WorldBoston’s Chat & Chowder series features key authors on international affairs in an engaging setting. Join us for this hybrid event, featuring John Tirman, Executive Director and Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Center for International Studies, in discussion of his recent book, Republics of Myth: National Narratives and the US-Iran Conflict.
Why does the rift between the US and Iran persist?
Iran and the United States have been at odds for forty years, locked in a cold war that has run the gamut from harsh rhetoric to hostage-taking, from crippling sanctions to targeted killings. In Republics of Myth, Hussein Banai, Malcolm Byrne, and John Tirman argue that a major contributing factor to this tenacious enmity is how each nation views itself. The two nations have differing interests and grievances about each other, but their often-deadly confrontation derives from the very different national narratives that shape their politics, actions, and vision of their own destiny in the world.
The dominant American narrative is the myth of the frontier—that the US can tame it, tame its inhabitants, and nurture democracy as well. Iran, conversely, can claim two dominant myths: the first, an unbroken (but not for lack of trying) lineage back to Cyrus the Great, and the second, the betrayal of Imam Hussein, the Prophet’s grandson. Both Iranian myths feature a detestable outsider as an enemy of the Iranian state and source of the nation’s ills and misfortune. The two countries have clashed so severely in part, the authors argue, because their national narratives constantly drive them to do so. Drawing on newly declassified documents and discussions with policymakers, the authors analyze an array of missed opportunities over several decades to improve the US-Iran relationship.
From the coup d’état that overthrew Iran’s legitimate premier Mohammad Mosaddeq to the hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq War, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, post-9/11 antagonisms, and other points of conflict, each episode illustrates anew the weight of historical narratives on present circumstances. Finally, Barack Obama’s diplomacy and Donald Trump’s determination to undo the 2015 nuclear accord are explored—both examples of the enduring power of America’s frontier narrative. Introducing new insights and knowledge in a highly readable narrative, Republics of Myth makes a major contribution to understanding this vital conflict.
John Tirman is the executive director and a principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for International Studies. Tirman is author, or coauthor and editor, of fifteen books on international affairs, including, most recently, Republics of Myth: National Narratives and the US-Iran Conflict (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022), Dream Chasers: Immigration and the American Backlash (MIT Press, 2015) and The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (Oxford University Press, 2011). Earlier work includes The Fallacy of Star Wars (1984), the first important critique of strategic defense, and Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America’s Arms Trade (1997). In addition, he has published more than 100 articles in periodicals such as the The Nation, Boston Globe, New York Times, Washington Post, Esquire, Wall Street Journal, and Boston Review. Before coming to MIT in 2004, he was program director of the Social Science Research Council. From 1986 to 1999, Tirman was executive director of the Winston Foundation for World Peace, a leading funder of work to prevent nuclear war and promote non-violent resolution of conflict. In 1999–2000, Tirman was Fulbright Senior Scholar in Cyprus and produced an educational website on the conflict. He has been a trustee of International Alert, Mother Jones magazine, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, and the Center for Contemporary Art at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
WorldBoston’s Chat & Chowder series features key authors on international affairs in an engaging setting. In addition to discussion of a featured book (usually sold at a significant discount), the program offers the opportunity for discussion among members and guests – and of course a selection of chowders and beverages. This Chat & Chowder will be hosted in-person (from 6:00 to 7:30PM ET) and simultaneously streamed to Zoom (from 6:15 to 7:15 PM ET only).