I had just finished reading Mark Bowden's 2006 book Guests of the Ayatollah when I picked up Commonweal and read William Pfaff's column on Iran, “The Enemy Within” (July 17), which is rife with errors concerning the 1979 hostage crisis.

Pfaff writes: “Instead of recognizing the seizure of the embassy as an implicit act of war, and detaining Iranian officials, businessmen, and students in the United States for exchange...the Carter administration frantically forced all the Iranians in the United States to leave the country as fast as possible.” According to Bowden, Jimmy Carter-in December 1979-called for a review of the 50,000 visas held by Iranians in the United States, only to have that action challenged and halted by a federal judge. The Carter administration expelled Iranians across the United States only in early April 1980, shortly before the attempted rescue action, and some 160 days into the crisis.

Pfaff calls the rescue attempt “ill-conceived.” Bowden devotes some ninety-four pages to the meticulous planning that preceded the attempt: the training of the elite Delta force; deploying agents in Iran disguised as German businessmen to purchase trucks to be used as getaway vehicles; leasing a warehouse in which to conceal those vehicles; hiding eight helicopters for months in the belly of the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier; and the multiple and minute mission rehearsals. Bowden writes: “The failure of the rescue mission spurred the U.S. military to place a greater emphasis on special operations. The tactical issues that confronted mission planners in 1979 would pose little problem for today's...force. Veterans of the rescue mission remain bitterly disappointed about the loss of life and their failure to reach Tehran but regard the mission as a vital step into the modern age of warfare. Those familiar with the details of their audacious plan are amused by the perception of Carter as a timid commander in chief.”

Finally, Pfaff's implicit suggestion that the United States should have played Iran's game by engaging in a tit-for-tat seizure of hostages is refuted by Bowden: “Indeed, the hostage crisis, an assault on diplomacy, itself ultimately depended on diplomacy for resolution.... Holding America's emissaries hostage was a crime not just against those held captive and their country but against the entire civilized world. President Carter deserves credit for his restraint.”

I have long admired William Pfaff's writings, and expected better from him.

Laura Gellott
Racine, Wis.



I appreciated your editorial “In Defense of Politics” (August 14), which noted Pope Benedict XVI's argument that the principle of subsidiarity applies to the economy as well as to government. It's too bad that subsidiarity is an awful Latin word for modern English speakers. Few understand it, and the fact that it reminds us of the word subsidy is no help. My college dictionary does not contain it and incorrectly defines it as “subordinateness.” Even decentralization would be better. The idea is closely tied to the principle of freedom for human beings and their associations. I would ask the pope to ponder whether the principle should not also apply to the Roman Catholic Church.

Bill Birdsall
Ann Arbor, Mich.



Fiction by Alice McDermott (“I Am Awake,” July 17)—couldn't be better. I encountered her in your pages a few years ago and have tried to read anything of hers I can get my hands on. Thank you for a very literate and challenging publication. I just renewed!

Anna Rahn
Bolingbrook, Ill.



Please cut out the short stories and get back to analysis of the broad spectrum of issues involving “Religion, Politics & Culture.” I subscribe to Commonweal because it provides information and analysis I can't get elsewhere on topics that are important to me. So get back to what you do best and forget the literary-journal pretensions.

Robert Beezat
Racine, Wis.



I wish I could take you up on your invitation to participate in Commonweal Conversations, celebrating your eighty-fifth anniversary. Regrettably, I cannot. My husband gave me a subscription to the magazine several years ago, and we have kept it going “through thick and thin”—mostly it is thin now. We have cut back repeatedly on expenditures, but a Commonweal subscription remains on our list of necessities.

The voice of faith in the public square is needed more than ever these days. I would love to see Commonweal read by a wider audience, especially among the young. I wonder if you would consider other ways to expand your readership and strengthen your support, maybe by hosting smaller regional events or doing podcasts, so as to be affordable and accessible to people like me and more visible to a potential new readership. 

I notice that among your published list of donors very few names are from Georgia, yet we have a fast-growing Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, a wonderful shepherd in Archbishop Wilton Gregory, and institutes of higher learning, whose faculties include people of the caliber of Luke Timothy Johnson.

In any case, I wish you well and thank you for the way Commonweal has enriched our lives. Ad multos annos!

Trish Johnston
Atlanta, Ga.

Also by this author

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

© 2024 Commonweal Magazine. All rights reserved. Design by Point Five. Site by Deck Fifty.