Iran Hostage Crisis: 444 Days To Freedom

| July 7, 2006

November 4th 1979 changed the lives of 66 American, both diplomats and civilians, forever. Considered the first Islamic revolution in the modern time, Iranian students of the new Iranian Regime in 1979 captured the American embassy in Tehran, for what ended up lasting 444 days. This documentary is a solemn tale told through the eyes of several hostages who lived to tell the story.
What started off as a calm November morning turned into a catastrophe by 11am. Thousands of Iranian students surrounded the embassy chanting “death to America” and “death to the Shah”. The diplomats inside the chancellery called for help, but a little after 2pm it was apparent that help would not be arriving fast enough. Students broke through the wall of the embassy and began storming towards the chancellery. The only thing the Americans could do was shred important documents and follows the student’s forceful commands. The hostages were blindfolded and led out of the embassy with no knowledge as to where they were being taken.
The documentary focuses on the root of fear. Through interviews of the actual hostages and their words, it enables the viewer to feel as if they too are being blindly guided as hostage in a culture so utterly different from ours
The Iranian students original plan was to keep the hostages for 3-5 days, merely to make a stand. With the sudden support of the government and mass public appeal, the ordeal lasted the great length of 444 days. Starting with a group of 79 outraged radical Iranian students with much angst toward the United States for their support of the Shah for over 8 presidencies, the group grew large in numbers until thousands presented themselves at the wall of the embassy on November the 4th.
After capturing the hostages and tearing through the embassy, the Iranians found fake license plates, fake ID’s, important documents that had been shredded, along with a number of fake passports. The students publicly proclaimed that they had captured spies. This made the situation more difficult for the Americans, and also supplied the Iranians with support from their country. President Carter was stumped. Refusing to return the Shah to Iran, the hostages remained bound and silenced with no knowledge of what the future could hold.
With archived footage shot by the Iranian students, it is strange to see the world from the aggressor’s side. The footage of the actual attack on the embassy is so brutal and chaotic. Flags burning, destruction for the sake of destruction, then too see American people blindfolded and bound, being led out of the embassy, makes you feel as helpless as the hostages themselves.
After one week had passed it was apparent that not even the most powerful nation in the world could not free their people. Carter went for a straight punch. He cut off all oil from Iran and public affairs. Figuring that this would stump the Iranians and force them to return the hostages turned out to be a poor assumption.
Through the interviews of the actual hostages is where the story really is told. Frightening and intriguing, it is hard to even fathom the horrified emotions that these individuals were experiencing at that time. The men were separated from the women, not knowing when they would see one another again. 4 ½ months went by where no one was allowed to talk, to see the sun, or to hear of any outside news. The men were bound to chairs by their hands and their feet. Occasionally they were placed sideways so they could sleep. The ropes cut off circulation and allowed for minimal movement.
The woman as well was placed in one room where talking was not allowed and the only distinction between day and night was the flick of the light switch. One woman described the first time she felt the sun, after four months of solitary confinement, as one of the most exhilarating experiences. “To see the sun was tremendous.”
It wasn’t long before Canada was involved with rescuing the hostages. Operation Eagle Claw became the rescue mission. On April 24, 1980 the mission was executed and after losing three of the eight helicopters due to sandstorms, and the death of eight men, the mission was aborted.
The students filmed the hostages and did, on occasion, allow them to send messages home. The hostages were video taped around Christmas time telling their families that they were being treated fine, the food was good, and they hoped to be home soon. Their skin was pale, they looked fatigued, and their voices muted from the great duration of silence.
America was full of anger towards Iran, anger towards the government for not returning their family members sooner. It was 444 days of constant worry. The symbol for America at the time was a seven-year-old girl whose older brother was a hostage in Iran. Her tears, her innocence, and the fear for her brother’s life hit home for many Americans. Empathy was felt not only for this child, but every mother, parent, and lover who suffered with the anxiety of not knowing when or if they would see there loved one again.
In 1980 the death of the Shah and the invasion of Iran from Iraq, took the attention off of the hostages for Iran. The United States Presidential election was held with the defeat of Carter and the beginning of Regan’s presidency. On January 20th, 1981, the day of Regan’s inauguration the United States released eight billion dollars to Iran and the hostages were finally freed. All but eight.
The hostages triumphed on the plane ride home. This was the first time they were all united again. Through the various interviews, the hostage’s anticipation for this moment really came through. There was a huge cheer as they boarded the plane. A cheer as the plane began to move, a cheer as the plane finally took off, a cheer when they entered American air space, and a final cheer when they landed.
Exhausted, traumatized, and thankful to be home, the hostages were greeted by hundreds of thousands of thankful Americans. The reunion with family members became almost painful to watch as tears streamed, and lover’s lips locked for the first time in over 14 months. It was an overwhelming emotional high for the hostages.
The documentary interviews the hostages ten years later. All 52 of the hostages remain grateful for their governments support in getting them home, and push for the return of the remaining 8 hostages still in Iran stating, “we will not let them be forgotten.” The documentary implies that there seems to be no resolution for the remaining eight who have been in Iran for over 11 years as hostages.
I feel the documentary could have been a little stronger had they interviewed the young girl who was 7 at the time when they went back for the 10-year lapse interview. To me she was an incredibly strong character. I was left wondering about the psychological effects on the hostages afterward. How did this event affect the rest of their lives? The overall film as an educational tool was an excellent example of the turbulence at this point in history, but failed to resolve the deeply personal emotions and the psychological aftermath of the hostages. To include this aspect of the story would help the film evolve into something more humanized and personal.
Overall, I felt this was still a powerful documentary of a very timely subject.

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