Coming from two-time Academy Award winning director Barbara Kopple and Greenwich Entertainment comes a moment in history that we all can learn from with DESERT ONE.
It has been forty years since fifty-two American citizens were taken hostage in Iran during their revolution in Tehran. Then President Jimmy Carter wanted to find a way to get the Americans home without creating more hardships on the hostages.
The events happened because of the leader Ayatollah Khomeini gathered followers to have the Shah removed and a new government came into power in 1979. The Iranian people seemed joyful that he was gone. The crowds celebrating brought about verbal hostility towards America and then effigy’s hostility. People at the embassy had the clear feeling that something bad was going to happen.
It did not take long before thousands of people were at the gates of the embassy as the gates were locked. That did not stop the protestors as they began tearing away doors and the building was put on shutdown. That did not stop them either as everyone inside was told to back away and stay cool. Everyone in the embassy was taken hostage not knowing what would happen to them. Split up between the embassy and Foreign Ministry building, every square inch was occupied.
As the days progressed, it became clear that President Carter needed plans draw up to rescue the hostages. Wanting diplomacy, it became clear that the military would have to find a way to extract the hostages. A plan is drawn up and the Pentagon begins to bring the best soldiers they have for the mission. Even the wives knew that the phone calls were a sign that something was happening.
Citizens were in an uproar feeling that the government was not doing enough to get the hostages back, but President Carter was making sure the hostages did not get hurt. That was his primary focus. In December 1979, President Carter makes it clear that he will do nothing that will cause any harm to the hostages, but many believed that ‘doing nothing’ made Americans look weak.
In Tehran, the hostage takers were treating the hostages in a certain way and the Ayatollah came to meet with the hostages. The meeting is covered, and both sides have their say in the situation. At the Pentagon, the rescue plans were being presented to President Carter. Using C130s and helicopters, they would land at a spot called Desert One and go to Tehran, get the hostages and fly out.
The Delta Force Commander Col. Charles Beckwith said, “it was a very difficult plan but not an impossible plan”. With their operatives also inside the embassy, the information they needed came from the most unlikely of places. The Delta Force was watching every bit of footage they could get to get intel for their mission.
Another year came and in March of 1980, the hostages were handcuffed and blindfolded going through the unimaginable. All of this brought a hopelessness to the hostages not knowing yellow ribbons were on trees. A presidential election was underway, and Ronald Regan had a lot to say and the Ayatollah refused to deal with Carter and nothing was working. Finally, the President agreed to the mission.
The White House is in constant communication with the Delta Force, on April 24, 1980, as helicopters and men make their way off the USS Nimitz. Almost immediately one transport was out and there was total radio silence. Getting ready the one thing they did not expect is a bus load of people. The helicopters head towards their goal when a dust storm makes it impossible to fly.
A minimal use of force was ordered but a series of events make that hard to accomplish. Now the risks are getting harsh but still a go order to save the hostages but there are more problems with the choppers. The Operations Schedule had the orders of what to do in certain situations and they are getting close to aborting leaving the decision to President Carter.
Planes began to leave, and soldiers were disappointed that the mission was not going forward. The weather wasn’t optimal, and it was getting light as one of the helicopters took off but the pilot made a grave error. Soldiers were trying to get away as the hopeful mission had turned. Informing President Carter, the soldiers had to get out before the sun came up and more trouble came.
Sadly, those missing could not be recovered were left behind, as those that could fly out, did. News spread quickly in Iran about the failed mission. At Desert One, people arrived at the site to the destruction. President Carter gave the grave news to the people of the United States about the operation. Public criticism came about, and candidate Regan had an opinion of his own.
Days later the hostage learns what has happened and the remains of those who passed were made public by the people of Iran. With the death of the Shah, it made things more tenuous and the American elections kept moving forward as Iraq and Iran start their own war. Once Carter lost to Regan, he still wanted to bring the hostages home.
In January of 1981, Carter finally secured the release of the hostages with money. Loading up to go home, and on inaugural day, the hostages were on their way home after 444 days in captivity. President Carter went to meet and speak with them and the parades began as they are welcomed home.
They were free, they were home, and this is that story.
DESERT ONE is a serious history lesson for anyone who thinks they know something about the Iranian hostage crisis. I remember (and I am in my 60s), the craziness of that time as each evening on the news was story after story of the hostages. Until that fateful night in 1980 and the news went full force with the accident and what it could possibly mean for the hostages.
I remember the election; I remember the yellow ribbons and I remember the sadness military families felt for the losses. What I did not know was the story behind the military action and what actually caused the mission to fail.
That is what makes this documentary so interesting. Director Koppel takes us through everything step by step and allows us to hear from the hostages, the hostage takers, those in government and the one man who held himself accountable – President Jimmy Carter.
Greenwich Entertainment specializes in distinctive, theatrical-quality narrative and documentary features. Greenwich had a record setting theatrical release with the Academy Award winning documentary FREE SOLO, ECHO IN THE CANYON, LINDA RONSTADT; The Sound of my Voice and THE BOOKSHOP. For more of what they have to offer please visit www.greenwichentertainment.com
Interviews include President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Walter Mondale, Ted Koppel, former hostages, journalists and even Iranian students who took part in capturing the American Embassy. There are interviews from those who were just passing by in a bus and telephone recordings of President Carter.
“This was a roller coaster ride of a story well worth telling,” said filmmaker Barbara Kopple. “It is a film about U.S. leadership and gumption, our leaders taking responsibility – even when things go wrong – and courage in the face of adversity. And, of course to address our relations with Iran – and hearing their side of the story can make us reflect. This is a story that few remember or even know, and it might inspire us now.”
DESERT ONE is an intense look at a time in our nation’s history where the tensions with Iran came to a boiling point. The anger and hostility pointed in the U.S.’s direction brought about a chain of events that still reverberate today. American’s do not forget easily when something this significant has been done to our own and DESERT ONE is a reminder of why that is.
This is a well-done piece of filmmaking and should be required viewing and a teaching tool of our history.
In the end – an intense moment in our history!