Iran Hostage Crisis: 25 Years of Jihad

Rusty Shackleford reminds us that the Islamists Declared War on the US 25 Years Ago Today:

Today is the 25th anniversary of the day the jihadis declared war on America. On Nov. 4, 1979 Islamist students in Tehran overan the U.S. embassy and took 66 Americans hostage. The hostages were held for 444 days. They were released on Jan. 20, 1981–the day Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.

I thought of this the other day in a different context but hadn’t done the math. The Iran Hostage Crisis marked the beginning of my serious interest in politics. I was a couple weeks shy of my 14th birthday at the time. Every night for the next 444 days, Walter Chronkite would sign off telling us which “day of captivity for the American hostages in Iran” we were up to. Ted Koppel launched a nightly program wrapping up the day’s hostage crisis news; it would evolve into Nightline.

The one year anniversary of the hostage crisis was inopportune for Jimmy Carter; it was Election Day 1980.* Ronald Reagan, who had been trailing in the polls only weeks before, won a landslide victory. My fascination with politics hasn’t waned. Neither, sadly, has the zeal of the Islamic extremists.

*This was the “different context.” The conventional wisdom that “late deciders break for the challenger” came from this election. The problem was that 1980 was an anomaly in that there was only one debate, which was held only days before the election, and because Carter had to endure coverage of the anniversary of the biggest failure of his presidency right at the end. Carter would have almost surely lost, anyway, but the timing was poetic.

Update: Professor Chaos thought about this, too, but didn’t get a lick of credit for it.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hey — no fair! Rusty got this story from me …

  2. Actually, I take it back — I don’t care about any credit, I just want people to recognize the facts.

  3. ScottJ says:

    I spent most of 1980 on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf after the aborted hostage raid debacle. We were there for almost nine months as Carter tried to figure out what to do. Amazingly, it was the message that the American people sent to the world by electing Ronald Reagan that changed the dynamics of the situation and the hostages were released. To those who claim that our response in Iraq was somehow “pre-emptive,” I beg to differ. To these people I patiently explain the history of U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf and that I was fighting the first battles of this war all the way back in 1980. Sometimes it sinks in.


  4. ScottJ says:

    By the way, I think we have sent a similar message to the world by re-electing George W in such a convincing manner.


  5. jen says:

    James, the Iran hostage crisis was what drew my interest in politics as well. My interest was increased mostly because my father spent most of 1980 on the USS Kitty Hawk in the Indian Ocean. Actually, his ship was sailing home when President Carter sent them back.

    ScottJ, Thanks for your service back then. Which ship were you on?