The Fall of Heaven

The Fall of Heaven

by Andrew Scott Cooper

Overview: In this remarkably human portrait of one of the twentieth century's most complicated personalities, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Andrew Scott Cooper traces the Shah's life from childhood through his ascension to the throne in 1941. He draws the turbulence of the post-war era during which the Shah survived assassination attempts and coup plots to build a modern, pro-Western state and launch Iran onto the world stage as one of the world's top five powers. Readers get the story of the Shah's political career alongside the story of his courtship and marriage to Farah Diba, who became a power in her own right, the beloved family they created, and an exclusive look at life inside the palace during the Iranian Revolution. Cooper's investigative account ultimately delivers the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty through the eyes of those who were there: leading Iranian revolutionaries; President Jimmy Carter and White House officials; US Ambassador William Sullivan and his staff in the American embassy in Tehran; American families caught up in the drama; even Empress Farah herself, and the rest of the Iranian Imperial family. Intimate and sweeping at once, The Fall of Heaven recreates in stunning detail the dramatic and final days of one of the world's most legendary ruling families, the unseating of which helped set the stage for the current state of the Middle East.

Deanna Boe (11/26/19): This is a book for those who enjoy reading about recent history. It is for those who wonder and worry about the events in the Middle East and how it got that way. This is not a light hearted and easy to read book, but a book that shines a different light upon the collapse of the Iranian Empire under the Shah. It especially appealed to me because I lived in Iran from 1974 to 1976 when the Shah appeared to have the country totally under his control. Everyone knew that “Savak” (the Shah’s undercover agents) was listening and so little negative was said while I was living in Iran which prevented anyone from really knowing the true feelings of the Iranians. This book opened my eyes to not only the true nature of the Shah but also our duplicity in helping Khomeini coming to power.

I don’t know how our CIA is today, but I know it was more or less useless when it came to the era of Vietnam and Iran. The CIA, along with Ambassador Sullivan, and the National Security Adviser Brzezinski totally missed what was happening the last year in Iran. They did not give the correct information to President Carter. Iran was reliant upon us and we let down not only the people of Iran but also the Shah.

Ambassador Sullivan did not want to go to Iran. He knew nothing about the Middle East and especially Iran. He knew nothing about the religion, the leaders, and how the hierarchy worked. “Sullivan was at sea in Iran: the complexities of the country’s political fabric, its religious traditions, its culture, and the characteristics of its people eluded him.” He did not speak Farsi (the Iranian national language) nor did he appear to take any measure to get to know what was really happening all around him. For instance he took a two month vacation to Mexico (where he would retire) just when the situation in Iran was fast reaching the climax that would oust the Shah. The CIA in November (the Shah left Iran in January) was busy assuring Carter the military supports the monarchy. Sullivan appeared to be only concerned about our losing control of the oil fields. Little thought was given to Israel (another main ally) and how Iran was in accord with Egypt in the support of Israel and supplied them with almost all of its oil. In the meantime Khomeini was busy trying to contain his hatred of Americans in order to deceive us of his real intentions. Sullivan wrote a telegram that if the Shah left that Khomeini “could return to Iran in triumph and hold a Gandhi-like position in the political constellation.” Could that telegram be any more ludicrous? Ironically it had been felt that Savak murdered thousands under the Shah, recent information now shows it was in the hundreds; whereas under Khomeini hundreds of thousands were put to death in the ten years he was in power.

President Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordon both realized how vital it was for the Shah to remain in Iran. They were afraid without him it would “destabilize the Middle East, and unleash a wave of religious and political violence for years to come.” How true that was and is! We turned our backs on an important ally and have reaped the consequences. All because our Ambassador, CIA, and National Security Advisor didn’t begin to understand what was happening in Iran. Brzezinski wrote to Carter after the Shah left stating (and he underlined these words): “We should not over-generalize from the Iran case….Islamic revivalist movements are NOT sweeping the Middle East and are NOT likely to be a wave of the future.”

The saddest part of the book was reading how the Shah felt so abandoned in the end. He had tried to bring Iran out of the Middle Ages. He made sure those in the villages had free education and yet they were the students who rose up against him. “Iran under his watch experienced one of the greatest artist and cultural revivals in its modern history….on its way to becoming the regional hub for industry, science, and medicine.” In the end, all of this was for naught, perhaps because it had progressed too quickly.

Asked why he hadn’t used his military to put down the uprising the Shah said: “If you wanted someone to kill my people you had to find someone else.” He pointed out that someone else had given the order in the 1963 uprising, it hadn’t been him. There is so much more of interest in this book and our involvement in it. Was the Shah perfect, absolutely not, but he was trying to bring a bright and modern spot to the Middle East.
Rating: *****

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