The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978: how being a US colony led to the suppression of democracy in Iran

Carlton Meyer, “The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978” (Tales of the American Empire, 13 March 2020)

In 2013 the CIA finally owned up to what was probably the most open secret in the global intelligence community: that the organisation had masterminded the overthrow of the popular Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and helped make Mohammed Reza Pahlavi absolute monarch of the country, with all the consequences of political corruption and severe repression that followed for the next 25 years. But even before 1953, as Carlton Meyer reveals in this 9-minute video, Iran had been a puppet state colony of the United States as far back as 1941. For much of the first half of the 20th century, Iran had been afflicted by British meddling in its politics through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which Meyer mistakenly calls the Anglo-American Oil Company) which had claimed first dibs on the country’s oil since Winston Churchill, as head of the Admiralty, decided to make oil the main fuel for British naval ships. This decision enabled to British to build larger, faster and more fuel-efficient sea-going vessels but it also meant that Iran’s oil became a precious commodity and the British were determined to keep that commodity for themselves.

When the British decided to steal Iranian oil outright in the early 1940s due to London’s inability to pay for the royalties, they enlisted the help of the Americans in taking over Iran’s oil. Thousands of Americans poured into the country as advisors to the then newly installed Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, as his father (who had been a little too partial towards Germany) was whisked away into exile. Even after the war ended and US soldiers began leaving Iran, the country was still under neo-colonial US control. The Western advisors ignored the plight of ordinary Iranians who in the early 1950s brought to power Mohammed Mossadegh as Prime Minister. When Mossadegh nationalised the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the British and the Americans under President Eisenhower conspired to overthrow Mossadegh in an early Color Revolution.

The video sweeps over this early history efficiently with Meyer’s even-toned narration though some pictures are not very relevant to the narration. Poor old Mossadegh is completely missing from photographs, film and narration. Meyer goes very quickly over the Shah’s legacy of repressing Iranians through his secret police (SAVAK) and his family’s corruption and lavish lifestyles while ordinary Iranians lived in poverty and were subjected to forced modernisation. Eventually all classes revolted against the Shah in 1978 and the revolution was very quickly taken over by religious leaders such as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who returned to Iran in triumph in early 1979. The Americans in Iran were expelled.

While some details of the video can be disputed – Khomeini and other religious leaders did not enjoy universal popularity among all classes that were against the Shah, and the country did have a secular government for a while before Khomeini installed an Islamic government – on the whole the video presents a good general survey of American domination of Iran during puppet ruler Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s reign. Once again this shameful example highlights US imperial hypocrisy and indifference where the resources of poor countries needed by the US (and the British before them) are stolen to the detriment and impoverishment of their rightful owners. At least the video ends on an upbeat note: the Iranians now have a democracy (where presidential candidates are vetted by government and religious authorities before they are allowed to campaign: this is no more and no less what happens in most Western countries) and the lives of most Iranians have improved since the late 1980s at least.