitly against the Unites States and Israel, most notably with the former during the 444 days of holding 52 of its citizens hostage in the American embassy in Tehran at the outbreak of the revolution. After fighting a bloody war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988, and the subsequent destruction of its Iraqi rival over the next three decades, Iran has emerged as a regional power that continues to project influence through the Shia Muslim world with sponsorship of groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and notable efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.


1901- D’arcy concession
1907- Partition between UK and USSR
1908- Oil struck in Abadan
1917- Russian Revolution
1919- Ango-Iranian takes over D’arcy concession
1921- Reza Khan operation against Qajars
1926- Reza Shah Pahlavi is anointed
1933- Shah renegotiates the D’arcy concession
1941- UK and USSR invade Iran and Reza abdicates, son Mohammad Reza assumes throne
1944- Reza dies in Johannesburg, attempt on Mohammad Reza’s life
1951- Mossadegh nationalizes oil
1952- Gamal Abdel Nasser installed as President of Egypt
1953- Mossadegh overthrown
1961- White Revolution
1963- June 5th uprising
1964- Khomeini exiled from Iran
1973-74- oil price triples
1976- Jimmy Carter elected President of the United States
1976- oil price collapses
1978-79- Islamic Revolution


– The Anglo American Establishment, Quigley (1981)
– All the Shah’s Men, Kinzer (2003)
– The Shah and the Ayatollah, Hoveyda (2003)
– Devil’s Game, Dreyfuss (2006)
– Khomeini’s Ghost, Coughlin (2010)
– Why Intelligence Fails, Jervis (2010)
– The Brothers, Kinzer (2013)
– US Foreign Policy and the Iranian Revolution, Emery (2013)
– Pepe Escobar:
– Iranian historian Abdollah Shahbazi

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  1. Have you heard of Jason Reza Jorjani? He’s into the whole Zoroastrian restoration movement.

  2. I just want to let you gentlemen know that I’m really enjoying these podcasts. Keep up the excellent work.

  3. Jorjani’s interesting – Nick is more knowledgable about the metaphysical than I but he’s mentioned him to me. Marble – thanks, man.

    1. The Gooz Father March 7, 2017 at 2:49 am

      This is the first podcast of yours that I listened to. Your assessment of the Iranian situation is interesting and I think you’re right about a lot of it. Surely, there’s no better way to describe Iran than as a sleepy old empire. I’ll be a regular listener of yours from here, I’m sure.

      1. The Gooz Father March 7, 2017 at 2:53 am

        Also, I just want to mention that Sufism just means Islamic mysticism. You mentioned before that Iranian Shia has a unique mysticism that the Sunnis do not have. Iranian Shia is itself a form of Sufism. Mysticism is heretical in Islam, so Iranians are also heretics. Iran has imbued its own Islam with the necessary mysticism to preserve in some fashion the philosophy and spirit of pre-Islamic Iran. Today’s Mullahs are another story, though.

        1. Thanks for your comment.

  4. You seek an alternative explanation for the anti-American character of the Iranian Revolution–BESIDES the elephant in the room, the 1953 coup–and the best you can come up with is: 1. What you allege was a joint MI6/CIA overthrow of King Farouk in Egypt* (why would Iranians care more about Arab Sunni North African Egypt than their own country?); 2. Kennedy’s support for agrarian reform and female suffrage, along with the rest of the Shah’s progressive reforms (seems more like a subset of the original complaint); 3. Johnson’s support for Israel during the 1967 war (the U.S.-Israeli relationship was not significant until after 1967; Israel had to attack preemptively because America, and the entire rest of the world, looked the other way when Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, leaving Israel to fend for itself; Iran did not participate in any of the Arab-Israeli Wars, and the vast majority of Iranians could hardly care less); and 4. The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan 17 years after the Iranian Revolution, which you attribute to the CIA (in turn, you suggest that Israel–not the Cold War with the Soviet Union–determined U.S. policy with regard to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan).

    These assertions are obviously baseless and made up, to the point of being self-refuting. I will note only that the U.S. made Iran a regional hegemon by deposing both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, and they still chant “Death to America!” every Friday.

    *A comically absurd claim, based presumably on the heavily fictionalized memoirs of former CIA officer Miles Copeland Jr. Even if that yarn-spinner was to be believed, the most Copeland alleges is that the CIA had pre-coup contacts with Nasser’s “Free Officers”; he says nothing about material support for the plot, or Nasser being “installed” by the CIA. More importantly, your casual, unsourced claim of MI6 involvement betrays your staggering ignorance on this topic: You can look at Suez and say the U.S. was soft on Nasser (though its goal of converting Egypt into an American client state was eventually achieved under Nasser’s successors). Nasser, however, was never supported by the U.K.; to the contrary, he was Public Enemy Number One, and the subject of more MI6 assassination schemes than just about anyone.

    1. Your comments are welcome if not necessarily endorsed. Nick has more expertise in the Iran department than I, but where I will back him up is his suspicion of the “official” narrative. Not to say some or most of it is correct. But in my brief studies of this period and part of the world, I came across an incredible amount of contradictory information, not to mention that fact that the CIA admitted they too had been caught flat footed. Whether this is true or not is also beyond my knowledge. But part of our show’s mission is to question the Wikipedia version of history, and if we did not generate comments such as yours, I feel like we would not be doing part of our job. The truth is a multi-headed hydra, depending on whom you ask.. Thanks for your comment.

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