Iran V: The White Revolution

Iran V: The White Revolution

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Here we are, the absolute last episode (I promise) before we get to the Iranian Revolution and, I think, the Iran-Iraq War.

In this episode, we’re covering the Shah’s White Revolution, the new liberal, socialist Shi’ite theologians like Shariati, and the dark reign of SAVAK in 1960s and 1970s Iran, along with the Shah’s famous birthday party for Iranian monarchy.

The Shah rang in the decade with a poorly-dated extravaganza attended by most of the ‘Free World’ heads of state, catered by Maxime’s of Paris and funded to the tune of anywhere from $17 to $200 million in 1970s dollars.

Complete with parades of Medes and ancient Persians

The party was supposed to mark, for the Shah, his assumption, finally, of full control, and of an authority equal to his father’s, and, presumably, the ancient kings of kings.

The party was, unfortunately for the Shah, also an indication of his total disconnect with his people. And to them, another example of the Iranian monarch’s profligate spending of what could, or might, have been the people’s share of Iranian petrodollars.

The knock-on effects of the Shah’s White Revolution, combined with distaste for American conduct, culture, and imposition, were beginning to create pervasive discontent with the Shah’s regime, both inside Iran and among its emigres in Europe and the United States. That Mohammad Reza Pahlavi failed to catch wind of that dissent was no surprise, as his brutal secret police, the Organization of Intelligence and National Security, or SAVAK, had been disappearing and torturing everyone who crossed the political line in the country, even in private, since the late 1950s.


The agency’s much-feared emblem

Set up with the help of the CIA and Mossad, SAVAK operated first with the help of the American General Herbert Norman Schwartzkopf, the father of the General Schwartzkopf you know from Desert Storm. Once the General died in 1958, a team of CIA advisers took over his role with SAVAK, which effectively repressed nearly all political expression in Iran and did its best to silence the expatriate communities overseas as well.

But this man, in exile in Najaf, was waiting in the wings. And it would only be a matter of time before the grand edifice the Shah had built would come tumbling down.

And last but never least, references.

Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations. New Press, 2013.

Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran: Between Two Revolutions.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 January 1975:

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 June 1976:

Axworthy, Michael. Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Baraheni, Reza. “Terror in Iran.” The New York Review of Books, 28 October 1976.

Byrne, Malcolm. “The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup.” The National Security Archive, last modified 29 November 2000,

The Cambridge History of Iran: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Edited by Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly and Charles Melville. Vol. VII. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Weidenfeld1963.

Fatemi, N. S. 1985. “The Anglo Persian Agreement of 1919.” Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol II: 59.

Katouzian, Homa. The Political Economy of Modern Iran: Despotism and Pseudo-Modernism, 1926-1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1981.

Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Wiley, 2003.

Roosevelt, Kermit. Countercoup: The Struggle for Control of Iran. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Rothschild, Emily. “The Boom in the Death Business.” The New York Review of Books, 2 October, 1975.

Steel, Ronald. “Impossible Dreams.”  The New York Review of Books, 12 September 1968.


Audio Acknowledgements

Doctor Turtle. “Grow Grotesque.”

Doctor Turtle. “King Thumbscrew the Third.”

Interview with the Shah.” From “Shah of Iran,” BBC Documentary. Youtube.

IranAir TV Commercial in America 1970s.” Mardetanha. YouTube.

Iran, SAVAK, and the CIA: Financial Support and Training.” The Film Archives. YouTube.


Persian Folk Music.” Traditional Music Channel. YouTube.


President John F. Kennedy’s ‘Peace Speech’ at American University.” C-SPAN. YouTube.

Shah of Iran on the Issue of Torture.” Clip from “Crisis in Iran,” from the History Channel. YouTube.


Unrest in Iran.” National Archives – National Security Council. Central Intelligence Agency. (09/18/1947 – 12/04/1981). – ARC 647011 / LI 263.400. YouTube.

3 thoughts on “Iran V: The White Revolution”

  1. I like the podcast (have been recommending it to friends and family) but found the liberal nationalist spiel towards the end of this one a bit hard to swallow. I don’t buy for one second that a country which disenfranchised millions of its own people and still enforced racial segregation ever had any real intention of spreading democracy in the developing world. I doubt you believe 50s/60s USSR was fighting for the workers of the world while banning trade unions and arresting strikers at home, (no matter what inspiring speeches might have been made in the Kremlin at the time) but you seem strangely fine with taking american figureheads at face value.

    Anyway nitpicks aside, love how thorough this podcast is and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from you. (even if I disagree on some stuff here and there) Thanks for all the hours of thorough research that obviously goes into these!

    1. Hey Pincher, I’m traveling and I’ll reply to this in a couple of days but I just wanted to apologize for not approving it sooner—just logged into WordPress for the first time in a couple weeks.

    2. Hey Pincher—

      Looks like I had time today after all.

      I get what you mean about that long aside on Kennedy and the Big Dream. I mean, the proof is in the pudding on this one; the US went on to do the wrong thing over and over again, almost without fail.

      What I was trying to express, I think, was that for all that the US was the (in T. R. Fehrenbach’s terms) the inheritor of the British’s role as leader of the West and the beneficiary of white colonialism in general, this was maybe the first time in history when the predominant world power was one which, at least rhetorically, rejected the concept of empire and which, in Cold War administration after Cold War administration, publicly advocated for an independent and politically diverse community of nations. That despite that the opportunity and the will may always have been illusory and despite that, obviously, we shit the bed, there was this brief, sparkling chance for a new and better model, and the singular beauty of that vision is part of what makes everything that’s happened on our part since 1946 doubly tragic.

      I wouldn’t call that a nitpick as much as good, legitimate criticism, and if you’ve got any more of it, I’d be happy to hear and talk. Likewise, while I’ve got a liberal American Catholic’s burning desire to deify JFK, Vietnam’s next and it’s going to be ugly in Camelot.

      I appreciate the support! All the time I spend on publicity is time away from the books, and it takes me long enough to crank these out already.

      You mind if I ask where you’re from?

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