Remembering the Iran Hostage Crisis

Logan Holmes, Contributing Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— It was more than just a spontaneous act of civil disobedience.

The tensions between Iran and the United States have been brewing for decades and over a multitude of issues.

Although oil is one of these reasons, one incident has influenced the world’s perception of Iran since 1979.

The Iran Hostage Crisis from 1979 to 1980 was an incident where American citizens were held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days.

“The optics of the crisis, innocent civilians being held captive for 444 days on foreign soil, allowed the beginning of a negative view of Iran to take hold in the United States,” says Anthony Trantham, an assistant professor of political science.

Even now, during the 40th anniversary of the crisis, Iran exceeded the amount of nuclear power previously agreed on in the 2015 Nuclear Iran Deal in opposition to President Trump, says Trantham.

The crisis initially started on Nov. 4, 1979, but the circumstances that led to the crisis began in 1953 with the installation of the Shah, a title for kings or rulers of Iran, backed by the U.S. according to the “Iran Hostage Crisis” article by History.

The U.S. backed the new Shah because he was in favor of nationalizing the country’s oil, which was in the interest of the U.S. at the time.

“When a new leader, Muhammad Mossadegh, wanted to nationalize a large percentage of the county’s petroleum that had been formerly under British and American control, political forces worked to install the Shah, who was much more receptive to U.S. interests,” says Trantham.

Under the new Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Iranian people suffered under a strict dictatorial rule that restricted any form of opposition to his authority.

There was only one place to assemble without fear and that was the mosque. It is here that the Iranian Revolution would begin and would become intertwined with the politics of the time.

“The hostage crisis is part of the bigger Iranian Revolution of 1979, when the Iranian people come together to overthrow the Shah and create a new government that’s organized around Islamic politics,” says Matthew Unangst, who is an assistant professor of history here at JU.


Student demonstration against Iranian students at Miami-Dade Community College during hostage crisis.

It was the harsh treatment of the people that created strong feelings of anger towards the Shah. This anger would shift to the United States after President Carter allowed the Shah to receive medical treatment for progressing cancer in the United States.

After this news was received, students overtook the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, demanding the Shah be returned to Iran.

The hostages would be held for 444 days. Coincidentally, they were released the day of former President Reagan’s inauguration.

The Hostage Crisis did not just affect U.S. Iranian relations but possibly changed the outcome of an election. Many believe this crisis cost President Jimmy Carter his re-election to office in the election of 1980.

“Failed diplomatic efforts and rescue attempts, ‘Operation Eagle Claw,’ by Jimmy Carter allowed the public to perceive the president as ineffective in foreign policy— an area where presidential power is typically quite expansive,” says Trantham.

It may not have been a deciding factor in the election, but it swayed public opinion.

Although Iran already holds a less than favored image in the political view and in that of public opinion, after the timing of the election and the release of the hostages, many speculate it was a planned deal.

While it is not certain whether it was a planned event, since it is just a speculation, this notion still took a toll on their image.

After a recent Revolution, Iran is still trying to navigate international politics as well as their own internal politics.

“For diplomacy more generally, Iran is still this kind of Pariah state that other countries are trying to figure out how to negotiate,” says Unangst.

In the future, Iran may become more of a solidified power on the world stage.

As for relations between the United States and Iran, the question of what is the best outcome for this relationship remains.

“A state of simple coexistence may be the most optimistic outcome,” says Trantham.  “The thawing of relations between the two countries does not appear likely in the short-term, as the Trump administration has spent much of this year continually threatening to impose new sanctions on Iran.”