Letter from Capt. Ahmadzadeh to US Navy Captain Rogers

 In Iran, Iran grassroots diplomacy delegation, Peace Action West News

This is another piece that Iranian writer/filmmaker Habib Ahmadzadeh asked me to share with you. Please share your thoughts in the comments section and I will make sure he sees them.

Letter from Capt. Habib Ahmadzadeh of the Iranian Navy to U.S. Navy Capt. William Rogers

In 1988, during the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, the high-tech cruiser USS Vincennes was stationed in the Persian Gulf as part of a Joint Task Force. On July 3 of that year, the ship’s commander, Capt. Will Rogers III, apparently mistook a civilian Iranian airbus for an attacking war plane. He ordered his crew members to fire. The airbus was shot down, killing all 290 passengers and crew members.
The U.S. government later expressed regret for the shooting and paid some compensation to the victims’ families. However, it has never formally apologized. Instead, President Ronald Reagan presented Capt. Rogers with a medal for his actions that day.
Ten years later, on the 10th anniversary of the downing of Iran Airbus 655, Iranian Naval Capt. Habib Ahmadzadeh was serving on a frigate in the Gulf when his ship passed over the submerged wreckage of the airbus. Capt. Ahmadzadeh took the occasion to write a letter to Capt. Rogers who, to date, has not responded.
In July of 2007, the People’s Peace Delegation to Iran, cosponsored by the Virginia Anti-War Network and The Richmond Defender newspaper, met in the city of Esfahan with Capt. Ahmadzadeh and two other Iranian war veterans. Capt. Ahmadzadeh presented each of the five delegation members with copies of his book, “The War Involved City Stories,” which includes his letter to Capt. Rogers. He asked the delegation to help publicize the letter, which he has dedicated to “all those who seek a genuine dialog among civilizations.”

An Iranian Naval Captain Writes to the Captain of the USS Vincennes on the Occasion of the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655
By Captain Habib Ahmadzadeh
Mr. Will Rogers,
Senior officer in the U.S. Navy and former captain of the USS Vincennes:

In the early evening of last night, our frigate here in the waters of the Persian Gulf, whose muggy climate you and the forces under your command might still remember, crossed the coast of Hengam Island silently and with a speed of less than two naval knots. At that time, silence loomed over us all and the sonar screen detected the electric waves of the wreckage of the shot-down Iranian airbus lying calmly on the coral reefs. Most certainly, one can still find the remains of 100 or more lost civilian martyrs among the coral islands. It was a deeply moving moment.

Mr. Will Rogers,

You may or may not find it surprising that an Iranian officer of your rank has decided to make such a contact and recount his feelings to you from this side of the earth and thousands of kilometers away from you.

Mr. Will Rogers,

Do you remember these words? “I will shoulder this heavy burden to the end of my life.” This is the sentence the news agencies quoted from you the day after the explosion of the Iranian airliner. For years these words have made me, as an Eastern Muslim captain, think that if I were you at that disastrous moment and ordered such a firing, which direction would my thoughts and conscience would have taken in the future? As regards to you, as a Western man, who was responsible for such a horrible experience, I can only guess about your feelings.

Mr. Will Rogers,

Candor and sincerity constitute the basis of a real dialog. Like millions of other human beings who resort to tranquilizers to escape the small and big problems of life, have you also taken recourse to sleeping pills, alcohol or even drugs in order to push that moment into oblivion? Or have you gone to the other extreme and, in order to overlook your big responsibility in such an event, have you crept into seclusion and resorted to Nirvana with the help of seclusive schools such as Buddhism, Zen, etc.? Or maybe, like another officer of the U.S. Army, who ordered the bombardment of civilians in Vietnam using napalm bombs, you have become a priest and knelt down in front of the iron cross and the tortured body of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) and are busy saying prayers?!

Mr. Will Rogers,

“I will shoulder this heavy burden to the end of my life.” If that sentence was not pronounced from the depth of your heart or has slid into oblivion with the passage of time, you are now leading a comfortable life alongside your family. You have framed the medal of courage that President Reagan awarded you in front of the eyes of all at the pier after you returned from that excruciating mission. You are keeping it in the best place in your house and (though I do not like to apply this sentence to any other human being) you are proud of that bloody medal?!

Mr. Will Rogers,

I don’t need or want to prove that what happened was wrong. Rather, I have come to open the gate of dialog so as to reach the truth of the event after these years — the truth that will illuminate the cause of firing by the super-advanced Vincennes at a defenseless passenger plane in an international air corridor. I want to clarify whether, as the captain and commander of the Vincennes ship, you actually ordered the firing deliberately or, as presented by your propaganda apparatus, it was a hardware or software mistake in the computer system of the fleet that caused you to mistake the airbus with an F-14 Tomcat fighter plane? Or does the truth lie between these two answers? As a military captain, I seek the cause somewhere else.

Mr. Will Rogers,

You might at first be amazed at my words, but the main reason for ordering the firing of the two Standard missiles on July 3, 1988, stands on one pillar, contrary to all the one-dimensional analyses presented up to the present day. That pillar can be called, to put it tersely, the ideology of  the “American Dream.”

Mr. Will Rogers,

We had better go back some years ago for a better understanding of this ideology that has spun the entire warp and woof of the life of you Americans, so that we can better observe the application of this American Dream, at least in your military approaches. Americans always consider themselves as the heroes of freedom and democracy in the world. This fabulous savior came to the battlefield in two world wars after the exhaustion of the allied and coalition forces, thrusting the last sword like a matador at the last moment and being called the single victor of the war. This dream of fabulous savior gradually turned into a second habit of your military.

Mr. Will Rogers,

The popularity of television and the screening of bloody scenes of mass killings of Viet Cong and the villagers supporting them and setting fire to the huts by hand-held, fire-throwing guns as well as the chemical bombardment of rice farms by using wide-bodied B-52 planes that had been made for war with the northern bear (Soviet Union) – all this brought intense humiliation to your people, government and army. American soldiers who had rushed to war, inspired by the ideology of the American Dream, came to their senses after the tapering of their primary feelings. They sought those responsible for these crimes, just like any other cheated human beings. It was here that your militaristic designers thought of how to prevent this spiritual and mental repercussion of your soldiers.

Mr. Will Rogers,

After many years of military inventions, at last your sophisticated arms industry has discovered a new  maxim: “Fire and Forget.” With the invention of a new generation of propelled weapons that did not need to be controlled and guided after firing, a generation of “fire-and-forget” weapons was created. Your men fired the missiles and bombs to destroy the target after traveling kilometers away from the scene of battle. With this new generation, the  Pentagon set up another column of that ideology – the American Dream — in order to escape the reality as well as the casualties and damages. However, this generation of weapons with human and angelic appearance ended in a satanic creature, resulting in what I see corresponding to the words of the commander of the Nazi Air Force, Field Marshal Goring, who said, “Hitler was first a human being, then he became an angel, and at last he returned into the devil.”

Mr. Will Rogers,

“Fire and forget.” For years the U.S. Army has used such weapons in any type of clash in different parts of the world. The pilot or artilleryman has not watched the result of his act directly. A glaring example of the satanic use of this apparently human invention is the missile attack by the U.S. cruiser against the Iranian airbus.

Mr. Will Rogers,

Let’s take a look at the issue from another angle. When you and the crew in charge of operating the radar system in the Vincennes were trained in military training centers, you repeatedly destroyed bogus targets on the simulators by pressing a key. But the designers of the simulators only provided two options for you: if the bogus aircraft or vessel sent familiar signals, showing that it was not an enemy aircraft or ship, shooting was not allowed. Otherwise, you were expected to fire at it. Now the question is, had the designers of the simulators provided you with a third option in case of non-military targets? The answer is certainly “no.”

Mr. Will Rogers,

Thus you became addicted to a kind of psychological reaction. You became conditioned to firing, just like a person who has been practicing how to drive by playing a computer game. Now he starts to drive a real car in a crowded street. Consequently, in the Persian Gulf waters, on the world’s most advanced cruiser, you waited for an accident to happen. Those tedious training hours had made you, like other servicemen, quite nervous. Unconsciously, you were all waiting for an opportunity to change yourself from a hero of computer games into a real hero of the battlefield.

Mr. Will Rogers,

In the years when the U.S. fleet was in the Persian Gulf to support an aggressor state like Iraq, your marines were watching the waters around your ships and even the aircraft carrier through their binoculars to prevent the Iranian forces from attacking them in their small fiberglass speedboats. The U.S. fleet, equipped with the most advanced weapons, had prepared for a sophisticated warfare, as if it were about to confront the former Soviet Union. However, the Pentagon strategists had offered no theories on how to deal with martyrdom-seeking Iranian fighters on speedboats. Thus, a thick fog, a dark night or the slightest reflection of light on the sea waters could be viewed as a serious threat, such as a speedboat carrying some Revolutionary Guards. Do you know why so much publicity about the technological advancement of your arms and aircraft carriers had lost its effectiveness in the face of our small boats?

Mr. Will Rogers,

I will try to clarify the matter through an example. You may probably have worked as a navigator under a clear night sky and have seen the glittering stars in the far distance. But one should accept the fact that your nation has, for many years, observed the world through your color TVs, and thus, is not able to appreciate the greatness and grandeur of the world. Also, observing the world through a medium is one of the main causes of your fear of death, the future and  the lack of a proper relationship with nature and God. That is why you cannot bear to be alone and contemplate for even a single moment. This fear of death and a materialistic attitude towards life, which is part and parcel of the American Dream, was the main cause of the firing at the Iranian airliner.

Mr. Will Rogers,

When Iran Air Flight 655 took off from Bandar-Abbas Airport with a 15-minute delay at 10:17 a.m., you were in a state of alert. Some 35 days had passed since you were stationed in the Persian Gulf — 35 days of continuous nightmare and fear of martyrdom-seeking operations. One of your crew anxiously told you that he had seen an airplane on the radar screen. At this stage, the tragedy took place. Later, you said that due, to some technical problems, the screen had shown the airbus smaller than usual, equal to the size of an F-14 fighter jet. But in fact, nothing was wrong with the equipment. The main problem was with your stress and fear that made you give the order to fire before identifying the airplane. The result of the American Dream coming into confrontation with reality was to see an airbus airliner as a diving fighter jet on the screen. Let me quote a beautiful saying from our first Imam Ali (AS) who observed, “Never-ending dreams lead man astray and leave him alone in the face of reality.” Firing the missile put an end to the lives of 290 women, men, and children who never thought of such a destiny at that moment. But was that the end of the story? Not for you, at least.

Mr. Will Rogers,

I have also fought for several years, but prior to those years I used to read the memoirs of American soldiers, including the biography of the American pilot who dropped the A-bomb, Little Boy, on Hiroshima. And the biographies of those who burnt up the Vietnamese villages along with their residents. What was common in all these biographies was that such acts were always followed by remorse.

Mr. Will Rogers,

Why couldn’t the “fire-and-forget” ideology solve their problems? What’s your opinion in this regard? Haven’t you found an answer after a decade of living and bearing such a heavy burden? One of your presidents once made an interesting statement: “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” After the Allies defeated Iraq, a party was held in the U.S. Congress. All the senators claimed that they were present in Saudi Arabia, in order to have a share in the victory. Although such a presence was hundreds of miles far from the battlefields, even out of the reach of the Iraqi Scud missiles, they viewed themselves as the heroes. Did they also try to share the regretful event that happened to you and your friends? Didn’t President Reagan portray you as the only hero in the event that was a sheer defeat, by conferring a medal on you? Isn’t Ronald Reagan the only person who, thanks to his Alzheimer’s disease, has forgotten about this event?

Mr. Will Rogers,

The bitter experience of the American soldiers who go to bed at night with a disturbed mind and, as soon as they wake up in the morning, remember what a heavy burden they should bear until the end of their lives, has caused me to think twice before I pull the trigger. One year of living in a besieged city that was under constant fire made me understand that the laboratory philosophy of Buddha is no more than a trick when facing a brutal enemy that knows no language but force. When man’s 5,500-year-old written civilization records only 129 years without wars, how can one live with the philosophy of “never fire,” while considering man’s short life span? If Buddha passed through his quarantine in the mountains of Indochina and from behind several thousand years entered the internal war of Sarajevo at the present time, could he sit cross-legged and go into ecstasy as a responsible citizen in the face of the everyday massacre of the people of his city? Or he might have written a letter to Radovan Kradic to withhold genocide? When my country, Iran, with all its customs and beliefs, was disconcertingly attacked by its western neighbor, I had two options: the heroism of the Buddha type, remaining holy and, in a sense, escaping responsibility, or being briskly in the war and finally turning into a defeated hero of your kind. But an experience coming from 1,400 years ago could show me how to maintain equilibrium and find the only way leading to absolute happiness, by means of religion.

Mr. Will Rogers,

We Muslims have an Imam and hero named Hazrat Ali (AS). In the very early days when Islam began to propagate monotheism in the Arabian Peninsula among idolaters, a big army of the idol-worshipers in the city of Medina besieged the residence of the prophet of Islam (SAW). The greatest warrior of the polytheists, Amr bin Abdevood, crossed a moat dug around the city and challenged a fighter. Despite the fact that Hazrat Ali (AS) was still too young, he rushed to the battlefield. No one, not even Amr bin Abdevood himself, had the slightest idea that Ali would return alive from the battlefield. Fighting erupted between the two. In the first minutes of the fight, to the amazement of all, our Imam knocked down the opponent. Then he moved away to a corner and minutes later returned to the scene and was again engaged in a man-to-man fight that ended with the death of Abdevood. After the battle, the Imam was asked about those few minutes of pause. Ali (AS) replied, “When I knocked him down, he threw spittle at me. I became angry for a moment and thus rose up so as not to kill the enemy of God on account of anger and my selfishness. After my anger waned, I returned and was again engaged in the fight.”

Mr. Will Rogers,

What do you understand of this experience? A moment of contemplation for God’s gratification and never considering one’s passion. However, when your men at the Vincennes command became ensured of the fact that the fired missiles had hit the passenger plane, they shouted “Yoo-hoo.” Does this echo the snort of the American infantry in the massacre of the Red Indians or the hanging of the Blacks by Ku Klux Klan? Yes, “Yoo-hoo.”

Mr. Will Rogers,

The totality of these experiences taught me and my friends that, contrary to immoderate people like you and submissive ones like Buddha, we should clasp at our own religion and think before any firing and then pull the trigger, so that after eight years of presence in the front lines of defense that we aptly call sacred we would not need to take sleeping pills. In time of war, 4 million volunteers rushed to the battlefields and, under the canopy of religion, the invading country could not record even one case of rape to their girls or women, and this is one of the greatest human achievements in the defense. However, with the departure of American soldiers from the Far East, according to official statistics released by the United Nations organizations, 20,000 prostitutes remained in Cambodia alone. This is a real record left by your army.

Mr. Will Rogers,

I am writing this letter now on the coast of the Persian Gulf in memory of 290 innocent martyrs whose remains are still resting in the depth of the sea, about whose memory Hollywood will never make a “Titanic” epic. In every moment when I look at the sonar screen, I think of you and what you can do to diminish this heavy burden. How, you may ask? In my opinion, it would suffice to show the American Marines the starry sky and nature without the hustle and bustle of the cities, the neon lights and the empty politicians, and only express that God of this mother nature is far greater than television or radar screens. Under the shadow of God are living other human beings who have hearts and feelings and whose hearts beat for other human beings, but who do not like to forget the truth of life in excessive pleasure-seeking. If we think this way, never will any other fleet move from San Diego (the cradle of the manufacture of the famous planes of Charles Lindbergh) to create one of the greatest air disasters of history, rather than Lindbergh’s unforgettable flight over the ocean. In this way, a day will come that, by fulfillment of this enormous mission, the heaviness of this burden will be placed on every single human being, so that a man by the name of Will Rogers can also live a tranquil life with a clear conscience.

Let us hope for such a day to come.


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  • Mohammad

    I guess some Americans will find some parts of this letter disturbing but I ask them to try to understand the general idea behind it, as it helps to understand and the differences between cultures. After all, the intention is not to foment animosity but to build sustainable peace between cultures who probably can’t understand each other so much but can understand the need to respect each other.

  • True American

    My condolences to the grieving families whose loved ones we’re killed on that day.

    With so many unanswered questions, we do know that we are not to kill. Yet people go to war and kill. Some go to war by choice and others to defend their nation as they have no choice. Yet, God gave us a will and we always have a choice. We can decide whether or not to kill. We have a conscience so that we may make a moral decision, and hopefully not kill. If we must, we pray for God’s forgiveness.

    It seems that America has done everything in it’s power to kill the human spirit. It turns believers into uneducated fools. I am questioned for my decisions and my beliefs, time and time again. When I run out of words or endurance for such a fight I say “my faith is in God.” Only this will silence them, believers or not.

    If you look at the work practices, the military, the schools and the government and the election process in the US, you will see Psychological and spiritual abuse. A country that is suppose to be free is locked inside an ill society. Decisions are not made for the greater good but for the greater dollar. Desires are fulfilled instead of temptations being resisted. ‘You are not to shoot,’ they say, ‘until you see the white of their eyes.’ When was this philosophy lost?
    Giving machines the authority to kill is bringing evil to life.

    This letter reminded me of an article I recently read about automated unmanned killing robots. These drones can make a decision to kill much more quickly and accurately than a human and lack emotion. Our current drones have a human decider to make the call. These automated machines don’t. Often times humans miss their targets because of human error and others miss terrorist because they we’re too slow to decide. We are told we can eliminate this problem by using a machine (and no human conscience will have to suffer for killing another human conscience.)

    What you call the American Dream in this letter I call the American nightmare. The dream is long gone with my American-Indian Ancestors.

    The reason weapons require a human decider is so that we may make a moral decision. This gives us a chance to reflect on the choice presented to us and to consult God. We have a chance to not kill and instead to let live. We can make a decision to capture instead of killing. We can make a choice, we are not programmed, we are given a will by the grace of God.

    Human creations should not have the authority to kill as without a conscience their is no ability to distinguish between good and evil. A human decider has the choice between good and evil.

    The future of humanity is depended upon the decisions we make today. The American Movie Terminator is about a world that has created robots to do the work of people. To do the killing of people.

    If we allow our military to use automated killing robots without a human decider we will be turning the world over to things that act as people but have no souls. If we allow automated killing robots to fight we can look to a future reflective of that life in the Terminator movie.

    What we decide now also decides our future. If you have not gained anything from this story about Rogers decision, may you have at least gained the serenity to accept the things that you can not change, courage to change the things that you can and wisdom to know the difference. I ask God for this frequently.

    Please write to your representatives and ask that they outlaw killing machines that lack a human decider. It is not right for us to kill at all, and even more wrong without weighing on that decision and without the realization that we are killing a conscience living breathing entity like ourselves. We have emotions for a reason.

    You may have been told emotions interfere with decision making. In actuality, emotions are absolutely necessary to make a decision. Some survivors of brain tumors find themselves with the inability to decide. This is a result of their tumor being removed along with their emotional capacities as the tumor was in that part of the brain. It was found that these people had no ability to decide. They needed someone to make their decisions for them as they couldn’t decide what to eat or if they should eat at all. (How We Decide by Lehrer.) Emotions are essential to decision making.

    We must be responsible people and outlaw automated killing robots that lack a human decider. We should adopt better military practices if we continue to use the military and we should always be allowed a plan C-Z. If we are the deciders, we can make a better decision, a decision that will prevent another civilian aircraft from being shot down.

    God Bless the souls that died that day and may they rest in peace.

    Maybe Rogers can find it in his heart to respond to this letter and to denounce his medal from Reagan and maybe he can take up the duty of protecting the innocent from brutal murders.

    Obama says “And as nuclear power — as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.”…”So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

    I use this quote because Roger, you come from a place of experience and have the ability and respect from our government to approach them and ask that they outlaw such evil killing devices. You know the horror of living with regret and the burden of 290 lives you unjustly stole. Let their death not be vain, let it lead us to better decision making. Let it help to prevent others from facing the same fate. May it inspire you to take action to stop the use of automated killers.

  • MelanieBlau Bockstiegel

    This is so heartbreaking, and I feel so grateful to read it. As our government tries in vain to make it easier for Americans to sleep at night, they are accomplishing exactly the opposite of that.

  • Gerald Naekel

    This is a very touching letter and one that practically no America will ever see, or admit to seeing. Captain Rogers, by reports I had read later (retired Army officer) was, in the eyes of his peers, “unfit” for command of any ship. He lacked the judgement, the intellect and perhaps the conscience of a Naval officer.

    And for that, 290 innocent people died a horrific death.

    But perhaps the greater tragedy is that of the PanAm 103, the B747 taken down, perhaps, perhaps not, as a number of B747s exploded in flight over several years from the harbors of New York to the India Ocean, usually without explanation, but the bigger issue is that while the western world bemoaned the downing of that aircraft and the loss of life, never is it mentioned the downing of the Iranian airliner. Never. Not to be mentioned. In America we are not allowed to point to the obvious and this writer has made a very touching, deep and compelling view of why that is.

    When President Eisenhower gave his farewell speech in 1961, himself a former 5-star general, again lost in the passage of time, but a half century ago, before the Vietnams and Middle East and Balkan wars, that the danger America (the world truly) faced is largely internal to the defense industry and its corruption of money and power. Things have only gotten worse since then. It is no long American defense industries or weapons, it has become very globalized, feeding arms, weapons, distrust and mock hate into the mainstream of dozens of conflicts feeding both sides the weapons of continued low conflict level war and ensuring never ending escalations of the human suffering.

    It is no accident that we do not have peace in the Middle East. Look to see who profits by a continuous state of war, both as countries, or supposed pseudo allies, and industries alike.

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