Monday, May 30, 2011

For Memorial Day Weekend, Day 4:
Tattered Remnants #030:
Heroes of Desert One

To the reader: the following was published about a year ago. To those who were born after 1980, it might serve as an explanation as to why so many of your elders were particularly satisfied at the recent success of our raid on Osama Bin Laden. That victory would have been impossible without the sacrifices of the Desert One expedition.

An Ignominious Glory: Heroes of the Desert One Fiasco, April 24, 1980



"Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
‘To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?"
-Thomas Babingdon, Lord Macaulay


In the course of this work I have tried to bring attention to a few individuals who have stepped into the breach, sometimes without so much as a moment's warning or a single word of encouragement, and attempted to stand up and do what was right in the face of overwhelming force, danger and resistance, tothe cost even of their own self destruction.

I've deliberately passed over whole classes of individuals in this series, and for good reason. Generally speaking, I don't talk about politicians, who seem to have endless opportunities to pat themselves on the back or at least enrich themselves even if they start out as Tattered Remnants.

Likewise, I have tried to avoid including the military in my list of Tattered Remnants, even though those entering the military profession are almost always those that have the "TR nature." Sure, there are many who go into uniform because they're young and immature and need training to become adults; many others go in (at least in the United States) for the relatively comfortable salaries, guaranteed room-and-board, and the chance to see the world. But most of those of any nation who choose to wear their nations' uniform do so out of a love of country and a desire to contribute to their peoples' well-being.

But the military life also has its distinct rewards. On the whole, the military profession makes a point of compensating its best with a public honors. In the UK, great soldiers are granted titles and knighthoods (and sometimes even the crown); here in the USA, we cover them with medals. The military hero is also recognized in many other ways, from elaborate headstones and beautiful cemeteries, to patriotic public holidays (of which we have no less than three), and, for the very rarest of honors, the song. ("To the everlasting glory of the Infantry, shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young!", goes one such famous ballad.)

It would be very easy for me to use any of a number of great military heroes to show the Tattered Remnant spirit in uniform. The obvious candidates are the Few who stopped the Luftwaffe over London in 1940. But, being cheerfully American, I might rather look to those who led us to victory at D-Day, or those Navy airmen who sank four Japanese carriers at Midway, or those Army warriors who liberated any of a hundred Nazi camps, or those Marines that stopped the Hun at Belleau Woods, or perhaps those of the 20th Maine who stopped the South at Little Round Top and saved the Union.

But the well known heroes are already honored (by definition).

I could, rather, look to the honorably defeated: history remembers the 300 at Thermopylae, the defenders at the Alamo, Chinese Gordon and his men at Khartoum (albeit our sympathies these days are with the Sudanese who killed them), the 400 or so at the Warsaw ghetto--to die in defense of one's nation, even in hopelessness and defeat, is not lacking in its own glories.

But what of those who seemingly pointlessly die in fubars, snafus, and operational botches? Who die self-defeated to the great humiliation of their nation?

Could it be that even they may be worthy of remembrance?

To illustrate the spirit of military self-sacrifice at its finest--to give ones life even in disastrous defeat--let me do honor to those who are apparently the greatest military failures known to us: those who died in what was viewed, at the time, as the most humiliating, devastating and, yes, embarrassing of American defeats. They died in a military blunder far from home and far from help, doomed by poor preparation by layers of command far above their own. The mission that they went on was a fiasco by every possible measure, and they were self-defeated without the enemy even knowing that they were present.

For in so dying they brought about, in the following years, our most amazing victory, that which came over the Soviet Union. Their sacrifice lay in being a casualties to bad planning, bad equipment, and insufficient training: deficiencies which, as a result, were largely remedied in the years that followed (if only just in time).

The disaster rings down now, lo, these thirty years later. For the disaster at Desert One remains, to this day, a disgrace and an embarrassment to the United States: and yet without it, we might not have bloodlessly won the Cold War. By this defeat we saved the world from a nuclear holocaust.

BACKGROUND OF THE DESERT ONE FIASCO

A. Some History, Ancient and Modern


Once upon a time, a very, very long time ago, there was a country known as "Persia", a corruption of the name "Fars," which is one of its provinces (much as the Netherlands is also known by the name "Holland"). The name Iran is, however, associated with the word "Aryan," the ancient horse-people that conquered the preliterate world; the country took this name in the 1930s, when "Aryanism" was held in respect by, er, certain countries.

The ancient Persians conquered Babylon and their great king, Cyrus, returned the People of Israel to their homeland. In the centuries that followed, the Zoroastrian/pagan Persians were the great Eastern enemies of the Roman empire and on occasion even captured Roman Emperors in battle. It was against the Persians that Marcus Crassus, the wealthy third member of the Roman First Triumvirate, fell in battle in Iraq. Later, the Persians played a major role in the spread of Islam to their east, into India and the Turkic lands of central Asia.

But sometimes empires strike out. By the early 1920s, the old Qajar dynasty of the Iranian imperial line was in its final days. The last Shah of the old dynasty was ineffective and weak, and was presently replaced in all but name by the head of his guard, one Reza Khan. Reza took the name Pahlavi, and having forced the old Shah into exile, was declared Reza Pahlavi, "Shahanshah", King of Kings, or Emperor.

The new Shah ruled, well, imperially, per his title. His goal was the modernization and development of his country. To that end, he needed funds, and to get those funds he entered into agreements with British and American oil companies. However, those oil interests became deeply entrenched, as he soon found. He turned to Germany's influence to counter that of the Western powers.

When, in 1941, the darkest days of the War against the Nazis, Shah Reza tried to expel the Westerners. This was intolerable; soon the British and the Soviets together worked to expel Shah Reza Pahlavi and replace him with his then youthful son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was in his 22nd year.

It was necessary at that time to take that step, as the railroad through Iran to Russia was vital to supplying the Soviet war effort against Nazi Germany, and suppressing Nazi influence in Iran was imperative. However, it deepened Western control over the leadership of that nation, deeply resented both by Iran's political and intellectual classes as well as by its Islamic institutions. The long term consequences of this act continue to play themselves out to this day.

In 1953, the Emperor, no longer a youth, was overthrown by the prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, who favored nationalizing the oil companies and expelling the British and Americans. Again, this was intolerable; Iran bordered Stalinist Russia and a rapprochement with them was also unacceptable. So US and British intelligence agencies arrested Mossadegh, and restored Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to his throne, where he sat secure for another quarter century.

B. The Iranian Revolution

In the late 1970s, the imperial Iranian regime was on its last legs. Although it held thousands of political prisoners, a broad coalition of opponents of the regime–including Islamic clerics, Communist intellectuals, and liberals advocating a westernized democracy–united against the Shah. Iranian university students world wide made a nuisance of themselves while massive street demonstrations in Tehran and elsewhere demonstrated the Shah's weakening hold.

Between pressure from the streets, the general weakening of Western will, the feckless Carter administration in Washington, and the Shah's own deteriorating health due to cancer, the Shah's political backing buckled and, in February 1979, he fled his country. He eventually came to the United States so that his cancer could be treated.

The new revolutionary regime in Iran took control on his departure. It was at first a coalition, but as time progressed clearly a regime of Islamist supremacists united in the desire to create a totally Islamist state was in place. The transitional regime was itself overthrown and those former revolutionaries who supported a democratic or socialist course for the country were quickly arrested.

All power was soon given over to the Grand Ayatollah, Imam Ruhollah Khomeini. Iran was now nominally a republic (resembling that of United States!--a lefthanded complement that the Iranians could never acknowledge). It was, however, a sham, created to give a figleaf of popular authority to religious autocracy, even if some of its institutions were nominally democratic.

The powers that be in the West, in particular President Jimmy Carter, could not make heads or tails out of the new regime. They looked at it through the lens of the long struggle with the Soviets and it fit none of their preconceived notions. It wasn't communistic or socialist, which pleased them somewhat; nevertheless, they had no comprehension that with the Khomeini regime a new, or perhaps a resurrected ancient, enemy of the West was arising. Every attempt by Carter and his cohorts to reach out to the new regime failed for reasons clear to us now but bewildering to them.

In short, the Iranian revolutionaries took their faith absolutely literally and made every decision on that basis. And Jimmy Carter and his crew, who only nominally understood their own Christian faith, could not understand this new Islamic mindset that confronted them.

They did not comprehend what the goals of the regime were: in short, that the Islamists who now ruled Iran wanted nothing less than the overthrow of Western style democracy everywhere and its replacement by absolutist Islamic teachings and Islamic law in the Shiite tradition.

The Iranian fundamentalists, for their part, looked at the world under the impression that God Himself wanted them to destroy the West and could not themselves understand anything about Western life that could be viewed positively, as 'freedom', to them, meant only 'freedom to sin'. This mutual lack of comprehension led to endless blundering in the days ahead.

C. The Hostage Crisis

The United States got a forewarning of what was to come during the revolution of February 1979, when students briefly occupied the US embassy. That occupation ended quickly; the students were expelled by government forces intent on keeping some sort of Western structure to their nation.

As a consequence of this incident, the US reduced its personnel footprint in Iran to an absolute minimum, but still there remained on the order of fifty or so diplomatic personnel on station in Iran. They remained in place as the Carter administration desired to have a continuous source of information and intelligence on developments in Iran–a not irrational choice, given the entirely new developments that Iran was currently undergoing. However, of the three CIA officers in place, none spoke Farsi.

On November 4, 1979, the embassy was again occupied by a mob of several hundred students. The US diplomatic personnel, as well as a handful of US citizens who were in the embassy on business, were taken hostage; many were paraded blindfolded before a mob and television cameras in what is today an indelible image of American humiliation.

Carter and his administration was already reeling from post-Vietnam self-doubt, "stagflation" (a combination of inflationary monetary policies and low growth stemming from overtaxation) and a national lassitude and loss of faith in the American mission that is now known as "The Malaise". Carter and his team were confounded by the challenge before them.

For the first few weeks following the taking of the hostages, it appeared likely that a diplomatic solution could be found. Most of the women and African American hostages were freed early on; one other was freed in July 1980 after he fell ill. The remaining 52 hostages remained in Iranian custody in various conditions of torment (at worst) or harassment and deliberate annoyance (at best) for the whole of the 444 day crisis.

A series of negotiations were undertaken, and they had a pattern: an Iranian diplomat would suggest this or that solution, Carter would agree with it, plans would move forward... and then, at the last minute, the Ayatollah Khomeini would veto the deal. Then two weeks later, the cycle would renew itself. And Carter kept falling for it, like Charlie Brown attempting to boot Lucy's football.

D. The Bear In The Woods: The Soviet Factor

There was also a general darkening of the geopolitical picture worldwide. While the American government became fixated on the Iranian difficulty, the geriatric leaders of the Soviet Union had problems of their own. In what was later seen as the beginning of the second Russian revolution, the Soviet leadership under the senescent Leonid Brezhnev, which only five years earlier had celebrated the pinnacle of its imperium when South Vietnam was conquered, itself began to crack. Its regime in Afghanistan began to totter and the extremists in power there seemed to be on the verge of being overthrown.

As a result, the Soviets, on December 21, 1979–-only weeks after the embassy was taken in Tehran–-took over Afghanistan and executed its president for incompetence, placing a puppet regime in power. A long, cruel war followed in which up to one million Afghans died over the next nine years. In the US, it was feared that the Soviet thrust into Afghanistan was preparatory to a possible lunge into Iran and thence to the oil fields in the Middle East.

But Afghanistan was not the only troubled area that confronted the Soviet leadership. In Poland, the Solidarity trade union movement presented Eastern Europe with its first challenge to Soviet authority since the Czechoslovakian invasion of 1968. In Britain, The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, took power and presented the Soviets with the first British leader since Churchill who understood that strength, not weakness, was necessary when confronting Soviet aggression. At the same time, the newly elected Polish pope, Karol Woytila, John Paul II, confronted the Soviets with a spiritual force, radically different than that of the Ayatollahs, that it could not easily contain.

Thus the Soviets were facing unprecedented internal challenges to their authority which made them extremely dangerous. And President Carter, after years of naive acceptance of Soviet good intentions, imposed sanctions on the Soviets. Following the Afghan invasion, he embargoed the sale of American grain to the Soviets; furthermore, he boycotted the Moscow Olympics, cut cultural ties, and started the military buildup which in later years would be called the "Reagan Buildup."

The world was sliding toward conflict, and the continued hostage crisis could not long be borne. It was in this atmosphere that the plan to rescue the hostages began to take form.

E. Operation Eagle Claw: The Rescue Operation

As the winter of 1979 melted into the spring of 1980, Carter's standing nationwide dropped dramatically. He hid out in the White House while his hold even on the Democratic nomination for president slipped. Opponents to his weak willed administration coalesced around Edward Kennedy; only Teddy's ineffectual defense of his ambition before a television interviewer saved the United States from another Kennedy Administration.

In the face of this, Carter decided that only a heroic rescue of the hostages could allay doubts as to his leadership and abilities to lead the Western World. He therefore gave the order for the United States military to assemble a strike team to penetrate deep into Iraq, free the 53 hostages, and bring them home again. Had he accomplished this, he would have very likely been reelected, and the entire history of the end of the 20th Century would have been dramatically changed.

But there was much to be overcome. Where the Iranians did not necessarily have day to day surveillance over the American fleet that had gathered in the Gulf, the Soviets did, through trawlers that shadowed the American fleet. They saw that American aircraft carriers held helicopters topside–the identities of which were known by sight by any analyst worth his salt. We knew this--and this caused our first blunder.

For the helicopters topside on American aircraft carriers were RH-53D Navy minesweeping helicopters, intended not for long range missions–but for close-in surveillance. This range limitation was caused by a simple fact: the RH-53D were incapable of in flight refuelling. But replacing the helicopters with something that could have been refueled in flight would have alerted the Soviet trawlers–and through them, the Iranians–that a rescue mission was offing.

The plans, therefore, required that the copters stop somewhere between the aircraft carriers and the rescue points in Tehran to be refueled. They chose a spot in the middle of the South Iranian desert; this spot would be given the name Desert One.

The second mistake grew from interservice rivalry stemming from the prestige of the mission. All who participated in the planning process knew that, if it were successful, it would rank with the great Western military triumphs of the 20th Century: the liberation of the Entebbe raid on July 4, 1976; the American landings at Inchon, Korea in 1950; even the American invasion of D-Day.

Accordingly, all the different services wanted a piece of the action, and one of the medals that would no doubt be awarded to all and sundry once the hostages returned in triumph. Therefore, every service had to have a place in the picture. And it was this mutual competitiveness for glory, medals and Defense budget funding in future years that engendered a cross-hatched command structure that degraded planning and operations tremendously.

The third mistake that was made was overly tight secrecy. The plan was so secret that nobody below the four-star level had the slightest clue as to what was really going on. As such, as each section of the team was separately trained, the parts were expected to mesh together perfectly when nobody had had a chance to rehearse as a team prior to the launching of the mission itself. As it developed, the rescue team trained separately from the pilots, who trained separately from the mechanics, who trained... etc. As things went forward, the fact that nobody had worked together prior to the commencement of the mission doomed it from the very beginning.

The fourth and final mistake was made at the highest levels, by President Carter himself. Out of either caution in the face of Soviet expansionism or, what can (charitably) be called an undue aversion to the use of force, he decreed that the unit sent to rescue the hostages must be no larger than the absolute bare minimum required for success. Given that 50 or more hostages were held, they required six helicopters to carry out the mission, for fewer were unable to carry the men and women held by the Iranians. But President Carter would only allow a maximum of eight copters, allowing for a cushion of two for the mission to go forward. More copters would have made the mission a possible success, but would have required more refuelling craft.

Teams scouted out areas forward to prepare the way. Desert One was identified by CIA officers on the ground; a second landing zone, designated Desert Two, was also chosen outside of Tehran proper for the hostages to join the copters once they were extracted from the embassy by a hidden team of warriors secreted in place on the ground. Other well-laid plans were in place using ground agents of the CIA and other organizations, awaiting the arrival of the eight helicopters.

F. The Fateful Day: April 24, 1980

Early in the morning of that fateful day, the rescue force took off from their respective starting points: four fix-winged aircraft left from Egypt, followed by eight helicopters leaving the U.S.S. Nimitz and other carriers in the Persian Gulf.

The first helicopter went down two hours into the mission when an indicator light showed a malfunction with the blades. Rather than risk continuing the mission in an incapable aircraft, a second copter landed with the troubled craft and took the crew on board. The eight copters were now down to seven.

Secondly, a low level 'haboob' – a sandstorm, the existence of which was unknown to the copter pilots – caused an electrical malfunction to another copter, which abandoned the mission and returned to the Nimitz. The mission was now down to the bare minimum of six helicopters. One more and the mission would have to be abandoned.

The six helicopters rendezvoused with the four fix winged aircraft. Two of them carried out refuelling functions and per plan left Desert One for Egypt. During preflight inspections, however, one of the remaining six helicopters displayed a bad indicator light, showing that that helicopter was not fit for the remaining flight to the rescue point at Desert Two. The ground commander determined that the mission could not possibly go forward with five helicopters and the mission was scrubbed. Word was transmitted back to the White House, which responded immediately, affirming the scrub order. Word went down for the mission to be abandoned.

Then the crowning disaster struck. One of the helicopters, changing positions prior to departure, moved forward and then crashed into a C-130 refuelling craft on the ground. Eight men were killed instantly in the conflagration. The survivors left, leaving the corpses of the dead and the wreckage of the destroyed aircraft on the ground.

It seemed at that time that it was the end of the military pretensions of the United States. Eight burned corpses, three burned aircraft, and half-destroyed abandoned helicopters holding classified documents identifying American CIA operatives and sympathizers in Iran were left behind in the sands of Desert One. Eight Americans and, accidentally, one Iranian civilian, lay dead in the sand.

G. Aftermath of the Disaster

The corpses of the dead were taken to Tehran and put on display by the Revolutionary Government of Iran.

The American national humiliation that followed caused a side effect that was most unexpected: the revival and return to respectability of both American patriotism in popular culture and of the United States military, which, in the five years following the fall of Saigon, had been an object of derision and loathing among most young Americans of those days.

Prior to the Iranian disaster, to 'wind up in the Army' was the booby prize of American youth culture; a military career was to be avoided at all costs. Furthermore, Vietnam veterans faced a national shunning that even included employment discrimination–eventually requiring Federal legal action to prevent.

But in the days that immediately followed the Iran disaster, military service began once more to be seen as a fundamentally good thing, a way to contribute, not merely a place to spend one's career for lack of anything better to do. The quality of those enlisting shot up dramatically and shortfalls in enlistments, endemic in those days, began to abate.

The national aversion to patriotic displays also began to abate as well. In the late 1970s, again as a result of the Vietnam experience, Americans, and especially young Americans, tended to stifle any patriotic displays in public. Such ceremonies such as the Pledge of Allegiance had largely disappeared from classrooms, and events such as Memorial Day parades saw their attendance drop. When Superman (The Movie) was released in 1978, in the scene where he told Lois Lane that "I am here to fight for truth.... justice... and the American way!" loud snickers were heard in the audience.

After the Iran debacle, the combination of national shame and rage at the Iranian clerics caused a backlash. At first, the displays of the new patriotism were crude; there was a sudden appearance of Mickey Mouse t-shirts with Mickey displaying his middle finger with one hand and holding an American flag with another. A general aversion to things Iranian followed--not Islamic, but Iranian–which showed America's fundamental misunderstanding as to the nature of the new difficulty facing us.

However, the most important development lay in the new, general cultural acceptance of a need for a military buildup. Only seven years after the end of the draft, the Carter administration laid the groundwork for a new draft. Registration was now being required for those turning 18 in 1979. This requirement was accepted without a qualm as millions of young American males filled out their draft registrations in the spring of 1980. Only half a decade after Vietnam, there were no draft protests.

As the spring progressed it was generally seen that the Jimmy Carter brand of 'Detente' in the face of Soviet aggression and weakness in the face of a new fascism was unacceptable to the American people, and they turned to the Republican candidate for President: the self-same Ronald Reagan who had been derisively mocked at Woodstock as "Ronald Ray-Gun (zap)". In November 1980, Reagan decisively beat Carter in the Presidential election and a new era commenced.

The Iranian fascination with taunting Jimmy Carter, however, was itself distracted by historical developments. In mid-1980, Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, decided that he saw military weakness in his larger neighbor and, in September, ordered an invasion into the western provinces of Iran. The Iranians, now facing a major land war from a neighbor, decided that the United States was less important a threat than the Iraqis, and they turned away from the "hostage crisis."

The election of Reagan in November 1980 was noticed in Iran and both sides saw an opportunity to put an end to the whole affair. As a "goodwill gesture," the 52 remaining American hostages and the bodies of the dead American soldiers from Desert One were released and returned to the United States as Reagan took his oath of office. The "Hostage Crisis" was over after 444 days.

THE ROLL OF HONOR



Eight men died in the Desert One fiasco. Their names were:

Major Richard L. Bakke, USAF, born 13 May 1948
Sergeant John D. Harvey, USMC, born 30 May 1958
Corporal George N. Holmes, Jr., USMC, born 20 July 1957
Staff Sergeant Dewey L. Johnson, USMC, born 26 May 1948
Major Harold L. Lewis Jr., USAF, born 26 February 1945
Technical Sergeant Joel C. Mayo, USAF, born 26 October 1945
Major Lyn D. McIntosh, USAF, born 11 October 1946
Captain Charles T. McMillan, USAF, born October 4, 1951

A headstone stands today at Arlington National Cemetery in memory of their sacrifice:

IN HONOR OF MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES WHO DIED DURING AN ATTEMPT TO RESCUE AMERICAN HOSTAGES HELD IN IRAN

It's a very small monument, not much, really.

They deserve better. There is a very real chance that, in sacrificing their lives, these men, and the band of brothers who served with them, made possible American victory in the Cold War, as their loss highlighted the paper tiger that was the American military in 1980.

It might even be said that lives brought about the election of an American President who was able to bring the Cold War to a victorious end. (The thought of Jimmy Carter facing off against the wily and evil Yuri Andropov, the butcher of Budapest, does not bear thinking about.)

Churchill's honoring of the Few can now, in retrospect, be given to the eight who died--as well as to the others who served in a futile and disasterous mission, made glorious now only with thirty years' perspective.

God rest and remember them all.


COUNTERPOINT - THE AYATOLLAHS RUHOLLAH KHOMEINI & SADEGH KHALKHALI

Although America remembers 9/11 as the gravest insult that America ever suffered since Pearl Harbor, there was one event associated with the rescue attempt that still stinks in the nostrils among those who remember that time. For after the disaster, ayatollahs of Iran showed a vengeful barbarism unmatched these thousand years.

The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered that the wreckage left behind by the American hostage rescue attempt be used to humiliate the United States; he understood the particular care and affection that Americans have for their deceased soldiers. So he ordered his subordinates, foremost among them the "Hanging Ayatollah," Ayatollah Sadagh Khalkhali, to desecrate the American casualties.

Khalkhali was a man of remarkable vengeance and bitter hatreds. He was the point man for the ayatollas' dirty work; he it was that executed large numbers of 'enemies' of the Islamist regime. He also destroyed many public monuments, including the tomb of the Shah's father. Wikipedia tells the following story about him:



Khalkhali is famous for ordering the executions of Amir Abbas Hoveida, the Shah's long time prime minister ..... according to one report, after sentencing Hoveida to death, "pleas for clemency poured in from all over the world and it was said that Khalkhali was told by telephone to stay the execution. Khalkhali replied that he would go and see what was happening. He then went to Hoveida and either shot him himself or instructed a minion to do the deed. 'I'm sorry,' he told the person at the other end of the telephone, 'the sentence has already been carried out.'"
After the rescue mission, Khalkhali ordered the corpses of the dead American servicemen be brought to Tehran; before television cameras he reached into the canvas body bags and extracted burned limbs and skulls of the good men who died trying to rescue their fellow Americans. He gloated as he displayed these dead things: the lifeless limbs of honorable men who died in the best of causes, even if inexpertly carried out; each one, even the lowest ranking, far greater a man than he could ever be.

Americans remember with rage and pain the insult of 9/11. Furthermore, history is replete with barbarians displaying the corpses of their enemies. But there is something particularly dark, even Satanic, about the behavior of these Men of God on this occasion.

And yes, they were Men of God of a sort, which actually damns them deeper. Ayatollahs are the "archbishops" of Shiite Islam; they are men, according to their own beliefs, annointed by God to bring their people closer to Him through better observance of the Islamic faith. And yet they committed what can only be called an act of self-befoulment in this display, waving around charred limbs and skulls in an act of savagely primitive triumphalism.

In the written history of man, this clerical abomination has only one parallel: the so-called Synodus Horridus, the Cadaver Synod of the deceased Pope Formosus, carried out in 897 AD by Pope Stephen, seventh of that name, Formosus' immediate successor but one. In the course of the trial, Stephen placed the corpse of the dead pope on a throne for the entirety of the proceeding--probably the darkest and most depraved act in the history of mediaeval Christianity. This is the level to which the Ayatollahs had sunk.

Americans surely wish the names of these two men be erased, but then we are biased.

History, however, has its own way of making its judgment known.

In 1989, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died, and at what is, in Iran, euphemistically called his "first funeral", a deranged mob dragged his corpse from his coffin and trampled it underfoot.

The Ayatollah Khalkhali lived until 2003, dying at last in the holy city of Qom; the cause of death, a diseased heart.

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