History is indeed written by the victors, as Winston Churchill famously observed. Years later, George Orwell would agree, writing,
History is written by the winners.
In the last analysis our only claim to victory is that if we win the war we shall tell fewer lies about it than our adversaries. The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits ‘atrocities’ but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future.
Given this fact, it is also true that the victors, being the authors of their own history (and, indeed, world history), have an almost infinite capacity to forget the less comfortable moments, which is perfectly predictable.
This selective forgetfulness is a theme running roughshod through American political discourse, and it has been prominent throughout the negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran, which has now been reached. Those who control history also control the present narrative, and they use this fact to their advantage whenever possible.
Throughout the long, arduous, and visibly frustrating negotiations, Iran has been presented within the US mainstream media as a cunning, manipulative player in world affairs, attempting to slyly maneuver its way to the top.
Iranians are said, by some, to be liars, a claim backed with laughable evidence. Iran is said to be a leading state sponsor of terrorism, a claim made without recognition of the incredible hypocrisy underlying it.
In short, I have yet to see the Iran nuclear negotiations placed into historical context within the mainstream. Discussions are centered around the here and now, only venturing back in time if it is useful for the victors; for instance, mentions of the hostage crisis in 1979 enter the discussion frequently, again, completely lacking any historical context — not that context makes these events any less reprehensible, but it provides a deeper understanding than the superficial narrative portrayed by the media. History matters.
Much is made of Iran’s “Death to America” chants (again, reprehensible), but nothing is made of the constant threats of military action against Iran by the US and Israel, and nothing is made of the torture and death that was actually brought about in Iran by the Shah, who was ushered into power by the United States, and whose security forces, SAVAK, were trained by both the United States and Israel.
The rise and reign of the Shah and his intimidating security team undoubtedly contributed to the radicalism that would arise, and take control, in the late 1970s.
Going back further, there is little mention of the fact that the United States participated, along with the UK, in a coup that overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddegh, a secular nationalist who wished to use Iran’s oil wealth for the benefit of Iranians, a desire which was deemed unacceptable to Western oil interests.
There is little mention of the fact that the United States used to support Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy, beginning under the so-called Atoms for Peace program, with seemingly little worry about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Iran made the argument that the development of nuclear energy would allow them to spare their vast oil reserves for other uses, an argument that was accepted in the past, but is flatly rejected with scorn today.
There is little mention of the fact that the United States supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq throughout the Iran-Iraq war, a war in which Hussein, later to become the United States’ most bitter enemy, used chemical weapons in his brutal invasion, which would result in the death of up to one million people, when combining Iranian and Iraqi casualties.
As if the history couldn’t get any more insane, Ronald Reagan, while supporting Iraq, was also illegally sending arms to Iran, a series of events now known as the Iran-Contra Scandal.
In summary, there is little mention of the fact that the United States has not been an innocent player (to put it politely) in its dealings with Iran throughout the past several decades; Iran is the dishonest, brutal, terrorism-sponsoring nation, according to our subservient media, while the United States is the benevolent “City on a Hill” attempting to solve the world’s problems.
We may not remember these important historical facts, because we are the victors, but those who come out on the losing end tend to have a better grasp of reality, for a reason that should be obvious: they have to live with the scars of the past.
Predictably, only Iran’s faults and crimes — which are undoubtedly real — are brought to light in current discussions. No one dares to mention the fact that it takes two to tango, and that things are never as simple or as one-sided as they seem.
There have been crimes committed — and there are currently crimes being committed — by both sides.
Today, there are still American prisoners being held in Iran. The current regime is, without a doubt, extreme and deplorable in many ways, including but of course not limited to its brutal treatment of homosexuals and political dissidents.
The United States has overthrown Iran’s government, participated in the slaughter of Iranians, and backed a decades-long, highly repressive dictatorship. The United States also has its own domestic problems, which are often downplayed or ignored while its politicians continue to lecture other nations on the importance of human rights.
Currently, as much as American pundits and politicians scream about Iran funding militant groups, which is troubling, the United States is, among many other things, directly supporting Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen, which consistently kills civilians. Is the United States willing to call itself a state sponsor of terrorism?
Until we come to grips with the complex history of the United States’ relationship with Iran, and until we push back strongly against the ethnocentric, one-sided narrative peddled endlessly by the mainstream media in the present, until we acknowledge the needs of the Iranian population, which is undoubtedly ravaged by economic warfare, and until we allow Iranians to tell their own story rather than telling it for them, we will not be able to make rational and humane decisions that will be best for the people of all countries involved, and indeed the entire world.
The current nuclear deal with Iran shows that diplomacy can win over warmongering, at least for now. Republicans and those who refuse to negotiate, regardless of the costs, will fight to the bitter end for the collapse of this historic deal.
If they are allowed to shape the narrative, allowed to forget history, allowed to peddle American exceptionalism, and allowed to ignore the costs of rejecting diplomatic solutions in favor of military solutions, we all lose.