The Iran Hostage Crisis ended on this day in 1981, after lasting 444 days. If Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah (2006) is the definitive chronicle of the larger ordeal, Robert Wright’s Our Man in Tehran (2010), based on recently unclassified documents and first-person interviews, may be required reading for the side story of Ken Taylor, the “Scarlet Pimpernel” of the “Canadian Caper” in which, three months into the crisis, six American diplomats were covertly rescued. Wright’s account begins on the morning of September 11, 2001, with Taylor and his wife at a ferry terminal across the Hudson River from the events in Manhattan; having just returned on one of the last flights allowed to land that day, Taylor gazed at the carnage in shock, but not in surprise:
As he watched the World Trade Center collapse in a heap of ash and twisted steel…Taylor recalled with visceral intensity how two decades earlier a band of nameless students had become national heroes in Iran for taking one hundred American diplomats hostage. September 11 would usher in a brave new world of stateless, lawless terrorism, but for Taylor, the true catalyst had come on November 5, 1979, the day Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini gave his blessing to the students’ occupation of the U. S. embassy compound in Tehran, transforming a short-term “set-in” into an interminable crisis. “March forward bravely and deal with devilish American power!” the ayatollah told his young followers. With this pronouncement, Taylor knew that Khomeini had set in motion “a war with no holds barred.”
Terry Waite was taken into captivity on this day in 1987 while attempting to negotiate his third hostage release, this time in Lebanon. Taken on Trust, Waite’s book about his four-year ordeal, begins with his detailed recollection of his capture and the broken trust behind it:
It was because my contact gave me his word “as a Muslim” that I had decided to trust him. I peered through the side windows of the car. Every minute or two a brilliant flash of light illuminated the surrealistic landscape. Only an El Greco could have captured the stark drama of the scene. The pain, the horror, the light, the shadows, the beauty, and behind it all a people suffering, weeping, dying. Suddenly, without warning, the driver pulled the car to the side of the road.
“Why do we stop here?”
“You must get out — we have a puncture.”
I knew he was lying….
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.