Three weeks ago, most of the people who told me about their calls to the Iranian Embassy said they had been shouted at, cursed or abruptly cut off.
Today, most callers report they were spoken to civilly and at great length -- usually from 20 to 45 minutes.
About 80 percent of the reports that reach me now include a statement on the order of, "It was a very interesting conversation." It is clear that after Iranian officials realized that discourtesy was harming their cause, new instructions were given to those who answer the phones at the embassy. Propaganda specialists now take pains to be courteous and to score debating points. To some extent, they are succeeding.
The arguments that are scoring for them may surprise you. One caller said the attack on the American Embassy was "a clear violation of international law that governs diplomatic immunity." The answer given her was, "America violated international law first. The Iranian government requested the U.S.A. not to admit the shah but the U.S.A. ignored that request, in violation of international law. The government of Iran was within its rights to retaliate." No support was offered for the novel concept that the denial of a request is a violation of international law.
A caller who criticized the Iranian government for provoking "uncivilized attacks against Americans," was given the response, "What about the bad treatment Iranians have been getting in America? People refuse to buy from Iranian stores. American students won't even speak to Iranian students. Who are you to complain about bad treatment?"
I was dismayed to hear my reader say, "You know, he had a point there." The Iranian propagandist had ignored the fact that his government had, as a matter of official policy, provoked mob action against Americans, and had expressed approval of those mob actions afterward. In this country, the rights of Iranians are protected by our courts. Official policy is emphatically against mob violence. We assign policemen to guard the Iranian Embassy around the clock, but the Iranians assigned agents (who pretended to be students) to attack the American Embassy. Yet my caller had been conned into thinking the propagandist had a valid point.
A woman of deep religious conviction pleaded, "Can't we settle this in a peacefully and friendly way?" The answer was, "We want the shah delivered to us; you want the hostages delivered to you. You are very stubborn. You do not yield one inch." In other words, "We are righteously resolute but you guys are just plain stubborn."
Pure of heart, the woman persisted. "We should be friends, not enemies," she said. The Iranian propagandist had a ready response. "The Iranian people do not dislike the American people," he said. "They dislike only the American government, which consists of 5,000 liars and cheats."
And the Iranian government consists of one saint?
Another thing that might surprise you: Those who answer telephones at the Iranian Embassy have been "revealing" that the shah stole a lot of money from the Iranian people and caused the deaths of many of his subjects whose only crime was their opposition to his tyrannical rule. "I found that very interesting," readers tell me. "I didn't know the shah had done things like that."
Well, six months after the Marshall Plan was proposed, explained, examined, attacked, defended, debated, and discussed in every hamlet in America, a gallup poll asked Americans how they felt about it. Of the people questioned in that poll, half had never even heard about the Marshall Plan.
And today there are people who have never heard about the transgressions of the former shah. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised.
When John Paul Jones rejected a demand for surrender with the message, "We have not yet begun to fight," a bloddied American sailor on the deck below muttered, "In every outfit, there's got to be at least one guy who doesn't know what's going on." Through the years, the ranks of the uninformed appear to remain rather constant.
Yes, the shah was once a dictator who killed people who opposed him.Yes, the ayatollah is now a dictator who kills people who oppose him.
If somebody were to put a gun to my head and force me to choose between these two unappetizing leaders, I'm afraid I might have to express a preference for His Everlasting Magnificence, The Incomparable Pshaw of Pshaws, Brightest Star in the Universe and Undisputed Comptroller of the Pahlavi Foundation for the Encouragement and Protection of Deserving Pahlavis in Exile, Inc.
At least it can be said of The Pshaw that he was trying to lead Iran into the 18th Century. The ayatollah has been trying to lead it back into a fetal position.