Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It Can’t Happen Here? Well, Maybe, But…

February 4, 2014

Anyone else see the economic, religious, political and cultural similarities between the United States today and Iran under the last days of the Shah?


In 1978, the Shah’s secret police, the Savak, had a death grip on the populations, fearing an uprising. They saw the uprising coming internally, but focused on military and political forces, and missed the entire cause of the unrest.


Iran in 1978 was emerging from a half-century of slow cultural diversification forced by the Shah. The country had a very small middle class. There was a growing religious right wing, whose power was deemed dangerous by the secret police. The military was clearly undecided regarding whose side they favored, and so were left out of the political equation.


The United States today is emerging from its most serious economic catastrophe in over seventy years. Our country’s middle class is swiftly growing smaller and more irrelevant as the gulf between rich and poor continues to leave the majority of Americans economically disenfranchised. The religious right wing is growing. The intelligence services – NSA, CIA, FBI, all see a growing threat within America from Americans. The political fringes – both right and left – are growing in power, leaving moderates and the military out of the “power” equation.


It’s a nightmare come true. And, we all remember how it ended up for Iran in 1979. As Frank Zappa sang with the Mothers of Invention so many decades ago, “It can’t happen here.” The song, by the way, was satire.


Was there anything that the Shah could have done to prevent his overthrow? What if he’d had a more open policy toward dissent? What if he’d gone even more the other way, and had the most repressive regime in human history? History seems to indicate that no given policy works forever, and many simply don’t work at all.


Is there a lesson here for us? Or has our regime begun to wind down? It’s an issue we should try to address, but I think it’s just too damn scary for anyone to ponder for very long, and no real answers are easy to come by.


Like global warming and the cigarettes-cause-cancer controversies, this one could play out for a long time. What comes to my mind is the old saw, ‘Nero fiddles while Rome burns.’

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