Bringing Back Mosaddegh
by STEPHEN KINZER
09 Jan 2011 11:10
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