“Iran is Playing with Fire”: The 1953 Coup D’état in Iran and its Impact on US/Iranian Relations

By Anthony Pellegrino posted 03-13-2019 02:06:52 PM

On the order of new pro-Western Iranian Prime Minister, Fazlollah Zahedi, a citizen washes the message "Yankee Go Home" from a wall in Tehran.

Image courtesy of Associated Press


“Iran is playing with fire--they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”

-President Donald Trump via Twitter

February 3, 2017

The current relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran could justly be characterized as one of tension and distrust. Disputes over rights to develop nuclear weapons, territorial claims, and regional balance of power with U.S. allies Israel and the Saudi Kingdom, have all been recently used to explain why these nations view each other with such antipathy. Aggravated rhetoric has even escalated tensions to include talk of war. As President Trump’s tweet implies, we now stand at a crossroads, fraught with contention, that serves to threaten further regional instability and international peace. Unfortunately, fundamental reasons behind the conflict remain largely out of focus to American students even as the consequences could prove to be dire.

To counter our limited perception of current U.S./Iranian tensions, we should begin with acknowledging that, like most geopolitical engagements, there is a deeper story to uncover. In this case, the story has its roots over six decades ago in the context of the early Cold War when post-World War Two powers were angling for economic and military power, and new alliances were forming in areas of the world previously not widely considered strategically important. During those years, a less-remembered, and until recently, classified, British and US-orchestrated coup d’état took place in Iran that served to cement a growing skepticism of U.S. and European intentions. Western puppeteering of implanted Iranian leadership and considerable religious and cultural oppression in the wake of the coup would come to influence the Iranian people’s and broader Middle East’s posture toward the United States. As we see from the image above, the notion of “Yankee Go Home” was expressed to demonstrate animosity toward the U.S. held by many Iranians at the time. Until recently, however, this story was not included in most history classrooms, in part, because it remained unacknowledged in official US records. 

Fortunately, in 2017, the U.S. Department of State released previously classified documents related to the 1953 coup (see link below) and has shed light on this example of U.S. intervention that would have tremendous unintended consequences through today. The story of this coup includes anti-communist paranoia, cultural and religious ignorance, racism, and incredible hubris on the part of U.S. and UK officials. It also illustrates a blueprint for the myriad interventions the U.S. would be part of well into the 21st Century. As such, investigating the 1953 coup d’état in Iran can be an important and relevant topic to explore in social studies classrooms for its own historical significance as well as the explanatory power it can have for students who struggle to make sense of the complex relationship the U.S. has had in international affairs. We hope that social studies teachers can use these newly available resources to learn about this intervention and find ways to include it in their U.S. history, world history, or civics curriculum.





















































































1 comment



05-04-2019 02:09:31 PM

Thank you for a great post. Often times today, people are so quick to judge a story without properly digging into the issue and learning both sides of the story. News outlets and other sources post stories without much context and skew what actually happened. This ties perfectly into this issue and why there are issues today. This conflict goes back decades as you mention and many fail to realize the issues that happened in history. History is all about context and many people skip over this fact. You cannot look at the issues between the countries today and blame the President or anyone in particular. To be an informed historian or individual one must look at the conflict as a whole and how it has played out over time. Conflicts usually have a past that many overlook and ignore and focus only on the present. Thank you for a post reminding us all to do better and to be more informed!