Tag Archives: ARGO

If Winter Comes

“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
–Percy Bysshe Shelley; “Ode to the West Wind”

Many years ago, I watched a television interview with one of the American hostages of the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The hostage, released with the others in 1981, spoke of her ordeal. She impressed me with her courage and resilience.

Later, after I joined the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service, I worked with another former hostage. I also served with one of the Americans who escaped capture, the basis for the fictionalized movie, Argo, winner of the Academy Award in 2013 for best motion picture.

In security seminars, required before we left for our foreign postings, other former hostages passed on to us the lessons they had learned during captivity. We were aware that, as embassy officers, we would probably be evacuated at least once or twice from a post threatened by terrorism or insurrection, if not worse, in our careers. (The magic number for me was two evacuations.)

No surprise, then, that Mark Pacer, the protagonist in my new series, beginning his State Department career in the late 1970’s, would be affected by the 1979 hostage crisis. If Winter Comes takes place from 1977 to 1981.

The hostage taking and its aftermath form a major part of the book. It’s a story of the crisis, but also of how one couple deals with the resulting threats to their marriage.

Iranian Escape: Because Canadians Chose to Help

American diplomats were seized and subjected to brutal treatment following the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. When the hostages were finally released in January, 1981, American citizens erupted in euphoria.

I had no idea when I joined the State Department more than a decade later that I would one day work with one of the hostages. Nor did I know that I would serve in a Middle Eastern embassy with two of six diplomats who escaped capture.

The day of the takeover, the two were working in the consular section of the U.S. embassy in Tehran rather than the main building They walked out with four others and eventually found their way to the home of Canadian diplomats.

The fascinating story was touched on by the movie Argo, which won the Academy Award for best picture of 2012. Mark Lijek, one of the six who escaped, has written a more truthful telling of the story. Hollywood may be forgiven for merely “basing” the movie on events. Lijek’s The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery gripped me with his detailed account of their rescue.

For the first few days, the refugees from the captured embassy wandered between various locations, sure that a militant or someone anxious for a reward would eventually spot them. One of them finally phoned the Canadians.

“Why didn’t you call sooner?” the Canadian diplomat, John Sheardown, asked them.

That, Lijek says, sums up the courage which eventually allowed the six to escape. Perhaps Canada’s willingness to accept Syrian refugees is not surprising.