WASHINGTON -- As a young Army draftee undergoing basic training in Missouri, the miseries of a climate that was alternately sweltering and freezing, aggravated by a World War II-era camp that still heated its drafty barracks with a coal stove on each floor, were made even worse by a young lieutenant whose hazing techniques were right out of a college fraternity via the ROTC.
Although no older nor more educated than several of us, including one fellow trainee who was a Rhodes scholar, he nevertheless strove to prove himself to the company commander by needlessly harassing his charges, denying them even a few hours respite from the rigors of the training. The result, among other things, was a hospital full of pneumonia patients and a pledge by some of us to relieve our nemesis of his head if ever we encountered him in civilian life.
Nearly 30 years later, I returned to my office one evening to catch a glimpse of someone going through some boxes in our library. The night editor explained the man was doing research on a book about war correspondents. Without having to look at him twice, I knew instantly despite the aging process that here was the tormentor of basic days. I amazed him by calling him by name and explaining how I knew him. Having mellowed considerably, we both had a good laugh and let bygones be bygones.
The purpose of this parable is to show that in circumstances when one has been the victim of an injustice real or imagined, those responsible aren't quickly forgotten, if ever. It is also to advise you that if you have any money to spare, bet it on the accuracy of former Iranian hostages who have identified that country's new president-elect as one of those who occupied the U.S. embassy some 26 years ago and kept them in bondage at the expense of their families and the honor of their nation.
Like the victims of the Holocaust who decades later can see a figure on the street and instantly recognize him as one of the barbarians of Auschwitz or the other hideous Nazi camps, the survivors of the Iranian nightmare aren't likely to be wrong. They know damn well that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an active participant in an event whose repercussions are still being felt. So why not let bygones be bygones?
First of all, Ahmadinejad, through his aides, has denied that is the case although he refuses to answer questions directly. The story conveniently drafted as an explanation is that while he knew of the plans of his fellow students to invade the U.S. embassy, he voted against it, arguing that the attack should come on the Russian embassy instead. That much, at least, jibes with historic analysis that has found a factor in choosing the United States was the fear of instant retaliation from the Russians had their embassy been selected. The student thugs were betting the U.S. would flinch. How correct they were.
Besides, the United States had given aid and comfort to the deposed and dying shah making it a target that would win public and official support in Teheran.
Secondly, Ahmadinejad clearly is lying about his role in the hostage incident, which makes him utterly unreliable when it comes to negotiations to keep Iran from becoming a full- fledged member of the nuclear weapons community, something he and other hard liners desperately want. He simply can't be trusted and the Bush administration has every right to try to get at the bottom of his involvement. While there seems to be little choice than to deal with him considering his position, it is always nice to understand the true nature of the person sitting across the negotiating table.
If Ahmadinejad wasn't ashamed of his participation in the disgraceful role, why not admit it? The answer seems simple enough. It would hurt his standing in the world community, painting him as one who has found it convenient at times to ignore international law to the point of terrorism, a label not even the most hard nosed anti American Iranians want pinned on them these days.
The four or five former hostages have done the country a great service by recognizing independently that their former captor has gained his country's highest office. They aren't wrong in their identification. You can take that to the bank.
X Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard.