Home News Moorhead C. Kennedy Jr., 93, dies; held hostage to foreign policy

Moorhead C. Kennedy Jr., 93, dies; held hostage to foreign policy


On the morning of November 4, 1979, Moorhead C. Kennedy Jr., wearing a dark suit and green polka-dot tie, was working at his desk at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Marines burst into the hallway outside his office. .

It was a tense time in Iran: a revolution to overthrow the Shah was escalating. Mr. Kennedy, a career foreign service officer, was filling in for the Economic Counselor, the embassy’s diplomat III, who was on leave.

“I was very interested in seeing the revolution going on,” Mr. Kennedy later said recall. “It was a very fruitful time until suddenly, I heard the Marines yell, ‘They’re coming over the wall!'” Then a new experience began. “

Supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took Mr. Kennedy and 51 others hostage. They were held for 444 days and subjected to psychological and physical abuse, including mock executions. The global crisis upended Jimmy Carter’s presidency and fueled the West’s enduring distrust of the Islamic world.

When the hostages were freed in January 1981, after Ronald Reagan became president, Mr. Kennedy became one of the best-known figures in the incident, in part because of his wife, louisa livingston kennedyHe served as spokesman for the hostages’ families, but more importantly, he quit the Foreign Service and became a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy.

Mr. Kennedy died on May 3 in Bar Harbor, Maine. He was 93 years old. He died of complications from dementia, his son Mark said.

In speeches, interviews and his 1986 book, “The Ayatollah in the Cathedral: Reflections of a Hostage” Mr. Kennedy claimed that the U.S. foreign policy establishment had adopted an imperialistic, not-my-way-or-the-highway posture in the Middle East, particularly in countries governed by Islamic law where he had studied in college and law school.

“When it comes to foreign affairs, the last thing in the world that Americans want to do is think or try to think about what it would be like to be a Soviet, an Arab, an Iranian, an Iranian.” Mr. Kennedy in Harrow Harold Hudson Channer said on the show public television programs 1986. “As a result, we think of the world as a projection of ourselves, and we assume that other people must be thinking the way we do. When they don’t, it bothers us.”

Mr. Kennedy viewed the Iran hostage situation as a harbinger of future terrorist attacks.

“The forces in the Arab world and Iran are reacting to us with a different kind of war – a low-intensity war called terrorism,” he told Mr Channer. “I think it’s a way of trying to make us understand or at least realize that they have different perspectives.”

Mr. Kennedy’s views on U.S. foreign policy were shaped in part by discussions with his kidnappers. Composed mainly of university students, they denounced the Shah’s desire to Westernize Iranian society. King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was forced into exile in early 1979. A month before the embassy attack, the Carter administration allowed him to enter the United States for medical treatment.

“Those Americans who applauded the King’s Westernization efforts had little idea of ​​how his plans disrupted life at all levels of society,” Mr. Kennedy writes in the book. “Many Iranians are disoriented, forced to think in novel ways, perform unfamiliar tasks according to unfamiliar norms, feel humiliated by their own inadequacies in trying to appear Western, and are unwilling to become anything close to Western People are, at best, second-class, searching for a new sense of self-identity above all.”

Mr Kennedy believed they found this in fundamentalist religion, adding: “The taking of American hostages marked the expulsion of their disoriented agents. The violence of this expulsion was a measure of the depth and effectiveness of Western penetration ”

Moorhead Cowell Kennedy Jr., formerly known as Mike, was born on November 5, 1930 in Manhattan. His father was a banker who later served as president of Goodwill Industries in New York. His mother, Anna (Scott) Kennedy, taught children’s theater.

Mr. Kennedy’s interest in politics and the Middle East began at Groton School, a boarding school in Massachusetts. He then went to Princeton University, where he majored in Asian studies, graduating in 1952.

He studied Arabic at a language school in the mountains of Lebanon. At Harvard Law School, his dissertation on Islamic law was later condensed and published in Collier’s Encyclopedia. He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the following year.

Mr. Kennedy was deployed to Yemen, Greece, Lebanon and Chile before serving on an interim basis in Tehran.After his release, he rode in a car with Mayor Edward I. Koch tape parade Travel through Lower Manhattan.Soon after he retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cathedral Peace Institute established at St. John’s Cathedral in Manhattan.

The institute, which later became the Council for International Understanding, used role-playing to teach diplomacy to high school students.

Mr. Kennedy married Louisa Livingston in 1955. She died in 2007. His partner Ellen Kappes died in 2022. He lived for many years on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

In addition to his son Mark, he is survived by three other sons: Philip, Andrew and Duncan Kennedy. sister Maisie Adamson; and 10 grandchildren.

Mr. Kennedy wrote in “The Ayatollah in the Cathedral” that he was surprised by his naiveté about the attack, which was announced by the Marines in the hallway.

That afternoon, he was supposed to have lunch with an Iranian banker.

“How do I make lunch?” he wrote. “The phone is occupied, how can I send him a message?”

Soon after, he was blindfolded and tied to a chair.

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