David Calling

People Power

These are heart-stopping times in Iran. Two rival blocs are jockeying for power, two mass movements capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousands on the streets. No way exists of measuring numbers and giving victory to the larger. One bloc or the other is likely to make a mistake, and that will settle it.
In this plight in 1979 the Shah made the mistake of ordering his troops to open fire, on a scale not enough to terrify everyone but only to enrage them. In the Shia practice, moreover, the dead are commemorated after a certain period, and these commemorations were the occasions for yet larger and more and more violent demonstrations. So the Shah fell, the Islamic Republic of Iran took his place, and the world has had to deal with militant Islamism at the cost of much fighting and many lives.
It is possible, even likely, that the ruling mullahs will repeat the Shah’s mistake and try to settle the issue of who has power by ordering the troops or secret police to fire on the demonstrations. In that case, the loyalty of the troops becomes the question of the moment. Already there are reports that some secret policemen have gone over to the protesters.
When the orthodox Communists staged their coup against Gorbachev in August 1989, Boris Yeltsin put himself at the head of the protesters, famously climbing on to a tank to address the crowd. The troops under General Grachev had already been called out by the Communists. But Yeltsin had telephoned Grachev to plead with him not to give the fire orders. Telling the story afterwards, Yeltsin said he heard Grachev sigh into the receiver at the burden of responsibility. The troops withdrew. Yeltsin said of this call to Grachev, “He was deciding not only his fate, but also mine. And the fate of millions of people.”
Who says that the individual and his choices do not count in the making of history?  A repeat of that fateful exchange is surely taking place in Tehran, and the fate of millions once more hangs on how it is resolved.

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

Most Popular

Andrew Cuomo’s Horrific Decisions

Observers of New York politics over the past several years understand that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fanatical obsession with humiliating and overruling his fellow Democrat Bill de Blasio towers over every other consideration in the Empire State. Sometimes Cuomo’s habits come across as merely silly, as when he ... Read More

Andrew Cuomo’s Horrific Decisions

Observers of New York politics over the past several years understand that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fanatical obsession with humiliating and overruling his fellow Democrat Bill de Blasio towers over every other consideration in the Empire State. Sometimes Cuomo’s habits come across as merely silly, as when he ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Rules Matter

On the menu today: One of Robert Mueller’s lieutenants now writes that the former FBI director failed to subpoena the president and otherwise “pulled punches for fear of incurring Trump’s wrath”; the importance of rules, and how political figures who refuse to apply a consistent standard make governing ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Rules Matter

On the menu today: One of Robert Mueller’s lieutenants now writes that the former FBI director failed to subpoena the president and otherwise “pulled punches for fear of incurring Trump’s wrath”; the importance of rules, and how political figures who refuse to apply a consistent standard make governing ... Read More
U.S.

Systemic Racism? Make Them Prove It.

I  worked in the criminal-justice system for a quarter century. It is run, day-to-day, by the crème de la crème of graduates from America’s top law schools. Those institutions wear their progressive bona fides on their sleeves and proclaim it for all the world to hear. In their offhand rhetoric — ... Read More
U.S.

Systemic Racism? Make Them Prove It.

I  worked in the criminal-justice system for a quarter century. It is run, day-to-day, by the crème de la crème of graduates from America’s top law schools. Those institutions wear their progressive bona fides on their sleeves and proclaim it for all the world to hear. In their offhand rhetoric — ... Read More