Empire and Nationhood

The sources used by Mary Ann Heiss in Empire and Nationhood are successful in providing credible background for her statements regarding British and American sentiments during the Iranian Oil dispute. The lack of sources from Iran means that it is a largely a two, instead of three sided account of the events. She creates a detailed picture of the negotiations from a western viewpoint using largely the correspondences of Great Britain and the United States while the viewpoint of the Iranians is pieced together from secondary sources and public announcements. The cultural bias of the western representatives is commented on, so although there is a record of Iranian negotiations, they are biased and often indignant descriptions by diplomats.
The overview of the Anglo-Iranian Oil crisis draws on many secondary works and a few books or articles written by people involved or living in Iran at the time. The secondary works are for the most part written by western historians whose titles do not suggest an evenly balanced perspective. For example the official history of the British Petroleum Company is cited a few times and many of the books are primarily concerned with the cold war. Iran was certainly important in the cold war but focusing on it might tend to show the perspectives of those fighting the war rather than that of Iran, which was a chess piece in the games being played between the US and the USSR.
The sources that contribute to the descriptions of the strained relations leading up to the rise of the nationalization movement and the rise of Mossadeq are a mix of British and American correspondences and books concerning the rise of Mossadeq and the political situation in Iran before him. This chapter, “too little too late” shows the greatest balance between eastern and western sources used. The difference is that the sources from the Middle Eastern perspective are written long after the events took place while correspondence on the part of the western diplomats give a more accurate sense of the feeling at the time. Authors whose names indicate Middle Eastern heritage are significant because they are referenced sparingly once Mossadeq is prime minister. This may have something to do with the secrecy Mossadeq afforded himself once in office. Also, the remainder of the book is largely an account of the negotiations between Mossadeq and representatives of England and the US. This means that presently we can look at the negotiations because there is a record of the internal consultations on the western end but we do not know the full extent of the pressure and constraints put on Mossadeq by political entities and public opinion. A dispatch from the state department to someone involved with debating Mossadeq on a key point shows the reasoning behind the American position while the reasoning behind the Iranian posture can only be guessed at.
Another reason for the one sidedness of the documentation is that for the most part, it was a Prime Minister talking to a diplomat who is already biased against the PM. Mossadeq had the power to make concessions so the political motivations behind his actions have to be derived from the situation in Iran. We have such a good record of the western motivations because American and British agents were constantly conferring with each other and their respective governments. It is unlikely that Mossadeq communicated with his advisors in writing and probably kept the details of his situation secret.
An important factor with regard to documentation that is not discussed in the book is the fact the Tehran at this time was chock full of spies. Channels of communication are never one hundred percent secure so information that was considered sensitive would be unlikely to be sent by telegraph for example. The author demonstrates the general fears of the US with regard to soviet interactions in Iran, but the specific threats, real or perceived, are not revealed. The author mentions documents relating to the MI-6 and CIA inspired coup that are withheld but only touches upon why the US thought the USSR would automatically take power in Iran if the economy were to fail. There is certainly logic behind the containment policy in Iran but because there is little mention of popular Iranian sentiment regarding communism aside from the actions of the Tudeh party, the policy seems to stem mainly from American paranoia.
The only primary sources that voice the position of Iran are the Correspondences between his/her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Persian government, and related documents (concerning the oil Industry in Persia, February 1951 to September 1951) (Concerning the joint Anglo-American proposal for a settlement of the oil dispute, August 1952 to October 1952) The problem with these sources is that they were most likely documents that could be made public and were, if it suited a political aim. Most of the negotiations were done without the public knowledge or proposals were made informally at first with the reaction often eliminating the need to present them formally. What we can see in these formal documents are the last ditch efforts by Briton to save face by standing behind proposals they knew would be rejected.
It is clear that the United States was integral in the dispute between the Iranian Government, the AIOC and the British Government but the records taken from the national Archives verses the ones taken from the Public Record Office show that the available American records are more concise and therefore less accurate. The documents from the Public Record Office in England include minutes, memorandums and other immediate sources. These kinds of sources, if unaltered, are likely to be the most accurate and the most revealing. The record of the Secretary of Defense should in contrast be far less revealing and is certainly not cited as frequently as the Foreign Office correspondence. These American sources are not likely to contain information that could be considered inflammatory. That is to say that the United States would not be likely to make information public that could add to the hatred of the US by Iran.
The author does a satisfactory job of filling in the blanks created by the lack of Iranian primary sources. She gives a reasonable assessment of the political situation in Iran based on western perceptions that were probably fairly accurate because of the strategic concerns in Iran. The memoirs of Mossadeq may have helped to explain some of the pressures he faced in Iran but even a person’s memory of their own actions cannot be trusted as fact. While the author does not attempt to analyze individual Iranian sentiment for lack of material, it would seems possible to find a primary source written by an Iranian who was not Mossadeq or the Shah. She does a good job showing the shift from British to American domination of the Iranian oil as well as their reactions to the nationalist movement.

Review Bibiography

International History Review v. 21 no. 4 (Dec. 1999). Mejcher, Helmut, reviewerhttp://metaquest.bc.edu:4000/sfx_local?sid=HWW:ACIT&genre=article&pid=%3Can%3E199901501686015%3C%2Fan%3E&aulast=Amuzegar&aufirst=Jahangir&issn=0026-3141&title=The+Middle+East+Journal&stitle=Middle+East+J&atitle=Empire+and+nationhood+(Book+Review)&volume=53&issue=1&spage=138&epage=140&date=1999&ssn=winter—There was an error with the Factiva server when I tried to print this review before class but I had read it with the paper.
Diplomatic History v. 23 no. 3 (Summ 1999). Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs, reviewer. http://www.blackwellsynergy.com/openurl?genre=article&issn=0145-2096&date=1999&volume=23&issue=3&spage=559

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