From November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, the Islamic Republic of Iran held 52 Americans (mostly diplomats) hostage. It lasted 444 days. Islamists who supported the agenda of the Ayatollah Khomeini, attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and captured the Americans. Most were part of the diplomatic staff. Some were Marine guards, others were just ordinary Americans in the country but at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Why did Iran do this clear violation of international law and in effect declare war upon the U.S.? The deposed former ruler of Iran, Shah Reza Pahlavi had cancer, and asked President Jimmy Carter if he could fly from his exile in Mexico to the U.S. for cancer treatment. The President agreed. Once the Shah was in the U.S., Iran demanded that we hand over the Shah for a war crimes trial. Carter denied the request, and Iran responded by invading our embassy (recognized as sovereign U.S. territory) and capturing U.S. citizens. (Interesting that Iran never made these demands of Mexico, nor of Egypt when the Shah later fled there…nor did the Iranians attack their embassies.)
The U.S. hostages were tortured. They were beaten. President Carter tried a military rescue in April of 1980, but tragically it ended in disaster with 8 U.S. servicemen dead, and no hostages rescued. (More on the details of that attempt in a future blog.)
Carter’s popularity plummeted, and in November of 1980 America elected Ronald Reagan in a landslide election of epic proportions. Jimmy Carter carried only one state (Massachusetts). Reagan won all the rest.
Negotiations continued, but minutes after Reagan was sworn in on January 21, 1981, Iran released all the hostages.