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Bringing Back Mosaddegh

by STEPHEN KINZER

09 Jan 2011 11:1025 Comments
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Update November 25, 2011: The full app has just been released and is available free if downloaded in the next week.

[ spotlight ] It has been nearly fifteen years since, during a reporting trip to Iran, I decided I needed to read a book about how the CIA and Britain's Secret Intelligence Service overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. To my amazement, even though this was one of the seminal events in modern Middle East history and decisively reshaped Iran, there was no such book. If I wanted to read it, I would have to write it myself. That is how my book, All the Shah's Men: A Middle East Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, came to be.

While writing that book, I was motivated largely by the realization that I was explaining a vital piece of history to people who had little idea it had ever happened. On the wall of the office where I sat writing, I hung a portrait of Mosaddegh. Sometimes I felt that he was looking over my shoulder and encouraging me.

"Tell my story," he seemed to be saying. "Bring me back to life."

That book has been an enormous success, selling well over 100,000 copies in the United States and many more in translation. I dare to believe that it has taught a decent number of people a bit about this episode. Nonetheless, I have always sought ways to bring the story to a broader audience. Several years ago I sold a film option, but my friends in the film business tell me that less than one percent of books that are optioned ever become movies. Besides, in the modern age, films are giving way to more modern media as a new generation changes the way it learns.

That is why I was so thrilled when a video game artist who previously worked for EA, which has produced hugely popular games of all sorts, and an animation director from Dreamworks approached me with the idea of producing a graphic novel based on the 1953 coup. Then, barely hours after the iPad was first unveiled last January, they called me and said their plans had changed. They would now apply their talents to creating an interactive app for mobile tablets telling the story of the coup. After months of frantic work, the first two chapters have just been made available at the online iTunes store.

The app is called "Operation Ajax," which was the CIA's code name for the plan to depose Mosaddegh. It is an amazing use of ultra-modern interactive media technology, including some that has never been used before. It's also the first serious effort to tell history in a format that fits with the way many young people now perceive reality.

In this app, the story of the coup is told through the eyes of a fictional CIA operative. All the other characters are real: Mosaddegh and his foreign minister, Hossein Fatemi; CIA director Allen Dulles and his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles; the feckless Mohammad Reza Shah; Prime Minister Winston Churchill; General Fazlollah Zahedi, who the CIA placed in power after the coup; and a host of others.

One remarkable feature of the app is that by touching a finger onto a picture of any character, readers can move to another screen where they learn more about him or her. They can also see real-life photos of places and personalities portrayed in the story.

This app may help launch a new generation of graphic novels created specifically for the iPad. Its creative director, Daniel Burwen of Cognito Comics, calls it "the first example of how entertaining, immersive and educational history can be when it comes alive with intricate art, layers of information, and clever iPad functionality."

I hardly qualify as an astute judge of modern electronic technology, but will take the word of tech blogger Anthony Ha, who described this as "one of the coolest media experiences that I've seen on the iPad" in an article for Venturebeat.com.

Those of us eager to educate Americans and others about the true history of Iran are always looking for new ways to tell the story. I'm thrilled to have been a small part of creating this one. One of my friends who read about it sent me an irritated email saying, "Damn, now I'll have to buy a %$#@* iPad!"

The official description posted on the online iPad app store says, "This graphic retelling of the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup in Iran, 'Operation Ajax,' lets you dive in to history like never before. Interactive enhancements to the traditional graphic novel experience bring you into the lives and minds of the people who built the new world order."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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25 Comments

"All The Shah's Men" has to be one of the most riveting and informative books on U.S. policy in the Middle East I've ever read. That it contains lessons still relevant today for policymakers is a bit tragic.

Sean Alexander / January 9, 2011 7:36 AM

Stephen,
It's an honor to be with you. Many thanks for your good work on the book. Any advice for first time authors to be? Is it easier to publish in Europe or America? Any literary agent you would like to recommend? Thank you.

Haji_Commando / January 9, 2011 8:52 AM

Mr. Kinzer, you are a true con-man. Many of us know that you stole much of the content of your book from Mark Gasiorowski of LSU. Mr. Gasiorowski is more than perturbed about it. And yet, Mr. Kinzer, you now pretend you can comment on all Iranian matters under the sun, despite the fact that you have sensationalized the true Mossadegh story to sell books and don't speak any farsi. Mr. Kinzer, you could stand to be less arrogant in your writings about Iran, you don't know as much as you think.
thank you,
Leila

Leila / January 9, 2011 9:16 AM

One's much better off just reading (with a grain of salt) Wilber's TPAJAX post-mission analysis (available at GWU's NSA Archives), or better : "Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran," edited by Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne - a collection of scholarly, well-researched essays on the '53 coup.

Giovanni / January 9, 2011 3:07 PM

Well Said Leila.

Johnny / January 9, 2011 4:51 PM

Looking back at the destructive experience of the last 32 years and the role of the frogs,limies and yanks in Iran we doubt any red blooded Iranian would participate in anything foreigners throw at us with regard to our country, even a petty game.Mossadegh is history.We are going to rebuild our country with new ideas.A reflection of today's Iranians.You know what to do with your game.

The New Iranian / January 9, 2011 6:15 PM

Has the book been translated in Farsi?

Aria / January 9, 2011 7:19 PM

Leila

You are the queen of phony outrage. You are truly the Persian Palin. Why don't you leave the nice people of TB alone and go somewhere you'll feel more at home, like Fox News or J Post.

B / January 9, 2011 7:50 PM

Leila and his/her other names (Johnny) rather be schooled at a kitchen table by their daddy than read even one page of an actual history book.. Their dreams about the past and their hatred for all things non-monarch is fascinating.

Mr. Stephen Kinzer, thank you so much for allowing this story to be told in the United States since it is truly one of the main reasons why are in the mess that we are today. We are grateful to you.

Ali (UCLA) / January 9, 2011 9:12 PM

Dear Ali (UCLA),

Indeed, those damned Americans are to blame for all our problems. We weak, helpless Iranians are incapable of doing anything for ourselves.

Thank god we can rely on an... erm... American to tell the truth about our fate.

Pak / January 9, 2011 9:47 PM

Kinzer is a good man, but his books are more written as good novels for the purpose of becoming best sellers. The reality is far more complicated, and needs continuous revision upon release of new documents by various western intelligence services. The so-called coup failed, and was followed by an internal uprising by those who had lost confidence in mosaddeq to lead iran out of the "all-or-nothing" abyss that Mosaddeq had created. There are many other well-researched books, by those who have spent years, if not decades, looking into the history of that period, written for those who prefer a realistic view of history rather than an exciting novel.

Mosaddeq himself angrily says to dr. Sedighi and others who showed regret at their fate (when "coup" had succeeded and Mosaddeq and others had climbed up the ladder to the roof) that "nothing bad has happened since now we go down as heros" (this is a paraphrase and not the exact wording of his). Mosaddeq was worried about his image all along more than what was practical and best for the country at the time.

Shams / January 9, 2011 10:29 PM

Dear Pak,

I said the "in the United States" as this is a clearly suppressed history fact in US.


Shams,

You are my dear clearly delusional. Your supposed "uprising" was lead by the bribed General Zahedi and paid troop with their tanks if you mean to a say a military uprising (if such thing in your world is not called a coup then dream on) just like the Sepah of last year and Vladimir Liakhovlet's Cossack brigade... oh, and let us not forget Shaban bi mokh "Shaban the brainless" and his street gang. A "Chagho kesh" street thug who is best represented by the coup mozdoors of 09 who yield their knives for a few pennies a day just as as their true role model did six decades ago. I wonder if you also categorize AN's stealing of the election as an uprising? You For you the definition of a coup and upraising are two of the same. The same way a democratically elected Prime Minister is the "lawless" while the despotic blood owned coward is the "law".

Ali (UCLA) / January 10, 2011 1:34 AM

Ali UCLA: we have been through that discussion before. I am talking about the uprising which started in Bazar of Tehran that apparently you are not aware of. Once again you also do "not" know that "Shaban Bimokh" was "in prison" until around the noon time on the day of the coup, and that your popular PM, with his army and police headed by his own friends and family members, and with added Tudeh support, could NOT be overthrown by a few Shaban Bimokh's in an afternoon anyway. Once again, you have heard the "partial truth" around your favorite "kitchen table". The partial truth that made sense for those who intended to turn the events of 1953 into a lucrative business that brought us where we are today.

Stephen Kinzer's and Judy Miller's (both of NYT) types write for likes of you, and you have every right to follow them, buy their books, and make them a buck, but they are no researchers and their works have little academic value. You still do not know that NOT a single iranian voted for your "democratically-elected" Prime Minister Mosaddeq, but for the sole confidence vote of the same Parliament that he later dissolved (something that in unprecedented in any other democratic country) to avoid their vote of no-confidence. If you do not know that, well you do not know that, and I cannot make you know. The same way that not everyone who reads "playing with 'numbers'" cannot turn into a mathematician specializing in "advanced 'number' theory". The former can be read in a single afternoon, but the latter needs years of training.

Again, you do not know that whatever you accuse the Shah to be is NOT true for the Shah of pre-1953. Shah had even delegated almost all of his limited constitutional powers to Mosaddeq when Mosaddewq demanded.

Your last sentence also shows that you do not know the significance of "rule of law", specially for the ruling class, in a system who has democratic aspirations. If you prefer "lawlessness", justified or not, we are certainly at odds with each other.

Read a book Ali -- don't be so terrified of learning something new lest your Emamzadeh loses his miracles.

کار هر بز نیست خرمن کوفتن
گاو نر میخواهد و مرد کهن

آنان که بی‌مطالعه تقریر می‌کنند
خوابِ ندیده‌ای است که تعبیر می‌کنند

Shams / January 10, 2011 3:24 AM

Shams, your flawed argument and personal attacks speak for themselves. I see no reason to respond to you unless you have something valuable to add or address any of my points. Just because you copy and paste a poem at the end of "each" comment it does not make you smart (obviously).

Ali (UCLA) / January 10, 2011 5:08 AM

Shams: Mind-bending, thought-numbing contortions from you there. Chomsky only follows the archives and official documents (if you ask me one of his limitations) and he calls it a CIA coup, the first of many. The Tudeh party did not support Mossedegh,shows how much you know. One of the greatest failings of communists during the Stalin years is that they did their best to cut democrats of whatever stripe off at the knees whether in Spain, Czechslovakia,Hungry or Iran.
Miles Copeland later said " Iranians were sheep".
Prove him wrong please.

pirooz / January 10, 2011 5:12 AM

You know, this problem started in 1941 and was reinforced to the extreme in 1953. It was finally put to an end in 1979.

Pirouz / January 10, 2011 5:41 AM

Ali UCLA: It seems that anything that I say is "not new" to you, yet you do not take any of them into account and neither do you provide even "a single" reliable author to back up the events as "rumored." Obviously you have a passionate "love-hate" emotional relation with "mosaddeq-shah". But if your justification for that love-hate emotion is based on NYT journalists like Kinzer, then that by itself is an indication of unreliability of your arguments. Simple repeat of "your argument is flawed because I say so" does not wash it without a much stronger rationale.

BTW, you began the discussion by addressing me, I only responded knowing that our mindsets differ more at the core principles: yours of "lawlessness is good" when I say so, aka anarchism, versus my "rule of law" equally applied to head-of-state in the same way that is applied to beggars on the street.

pirooz: I never said that foreigners had no role in those events. My argument circled around a number of issues assuming that foreign interference existed: (1) how much the interference (irrespective of how undesirable it was) was in line with support within the general population. (2) how much that interference (as bad as it was) was aligned with iranian interests. (3) Who had the lawful right to remain in power, the shah or Mosaddeq, based on the constitution in effect then?

There seem to be easy answers to these, but in reality, anytime some intelligence service (e.g., soviets) open their archives, these same issues need to be revisited and revised.

The scenarios of the coups in the countries that you mentioned were all different from iran. In iran, the core issue was Oil; other issues were developed to support the idea of the coup. The word "coup" that Chomsky uses, in case of iran, is more meant to (a) emphasize foreign interference (which I already agreed to) and (b) use the common term for the event, which is "coup" (that I also have been using) as opposed to "counter-coup".

Tudeh party's support is not as black and white as you think. Their aim was to take over Mosaddeq once he succeeded, so their support for mosaddeq was strategic rather than sincere, they wanted mosaddeq to succeed but not to come out so strong that they could not take him out. Once they realized that they may be on the wrong side towards the end, they turned away from mosaddeq and stayed away from events (supporting neither Mosaddeq nor the Shah, hoping for a chaos that they can take advantage of). Soviet archives show that core instructions were coming not from Tudeh leaders but from Soviets, causing some level of confusion within Tudeh leadership.

Ali: too bad that you did not like my poems, they embed a lot wisdom that we can both use!

Shams / January 10, 2011 6:28 AM

Shams, you completely ignored the bribed General Zahedi and his paid troops since that would not benefit your version of history. When you call a coup an uprising you loose all credibility. And you are right that Shaban Bimokh and other criminals were let out of prison and paid just to intimidate the regular population and do "chaghoo keshi" and be part of the coup. Also Bazariz never lead an "uprising", the best they can do is go on strike and close their shops which in the chaos caused by bi mokh's gang prior to his release they did. And you make a 180 degree turn from own comment: "with added Tudeh support"! Tudeh was in no way supporting Mossadegh and this again show how you bend reality to fit your own beliefs.
I do not hate Shah or love Dr. Mossadegh. I respect both men to the degree of their accomplishments and actions. I do however love history and do not appreciate those who change it to fit their own needs.

Ali (UCLA) / January 10, 2011 11:39 PM

This is such a good idea! Kudos for such an important awareness-raising effort, and may the Iranian and American peoples come together in peace before too long.

S.R. / January 10, 2011 11:52 PM

S.R.
Are you kidding yourself?Most Yanks don't even know where Iran is let alone who Mossadegh is and would they care? This is for you and I to keep fighting each other.Mossadegh good Shah bad or visa versa.Don't fall for this trap.

Your Iranian friend / January 11, 2011 12:16 AM

If you had done some simple research, you would have found that the first book (in English) on those subjects was "Mohammad Mossadegh: A Political Biography", written in 1984 and published in the UK and USA. Unfortunately, it is now out of print, yet it remains the only full English-language biography.

Anonymous / January 11, 2011 1:56 AM


Irrespective of all these tug of words here , i must say that its been a great idea to have this book in a app format . i hope lots of Iranian younger and older generations get this app.

Stop fighting folks, read, think, re read and only utter your thought after reevaluating what you are gonna say.
Dont make here a battle ground.

PersianTraveler / January 11, 2011 5:11 AM

"...Miles Copeland later said " Iranians were sheep""

There is nothing more instructive than the rare occasion when your enemy speaks the truth.

The best part of the George Bush presidency was that he spoke the truth. Ahead of attacking Iraq, as he and Tony Blair stood next to each other before a barrage of reporters that asked them questions non-stop, George Bush said "We're gonna make'em fight [and kill] each other," in reference to a question a reporter had asked. Immediately after him making this comment, the cameras zoomed out and captured Tony Blair's incredulous expression as he stared at Bush after his remark. Blair was utterly dumbfounded as Bush spilled the beans so easily in front of so many reporters from every corner of the globe about what he and the American president must have discussed behind closed doors.

Bush's remark was especially prophetic in light of what happened after the invasion of Iraq, when the Sunni and Shia found themselves pinned against each other in a land where they had lived side by side in harmony for centuries. Who planned the first bombs at Sunni and Shia shrines and gathering places in order to spark a long and bloody battle between the two sects still remains a mystery.

Miles Copeland's statement is also valuable in the sense that the vast majority of Iranians were indeed Sheepish. It was the men and women who founded and supported the Islamic Republic that first changed that equation for the enemies of our nation. It was them, these tough minded people who mostly grew up in poverty stricken houses across our beloved Iran, who steered a society that lived and dreamt in the spirit of "the Color of Paradise," in the direction that could someday overcome the mightiest enemy that lives and breathes the "Glenn Gary Glen Ross," spirit.

It will be known that it was Providence that something had to change in order for this great people, who had slipped into sheepish mode, to become the creature (certainly not the sheep) that they needed to be if they were to survive the onslaught that is headed in their direction decades from now.

Whether Iranians of today ever understand it or not, the Iranians of the next century will look back and discover in total amazement that it was the Hawks and the loyalists of the Islamic Republic who once again returned to the people of Iran the will and the skills to survive and succeed.

Ekbatana / January 13, 2011 5:10 AM

Copelands remark is a reflection more on him and US mindset rather than Iranians. His kind of arrogance was widespread among that group of ideologues as it is now among the security forces of Iran and the Coup Presidency. Remember his description of those people who didn't vote for him? There is no difference. Nice try.

pirooz / January 14, 2011 12:09 AM

The speaker's motive and the truthfulness of his remark were not mutually exclusive. The men and women of the Islamic Republic brought to the Iranian masses the necessary motive to transform from a nation of settled at home happy sheep (consumeristic) to one of an increasingly innovative nature. The Iranian nation is fortunate to have had amongst its ranks the tough and resilient people who could help her find her way back. The destination is far away, but the nation is on the right path. As I said, Iranians of the next century and beyond will look back with objectivity and find that they owe their stature to no other than the men and women of the Islamic Republic.

Ekbatana / January 14, 2011 9:27 AM