Oscar winning Argo
Americans making the best out of rewriting the facts
Argo’s win of an Oscar as best film borrows from the American deeply held views of exceptionalism and manifest destiny.
In 1979 as the Shaw of Iran fell, protesters took to the streets in Tehran, storming the US embassy, retaliating for the CIA activities. Of the 52 embassy staff taken hostage, six escaped. Without fan fair, Ken Taylor, Canadian Ambassador came to the rescue and protected them from Nov 7, 1979 to January 28, 1980. Hiding the staff inside the Canadian Embassy not only put Taylor and his staff at risk, jeopardizing the Canadian presence in Iran.
Along comes Hollywood and casts its film-making aurora shadowing the facts, insuring the CIA gets the credit. So instead of Taylor and his staff being in the script as those who protected the hostages the CIA ends up as hero, although Ben Affleck, director and main character did acknowledge the Canadian role in his acceptance speech.
Former US President, Jimmy Carter – US president at the time – when asked by Pierce Morgan on CNN his view said, “A great drama.” Then stepping up to set the record straight commented, “90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA…But Ben Affleck’s character in the film was…only in Tehran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”
Canadians aren’t surprised. Living alongside the best neighbors a country could have, we have learned to make sense of and put up with two dynamic and powerful American myths: manifest destiny – the US is particularly chosen in the world for greatness, and exceptionalism – “our country is the greatest in the world.”
The braggadocio of our dearly loved friends doesn’t in any way undermine our appreciation of their huge generosity. They are cordial, not just to snow birds from the north who help keep the economies of Florida and Arizona going in the winter, but magnanimous in friendship. Our common, longest unprotected border in the world speaks of their character and will. And we remain their largest trading partner.
However, we have learned how to live alongside, as good neighbors do. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when asked what it was like as a Canadian to live alongside the most powerful country in the world, employed the analogy of the elephant and mouse. Then he added, when sleeping with an elephant, always keep your eyes open, for if you don’t, when he rolls over you are in trouble.
Ken Taylor – understood not only how diplomacy works but how best to get along – in an understated response, when asked about the film’s accuracy: “In reality, Canada was responsible for the six [American embassy staff] and the CIA was a junior partner. But I realize this is a movie and you have to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.”
Bigness has its benefits: the world revolves around your life and world view. Smallness also has its benefits. Bored with one’s back yard, as Canadians, the world becomes our playground.
I suppose that’s why Canadian and Americans are the best neighbors in the world. One compensates for and enriches the other. Strengths and weakness reinforce each other allowing for two friendly and side-by-side neighbors to each make the case that their country is the best in the world.
Brian C. Stiller
Ben Affleck in ‘Argo’ (Photo: Warner Bros.)