Letters | Unpacking the Interwar Years

LESS THAN A LOVE FEST

Regarding the interview with John Ghazvinian (“Iran and America,” June 2021), I would like to draw attention to the interwar years of 1919 to 1939, what Ghazvinian calls a “golden summer” of diplomacy between the two countries—a “bit of a love fest.” U.S. State Department reports, however, tell another story.

At the center of this story is Reza Khan, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, who came to power in 1921 and was crowned shah in 1925. The State Department accounts of his self-aggrandizement, rapaciousness, and cruelty are extensive. By 1932, Reza Shah was the country’s largest landholder—the result of his seizing tribal lands, including one divestiture of seven thousand pastures, villages, and hamlets. In 1933 the U.S. minister reported on the shah’s “maniacal personal avarice”; Reza Khan funneled $100 million of the $150 million in oil royalty payments to his European accounts.

Reports of Reza Shah’s cruelty also abound. In 1932 the minister wrote that “there is no end to the stories one hears of Reza Shah’s personal cruelty,” indiscriminately dealt to government officials, ministers, sheiks, chauffeurs, butlers, and cooks. His chief parliamentary clerical opponent, Sayyid Hassan Modarres, was removed from office in 1928, sent into exile, and died in 1937 at the age of eighty-five, possibly from poisoning.

It is true that Reza Shah helped modernize Iran—constructing roads and rail lines, expanding the grids for telecommunications and electricity, building modern manufacturing plants, extending educational opportunities, and increasing medical care. Ghazvinian notes that by the 1930s the United States was Iran’s third largest trading partner. But at what cost?

Understanding American-Iran relationships requires a close look at the interwar years. To do so, one might even go back to the assassination of U.S. Vice Consul Robert Imbrie in Iran in July 1924. A year earlier the U.S Consul in Tehran had described Reza Khan as a man of “uncontrolled passions,” who might create “an incident with far reaching results.” The day of Imbrie’s murder Reza Khan conveniently declared martial law. One report of Imbrie’s murder described Persian relief that the victim was “only an American.” The interwar years is not a story of a “love fest” between two nations. The Ghazvinian interview, although not his book, oversimplifies this relationship and could easily lead to misunderstanding of a country three times the size of France dating back 2,700 years.

Susan M. Stein
Omaha, Nebr.

 

DISREGARDED

I read the article “Still Unaccommodated” (July/August 2021) with interest. My parish (St. Mary’s in Seattle) has become an example of how Spanish-speaking Catholics are disregarded by the Church. We are a bilingual community (about one-third English-speaking and two-thirds Spanish-speaking) that has worked since the mid-1980s to include all parishioners in parish life and leadership. Communications and catechesis are in both Spanish and English.

Unfortunately, these gains have been eroded in the past several years by an archbishop-appointed pastoral leader who has undermined many of the gains that we made over twenty-five years. The archdiocese is planning to close St. Mary’s and merge us with an adjoining parish. As more details came out, we found that the proposed parish would not have a Spanish-language Mass, nor is its church large enough to accommodate the Spanish-speaking members. When we pointed this out to the archdiocese, it became apparent that they intended only English speakers to be merged, splitting the community. Archdiocesan representatives even suggested that Spanish-speaking parishioners could move to any parish that they wanted. Obviously, there was no plan for our fellow Spanish-speaking members.  

These actions bear out that Spanish-speaking Catholics are not treated as equal members. In our case the ill-treatment includes intentionally weakening and closing a parish that made continuing and long-term changes to value all parishioners, regardless of language.  

Steve Wittmann-Todd
Seattle, Wash.

 

KEEPING THE SABBATH HOLY

Regarding Mollie Wilson O’Reilly’s article “Much Obliged” (September 2021): I take real exception to Cardinal Dolan’s unilateral definition of what defines making the Sabbath holy. I do take seriously our obligation to take time to bring ourselves into God’s presence, especially on the Sabbath. But that may take many forms. During the pandemic year (and, sadly, beginning again with the uptick in cases) my husband and I created our own way of keeping Sunday holy. Watching a Mass online did not appeal to us, so we routinely sat down and read the Lectionary readings and shared what we heard in them. We also used an excellent guide: Breaking Open the Lectionary by Margaret Nutting Ralph, whose scholarship added context and nuance. These mornings have been the most spiritually fruitful and fulfilling of our forty-four years together. No, there was no Eucharist, but God was in our midst.

Mary Lu Callahan
Iowa City, Iowa

 

FOUND IN TRANSLATION

I so enjoyed Cathleen Kaveny’s article describing her experience reading Augustine in Latin (“Ancient, But Ever New,” July/August 2021). It seems that English has overtaken global communications and, with translations readily available, foreign-language study has declined irrespective of the discipline pursued.

The greater loss, however, is the gift of being able to read a text in the language of its author. The author’s choice of words, grammatical structure, and writing style cannot be appreciated in translation, which is the work of another person inhabiting a different culture at another time. Even good translations cannot transmit the nuances of the author’s language. We are poorer when we’re reduced to reading for content alone.

It was only after studying Italian through 400-level courses that I appreciated the gift of reading in an author’s language. Prof. Kaveny’s ability to read Augustine in his own words impressed me. Latina non est facilis! Brava!

Annette Sansone
Depew, N.Y.

 

CELEBRATING THE DOMINICAN RITE

The photo on page 15 of the September 2021 Commonweal is labeled “A Tridentine Mass.” I think, though, that it is more likely a Dominican Rite Mass, which isn’t the same thing. The Dominican Rite was suppressed after Vatican II but is occasionally still celebrated. One of the two servers behind the celebrants is wearing a Dominican habit with a surplice, and I suspect that the other two servers off to the side are wearing the same, although it is unclear. The Mass is obviously taking place in the chapel of a religious order; note the choir stalls, still used by Dominicans. It is hard to believe that a Dominican, nostalgic for a past that he may once have experienced or that in fact he never experienced, would celebrate a Tridentine Mass rather than a Dominican Rite one, if given the option.

Boniface Ramsey
New York, N.Y.

Published in the October 2021 issue: 
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