TRAVERSE CITY — Michael Metrinko spent 444 days as a hostage in Iran, and steeled himself against growing fond of his captors, a psychological phenomenon known as the Stockholm Syndrome.
“I happen to like Iranians,” Metrinko said. “I was in the Peace Corps in Iran, I had a lot of close Iranian friends and still do. Having said that, I didn’t want to be tempted to like (my captors). It’s very easy to drift into that … I wanted to continue to treat them as an enemy, which they were.”
So Metrinko antagonized his captors. And they responded in kind with beatings, hand cuffs, and withholding food.
Metrinko, 66, will speak Oct. 17 on “Iran and the United States: Time for a Reset?” at an International Affairs Forum lecture at Northwestern Michigan College’s Milliken Auditorium.
Metrinko said he’ll answer audience questions about his captivity, but his speech will focus on Iranian relations. Metrinko said he doesn’t want to affect pending legislation in Congress to compensate those held hostage, including himself.
Metrinko did speak with the Record-Eagle about his captivity, beatings and interrogation by his captors, who were unable to break him. His captors mistakenly thought he was a spy because he spoke Farsi, he said.
He spent 10 months in isolation, but didn’t despair, he said.
“I figured the ball was not in my court. There was nothing I could do about it so I might as well just continue to survive,” he said. “I knew I could not escape because I was in the center of a city filled with millions of people who were anti-American. The place was heavily guarded and there was no place I could go. …. I thought at some point we’d be let out or led to execution.”
Metrinko worked as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department when he was captured in 1979. The crisis was triggered when the unpopular Shah of Iran, supported politically by the United States, came to America for cancer treatment in October.
Back in Iran, the Ayatollah whipped up Iranian militants to storm the American Embassy in Tehran and take employees captive.
Metrinko said high-ranking Washington officials repeatedly promised that the Shah would never be allowed into the United States.
“They lied to us,” he said. “If we had known he was going to be going into the United States, we would have taken precautions. We were blind-sided.”
Metrinko said he’ll talk Thursday about diplomatic relations with Iran, a topic planned long before the Sept. 27 telephone conversation between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama, the highest-level contact since the hostage crisis.
Metrinko will talk about the need to establish relations with Iran.
“I don’t like the government of Iran. Politically, I despise it,” he said. “But it’s there. Almost 80 million people. Vast resources. We as a country, a government, absolutely have to have relations with Iran. Deal with them in business, international relations, politically. Let people move back and forth. The world is too dangerous a place not to do this. Not doing that is crazy. We have to be able to talk to them quickly if the need arises.”
The 6 p.m. lecture is expected to sell out. For advance $10 tickets, call (231) 995-1700. Current educators and students are admitted free. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the door. Overflow crowds may be seated elsewhere on campus to watch the streamed presentation. The speech will be posted online at www.upnorthmedia.org and www.nmc.edu/iaf.
The speech will be shown live on UpNorth Media’s first “multicast” event, including cable TV, channels 97 and 992, and most mobile devices with no app needed. Go to ww.nmc.edu/iaf and www.upnorthmedia.org, find the link and posting, and click a “play” button.