H.I.M. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi
Mohammad Reza Shah ascended the throne on September 16, 1941, when he was a few weeks short of his twenty-second birthday (October 26). At the time of the golden jubilee of the Pahlavi dynasty he had ruled for thirty-five years, thus more than doubling the period during which his father directed Iran's policies as head of state. Basically, Mohammad Reza Shah's reign displayed the same two trends as were characteristic of his father's period, nationalism and modernization. There were other similarities as well: the new King faced at the beginning foreign occupation and interference, he was challenged by tribal rebellion and unrest, and was beset by an upsurge of provincial separatism and communism. He also had to wage a struggle for economic independence from British dominance of the oil sector. And, like his father, he searched for a friendly third force that would counterbalance both the Soviet and the British influence.
But there were also important differences between the two rulers and the periods during which they reigned. Reza Shah had begun his personal rule from a position of strength. Although his country was in a state of weakness and chaos and foreign troops were present on her soil, Britain was gradually relinquishing her responsibilities in Iran while the Soviet Union, despite a show of aggressive tendencies, was not the colossus she became after World War II, having in the 1920s barely emerged from the struggle for life and death against the counterrevolution of the Whites and foreign intervention. Faced with this situation, Reza Shah commanded the only reliable military force in Iran and the opposition to him, whether in the center or in the tribal areas, could never muster enough strength to overcome his skill, organization, and mobility. By contrast, Mohammad Reza Shah began his reign from a position of weakness dictated by the circumstances. Powerful armies of occupation had just entered his country and intended to stay there at least for the duration of the war. Following the conclusion of World War II, the hasty departure of the British and American troops (the latter were not an occupation force) was a mixed blessing inasmuch as it left Iran exposed to face alone a powerful Soviet military presence.
Liberating the province of Azerbaijanf from a Communist puppet regime
This leads us to another contrast: in the struggle for independence that both rulers had waged, at the time of Mohammad Reza Shah the stakes were higher and the tension greater because the Soviets were both more aggressive and stronger and also because, with the gradual abandonment by Britain of her imperial position east of Suez, the resulting power vacuum threatened the entire area of the Middle Fast. Most significant in this respect was Britain's conceding of independence to India in the late 1940s and two decades later her decision to relinquish imperial responsibilities in the Persian Gulf. True enough. the search for a friendly third force this time brought not only positive results but actually secured for Iran an ally in the form of the strongest yet most benevolent power in the world the United States. But before this alliance was concluded, there was an early tense period during which the availability of this third force was by no means certain. For one thing, the United States was geographically remote; for another, American policy makers needed to be educated in the realities of the power play in the Middle East in general and in Iran in particular. This "educational" process was not an easy matter inasmuch as throughout World War II the United States had conducted a consistent policy of close alliance with the Soviet Union and the entire American government propaganda apparatus was geared to present the Soviets to the American public as respectable allies, unjustly attacked by the Nazi war monster, peace- loving (hence proper candidates to cosponsor the United Nations), and displaying encouraging democratic tendencies. In this respect, it is worth noting, Soviet intrigue in Azerbaijan coupled with the Soviet bid to extend control over Iran's central government constituted a vital factor in the radical reorientation of American attitudes that eventually found expression in the policy of containment formalized by the Truman Doctrine of 1947. Iran, however, although thus playing a key role in the process of policy change, was a potential victim if the process faltered, and she could have ended in a position similar to that of the Eastern European satellite states. To emerge victorious from these trials required strong nerves, cool courage, and singleness of purpose.
The Shah among the Ayatollahs
There was still another difference between the father and the son. While Reza Shah had to nurture only one nationalist movement during his reign, nam~y his own, Mohammad Reza Shah had to deal with competing forces that interpreted nationalist objectives and priorities in a different way from his own. This in particular referred to the definition and designation of friends and enemies of Iran. There were elements during his rule that viewed Western, particularly British, imperialism as the only true danger to Iran. With such an approach, a possibility existed of effecting an alliance between this type of nationalist and the Communists who, by virtue of their ideologies and loyalties, regarded the West as an enemy. This possibility became an actual reality in the early 1950s and the alliance thus formed attempted to overthrow not only the government but the institution of monarchy as well. The Shah's own nationalism, which he described as "positive" in contrast with the negative, anti-Western brand of the competing forces, had as its objective not only a strong and independent Iran but also close links between Iran, the United States, and her Western friends, both of the latter being viewed as allies in the struggle to preserve Iranian independence and integrity.
Moreover, the Shah did not want to limit Iran's role to that of a 'junior partner" in a broader alliance to contain Soviet expansionism. He felt that the political situation in the Middle Fast called for a strong Iran that would play a stabilizing role in the region. For this reason he insisted on and secured the development of a well-equipped and trained military establishment that, under his rule, not only enlarged and modernized its land forces but also branched out into military aviation and the navy. By the mid-1970s Iran could be described as enjoying military hegemony in the Persian Gulf region while protecting the vita] sea-lanes through which eighteen million barrels of oil per day were being carried to overseas destinations.
Mohammad Reza Shah's reign differed also from that of his father's in the scope and content of modernization measures. True enough, both kings were reformers, but the reforms carried out during Mohammad Reza's time were more comprehensive and more concerned with social justice and the welfare of the masses. Launched in 1963 and known under the general name of the White Revolution, these reforms contained an original six-point program with land reform as its central objective, later enlarged into seventeen points that embraced a variety of social, economic, and cultural measures. The program represented a broad attack in every conceivable sector against the old ills of the Iranian society. Its many features are reviewed in the chapters that follow. The reforms were accompanied by economic planning and development that in the 1960s and 1970s achieved one of the highest growth rates anywhere in the world. Photo at left: The king reviews the Persian Gulf fleet. These impressive attainments were further bolstered by the substantial increase in national revenue through a truly revolutionary raising of the prices of exported oil. The latter represented the Shah's own achievement inasmuch as since the middle 1950s he had assumed personal leadership in all matters pertaining to the development of petroleum resources in the country. In this respect, he not only secured Iran's full control over her oil industry but also led the victorious regional campaign of oil-producing states to ensure that their major natural resource would obtain on world markets a price commensurate with the rising prices of manufactured commodities produced in advanced industrialized states.
Surrounded by US military brass, the Shah, an accomplished
pilot examines an F-14 fighter plane at
Andrews Air Force base
In spite of the tragic interruption experienced at the time of World War II and its aftermath, the two reigns of the Pahlavi period had this in common that they represented a continuous struggle of strong-willed but caring rulers to elevate their nation from the level of weakness and backwardness to a higher level of strength and modernity. It was indeed a struggle in which many opposing forces both at home and abroad had to be overcome. There were setbacks but there were also spectacular victories. To this day, the story of these trials and achievements are remembered by all Iranians.
In today's Iran, because the very mention of the Shah's name entails the risk of falling foul of the new authorities most people have developed a code name for the king who died in exile. They call him Khoda Biamorz which, translated literally, means "blessed by God". But this is also a term of endearment for a man whose sufferings in the last year of his existence seemed to have put him way beyond the judgment of a world he had tried to reshape.