In a riveting exploration of human nature and diplomatic relationships, Florida Southern professor Dr. Anna Caney is in the process of writing a case study on Iranian pilots who trained in the United States before and during the Iranian Revolution. Titled “I Hope I Return One Day,” the book centers on the relationship between the U.S. and Iran during this pivotal period in history.
Drawing from hundreds of in-person interviews from across the US and Europe, the book focuses on the accounts of these pilots.
“The book is a case study in U.S. foreign policy between the United States and Iran, mainly focusing on between 1976 and 1977 with the main events that are in it,” Caney said. “But ultimately, it is an analysis of the United States Air Force training programs that had trained Iranian pilots since 1941.”
Her writing outlines the unique experiences of these pilots as they undergo training in the United States– their lives, friendships and interactions with American society during the 1970s. Caney, through first-hand accounts, explores a group of individuals who found themselves caught between two worlds.
“These guys are out there driving Camaros and Trans Ams and they’re getting speeding tickets and going to discos and drinking a lot and getting into fights and you know flying fast airplanes and girls love them for that,” Caney said.
When the revolution unfolds in Iran, complexities in the diplomatic relations between the two nations arise. Caney highlights the significant, yet, overlooked role these pilots played in the broad context of the revolution and subsequent events.
“The way these crises impact the ideas and thoughts that start to emerge and build from rhetoric that’s going on, rhetoric and events that are actually happening,” Caney said.
The narrative takes a turn, though, as the revolution intensifies, leading to the taking of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The fate of the Iranian pilots in the U.S. becomes uncertain, with divisions emerging among them based on their stance toward the revolution.
When the pilots were expelled from the United States, many people– including groups such as the KKK– rallied together to help these pilots. Many ended up going back to the now-oppressive Iran. Some escaped and went to Europe, others went back to the United States. The book weaves a tapestry of personal stories from many of these people.
It also doesn’t shy away from addressing the misconceptions that arose from the Iranian hostage crisis and the expelling of the pilots. It details the rise of anti-Islamic sentiments, which can trace back to events that unfolded during and after the revolution.
“[T]he purpose of this book is to break down that idea about anti-Iranian, anti-Islam [sentiment] in a lot of ways,” Caney said. “They’re the doctors and the lawyers and the surgeons and the nurses, highly educated people, because they knew that’s how they could get to the United States… by getting the education that they needed.”
The book is scheduled for release in 2024. While it’s not out yet, it’s poised to draw attention from a variety of established news sources.
“I have scheduled, tentative[ly] scheduled interviews, with BBC Persia Al-Jazeera,” Caney said. “I was just in Doha in the Middle East in December and was talking to some of the Iranian politicos who were there. There’s a lot of interest in it.”
The book promises to be a compelling addition to literature, a study on international relations and the human stories behind every political narrative. Hearing the personal testimonies of these men even inspired Caney to visit the nation.
“It’s a gorgeous country,” Caney said. “It’s a country that people have had it robbed from them by a political fascist regime. [The regime is] not Muslim. No extremist is Muslim… They’re just using religion as a weapon to try to keep control of people.”
And although the country is rich in cultural and natural beauty, the current regime has made life difficult in the once-thriving nation.
“And if you talk to most Iranians, they would go back, but they can’t go back,” Caney said.