Last night, Argo won the Oscar for Best Picture. I remember 1980 and the Hostage Crisis very well, and I remember how we worried about the United States bombing Iran in retaliation for taking the hostages. No one wanted to see a violent end in Iran, yet no one knew what would work to bring the hostages to safety. Even though it is not entirely true to history (it is based on the story , but NOT a reporting of the event), Argo speaks to the desire to solve conflicts peacefully and creatively. Zero Dark Thirty, also a Best Picture contender, did not share in this vision of peaceful resolution.
About 3,272 years ago, Egyptians and Hittites may have been holding their breath in the same way we did in 1980, and the way we did in 2001, the year which set the situation at hand in Zero Dark Thirty. Ramesses II, the pharaoh of Egypt, spent considerable energy moving toward the Hittite Empire (based in today’s Turkey), and the Hittites met the Egyptians in battle at Kadesh, a neutral city near the Hittite borders. For the next twenty years, the Egyptians and Hittites engaged in a sort of Cold War. Then, around 1254 BCE, the nephew to the Hittite king Hattusili III, a man named Uri Teshub, attempted to overthrow the king. He was chased out of the Hittite Empire, and found safety in Egypt.
Hattusili III demanded his return. Egypt refused. And the world waited.
Who was the adviser who thought of a different strategy? Egypt and the Hittite Empire met each other on the battlefield before. What made this issue different? The Egyptians could use Uri Teshub as a pawn in overtaking the Hittite Empire, and the Hittites could use Uri Teshub as the excuse to invade Egypt. Both sides knew about the movements of nomadic tribes in all directions, and both sides had reason to fear the increasing power of the Assyrians, from what we would call northern Iraq today.
Instead of war, both sides agreed to a treaty, Both sides pledged peace. The Hittites promised to aid Egypt in the face of invasions or rebellions, and Egypt promised to aid the Hittites in the face of invasions or rebellions. Uri Teshub was extradited to the Hittites. And IF the world was holding its breath — if they were even aware of this tension between superpowers in a world without journalism– they could exhale now.
Ramesses received a silver copy of the treaty, now long lost to history. Egypt would never face a Hittite invasion, but they would meet Sea Peoples, Libyans, Assyrians, Nubians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, and European colonialism. The Hittites would never face an Egyptian army again, but the Sea Peoples who wrecked havoc on Egypt also aided in toppling the Hittite Empire. A copy of the treaty rests in the Istanbul today (a city unknown to the Hittites), and a copy carved on Rameses II’s mortuary complex also survives in the remains of ancient Thebes.
One other copy can be found in New York, at the United Nations.
Someone thought of something daring and untested in the 1980 CE hostage crisis, and someone thought of something daring and untested –amongst superpowers at least — in 1259 BCE. Let’s never forget the power of human creativity in the face of war.