Our nation’s potential rapprochement with Iran brings to mind an insight embedded in the 2007 film “300,” an unsubtle, comic-book fantasy about the historic clash between East and West.
A vast army of Persians attacks Greece at Thermopylae in 480 BC. Only King Leonidas and 300 Spartans stand in its way. The Spartans are massacred, but they buy enough time for Greece to regroup and defeat the Persians a year later at the Battle of Plataea.
In “300,” the Spartans are depicted as handsome noblemen with spectacular abs. Their nonchalant bravado befits their devotion to freedom, justice and their preference for death over submission to the Persians.
The Persians, on the other hand, are slaves, driven into battle by the hideous Xerxes, an unnatural, androgynous freak.
Of course, “300” is just a movie, but it implies a context that bears on the possibilities for the success of an agreement with Iran that would prevent its acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Before 1935, Iran was still called Persia, and modern Iranians look back with considerable pride to the heyday of the vast Persian Empire under kings like Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes. Further, many Iranians know their modern history, a mystery to most Americans. It includes the revolution of 1905, which diminished monarchical power, established a parliament and began a democratic tradition that echoes today, despite Iran’s current government.
Iranians haven’t forgotten the British-sponsored coup of 1921 that re-established a dictatorial shah, Reza Khan, who suppressed democracy and fathered Mohammad Reza, a weak leader with the personality of a playboy.
Nor have they forgotten the coup of 1953, sponsored and financed by the CIA, which terminated the democratic and nationalistic leadership of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and re-established the shah’s dictatorial reign, which he maintained with secret police and terror until his overthrow by the Islamic revolution of 1979.