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'Not again' — Increasing tensions with Iran reopens wounds of former 1979 hostages
President Trump warned Iran on Saturday that if it retaliated against the U.S. for killing Gen. Qasem Soleimani — one of Iran's highest-level military figures — it would come to deeply regret it.
"Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge," Trump wrote. "Let this serve as a warning that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago)."
In making such bellicose threats, Trump has reopened deep-seated wounds from the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81.
Trump's tweet also amplified feelings of anxiety for many Iranian Americans who had already been struggling to understand what the rise in tensions mean for their loved ones back in Iran.
That's because for many in the diaspora, historical sites in Iran continue to represent a large part of their identity and remain a strong source of pride, helping to unite Iranians from all religious, social and political backgrounds.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to twitter to respond to Trump, pointing out that "targeting cultural sites is a war crime." Some legal observers on social media also noted that under the Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, the deliberate targeting of cultural sites is prohibited.
Even though four decades have passed since Iranian protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took the Americans hostage, resulting in a 444-day ordeal, those wounds continue to haunt Americans. The crisis is viewed by many as a watershed moment that reshaped U.S.-Iran relations. The two countries cut off formal diplomatic relations in 1980.
"By raising the idea of targeting 52 cultural sites, it seems to me Trump wants to dig into the resentment that the American public has about the hostage crisis," said Ali Akbar Mahdi, a sociology professor at Cal State Northridge. "The American public has not forgotten the trauma of that. It's always a reservoir that could be used for whatever political gain could be made from Iran."
Indeed, for some survivors of the hostage crisis, the flaring of tensions and drumbeat of war in the days after the storming of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad by pro-Iranian militia members and their supporters have stirred emotions in ways that they said they haven't experienced in many years.
"The moment I heard it happened I couldn't help but flash back to what happened to us," said Mark J. Lijek, one of six Americans who managed to evade capture and take refuge at the Canadian Embassy.
Still, not all surviving members of the hostage crisis agree that the U.S. stands to benefit from Trump's assassination of Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force, which carries out the foreign operations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, melding intelligence work with a military strategy of nurturing proxy forces across the world.
William J. Daugherty, a 72-year-old former CIA case officer who lives in Georgia, said he doesn't believe Iran's proxy war capability has taken a hit because of Soleimani's death.
"Soleimani has already been replaced," Daugherty said. "I'm not sure killing him will have any positive result."
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have been rising since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Those tensions increased after a dangerous tit-for-tat between the U.S. and Iran in recent months, eventually culminating in the U.S. airstrike last week that killed Soleimanii.
Mahdi, the sociology professor, said although Soleimani's death does not necessarily cripple Iran's ability to cultivate its proxy groups across the Middle East, the general was the highest-level target that the U.S. had struck since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. As such, the killing represents a significant intensification of the worsening relationship between Iran and the United States. It could also lead Iran to intensify its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
"The symbolic significance is very high," Mahdi said.
Indeed, the reverberations of Soleimani's death have swept the nation: Iranians are in the midst of three days of national mourning, and red flags have been raised throughout the country, a symbolic gesture meant to unify the country's most pious Shiites to fight back against the U.S.
Those in the U.S. who have arguably been burdened most by the weight of recent events are Iranian Americans and survivors of the hostage crisis.
"I won't even get into how the last three days have invited the tired accusations of dual loyalties and assimilationist demands to be trotted out, or how statements about threats in our communities have renewed anxieties about not just belonging, but also personal safety," said Amy Malek, a sociocultural anthropologist specializing in the Iranian diaspora, on Twitter.
For Lijek, the images from Baghdad of pro-Iranian militia fighters and their supporters storming the walls of the U.S. Embassy compound and setting a guardhouse on fire reminded him of the fateful morning of Nov. 4, 1979, when, as a 29-year-old foreign service officer, he watched Iranian protesters storm the 27-acre compound that surrounded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
"It put me back in that mind-set … especially the first couple hours when you don't know what's happening."
Days later, when news broke that the U.S. took out Soleimani, Lijek wasn't surprised by Trump's strong response.
"Part of me says: You don't miss a chance to get someone like him," he said of the general.
Barry Rosen, who was a 23-year-old press attache at the time the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by protesters, said the recent events have felt like an emotional roller coaster.
"It's been the closest emotional feeling to 1979 for me given the fact that Iraq is so influenced by Iran," Rosen said.
Now 75, Rosen was at home in New York City watching NBC with his wife, Barbara, when he saw images of protesters attacking the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. "I told my wife, 'Not again,'" he said. When he heard of Soleimani's death, his attention turned to current American prisoners detained in Iran.
"I fear that now the American prisoners will not be freed for a long while," he said.
Daughterty hopes Americans will interpret events that have unfolded over the last week with nuance.
"A huge number of Iranians seem to want to reengage with West," he said. "It is an educated nation."
©2020 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Seventy-five years ago Wednesday, Fred Reidenbach was aboard a Navy patrol craft loaded with radio gear, helping to coordinate the landing at Iwo Jima, a volcanic island the U.S. military hoped to use as a staging area for the eventual invasion of Japan.
Reidenbach was a 22-year-old sergeant with the 4th Marine Division from Rochester, New York, and recalls that it was cold that day. The Marines were issued sweaters, heavy socks and 2.5 ounces of brandy to steel them for the task ahead: dislodging 21,000 Japanese soldiers from heavily fortified bunkers and tunnels. Reidenbach wasn't a drinker but didn't have trouble finding someone to take his brandy.
"I passed it on to somebody who liked it better than me," he said.
Though the Army has yet to actually set an official recruiting goal for this year, leaders are confident they're going to bring in more soldiers than last year.
Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, told reporters on Wednesday that the Army was currently 2,226 contracts ahead of where it was in 2019.
"I will just tell you that this time last year we were in the red, and now we're in the green which is — the momentum's there and we see it continuing throughout the end of the year," Muth said, adding that the service hit recruiting numbers in February that haven't been hit during that month since 2014.
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Active-duty service members, Reservists and National Guard members often serve side-by-side performing highly skilled and dangerous jobs, such as parachuting, explosives demolition and flight deck operations.
Reservists and Guard members are required to undergo the same training as specialized active-duty troops, and they face the same risks. Yet the extra incentive pay they receive for their work — called hazardous duty incentive pay — is merely a fraction of what their active-duty counterparts receive for performing the same job.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-3 of Moorestown, are partnering on legislation to correct the inequity. Known as the Guard and Reserve Hazard Duty Pay Equity Act, the bill seeks to standardize payment of hazardous duty incentive pay for all members of the armed services, including Reserve and National Guard components.
Another Marine was hit with jail time and a bad-conduct discharge in connection with a slew of arrests made last summer over suspicions that members of a California-based infantry battalion were transporting people who'd crossed into the U.S. illegally.