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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian hard-liners, now back at the helm of the country, may regularly rail against the poisoning of Islamic society by Western culture, but in Tehran, Iranians are flocking to the contemporary art museum to marvel at American pop artist Andy Warhol’s iconic soup cans.

The circular floors of the Iranian capital’s Museum of Contemporary Art display a sprawling line-up of 18 classic Warhol works, recognizable at first glance: silk-screen portraits of Communist China’s founding leader Mao Zedong and Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe, paintings of Campbell Soup cans and a vintage print of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

The exhibit, simply named A Review of Andy Warhol’s Works, first opened in June and closes on Sunday. The still-surging coronavirus, which has killed more people in Iran than any other country in the Middle East, forced the museum to close its doors to Warhol fans for a few weeks in August.

“I love this painting,” gushed 46-year-old Fatemeh Rezaee, taking in the colored ink of Marilyn Monroe’s face, which Warhol produced in 1962 soon after the actress killed herself. “By looking at it, I visualized Marilyn Monroe’s life story in my head. It makes the concept of death really tangible for me.”

Rezaee, a retired teacher in a loose silk hijab, was so enthralled by the exhibit that she flew all the way from her home in the southern city of Shiraz to see it — twice.

She went on: “His selection of colors is outstanding and to me conveys a combination of feelings such as melancholy and mortality.”

Warhol’s works are among a permanent art collection worth billions of dollars kept in the Tehran museum vault. As oil boomed during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the country acquired thousands of pieces, including Monets, Picassos and Jackson Pollocks, before the 1979 Islamic Revolution ousted the pro-Western monarchy and vaulted Shiite clerics to power.

Iran’s new theocracy first banned modern art and packed away the famous paintings. But in recent decades as cultural restrictions eased, some 1,500 Western art pieces from the dynastic era have gone back on display — with much fanfare. In 2015, Tehran’s municipal council even plastered the city’s billboards with hundreds of works by great American painters, from Rothko to Hopper, transforming the sprawling city into a giant, open-air exhibit.

Still, a visitor won’t find Warhol’s grittier fare, like his notorious experimental films, on display in Tehran. In 2005, when the museum showcased its entire collection of 20th-century American and European masterworks, choice pieces — including a Renoir nude — were hidden to avoid offending conservative Islamic sensibilities.

The audience in Tehran on Wednesday nonetheless appeared satisfied with Warhol’s silk-screen printings that tested orthodoxies by portraying consumerist themes in the early 1960s.

“People have exceptionally welcomed Andy Warhol paintings’ exhibition,” said museum spokesperson Hasan Noferesti, noting the crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic required the museum cap the number of visitors per hour.

One visitor, 21-year-old microbiology student Shahin Gandomi dressed in a black shirt and wearing his hair in a ponytail, praised the Mao Zedong painting series.

“When an artist portrays a dictator in an artwork, it appears like that dictator has been taken down from his sacred position,” he said.

The showcase may be coming to an end, but Noferesti said the museum plans to put more Warhols and Western artists on display soon.

Although Iran has no diplomatic relations with the United States and hostilities have simmered between the countries since 1979, bootleg copies of Hollywood blockbusters and Western music remain popular in the country, particularly among young urbanites.

Tensions with the U.S. have surged recent months, as the election of President Ebrahim Raisi, the protégé of Iran’s supreme leader, brought hard-liners to power across every branch of government.

Iran has accelerated its atomic program and talks to revive Tehran’s now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers have stalled for months. Three years ago, then-President Donald Trump reneged on the accord and mounted an economic pressure campaign that has crippled the country’s economy.

But at Tehran’s sleek, white-walled exhibit this week, there was no talk of political tensions or American sanctions.

“There have been great artists in history, and it is tremendously good that we can get to see their artworks here,” said 20-year-old graphics student Kourosh Aminzadeh, who had come back for a second visit.

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The Attack That Enraged America: Victor David Hanson Explains Japans Miscalculation at Pearl Harbor

Renowned historian Victor Davis Hanson explained in a recent PragerU video the events of December 7, 1941, and what the Japanese were thinking when they attacked Pearl Harbor without warning. “The Japanese underestimated American strength and overestimated their own,” Hanson said. “Instead of cowing America, the Pearl Harbor attack enraged it.”

“It was one of the most successful and failed surprise attacks in military history,” Hanson said. “The bombers sank four battleships of the U.S. 7th fleet, damaged four others, and killed over 2,300 American sailors and soldiers.”

A small boat rescues sailors from the USS ‘West Virginia’ after she had suffered a hit in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard of the sunken battleship. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Hanson went on to explain that while “the attack was brilliant,” it “did not achieve its goal,” because, “by a twist of fate, the three American aircraft carriers based at Pearl, the ships the Japanese most wanted to destroy — Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga — were all out to sea on the 7th, and safe.”

Moreover, “the Japanese didn’t finish the job,” Hanson continued, explaining that the Japanese needed “three attack waves,” rather than just two, in order to destroy “a full six months worth of stored naval and aviation fuel, dockyards, and maintenance shops, and truly set the Americans reeling.”

Watch Below:

Hanson said that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because it believed “it had to neutralize America” in order “to dominate and control all of Asia, its people, and its resources.”

“From the hindsight of history, this appears suicidal, but at the time, it almost made sense,” he said, adding that “in 1940, the United States was, militarily speaking, in a sorry state.”

“The ships in its pacific fleet were few, and many were outdated,” Hanson explained. “The Japanese fleet, in contrast, was newer, bigger, and stronger. Second, America had no appetite for overseas conflict.”

The American destroyer USS Shaw explodes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (Pearl Harbor), home of the American Pacific Fleet during World War II. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

“Like the rest of the world, the Japanese had watched most of Europe fall to the Nazis while America did little to stop it,” he added. “If the U.S. wasn’t going to fight in Europe, where it had many alliances, why would it fight in Asia where it had few?”

“The Japanese reasoned America would sue for peace,” Hanson said of Japan’s thought process when it attacked Pearl Harbor.

But “just as Hitler underestimated Soviet strength and overestimated their own, the Japanese underestimated American strength and overestimated their own. Instead of cowing America, the Pearl Harbor attack enraged it,” Hanson said.

Hanson explained what then followed the Pearl Harbor attack:

Within six months, General Jimmy Doolittle led a surprise bombing raid on Tokyo, an astounding feat no one at the time, including the Japanese, considered possible.

By August 1942, a mere nine months after Pearl Harbor, American forces shifted to offense, landing marines on the island of Guadalcanal. Meanwhile, at home, the nation was gearing up for the greatest industrial renaissance in the history of civilization.

In a little more than three years, the United States would build more war ships and support vessels than all the navies in the world combined.

“In the hindsight of history, it seems like the allied victory was inevitable,” Hanson said. “But victory came at a terrible price. Over 110,000 American servicemen died, and over 250,000 were wounded to win the war in the Pacific, and another 21,000 spent time in horrific Japanese prisoner of war camps.”

“Preparing for war is expensive, but not nearly as expensive in blood and treasure as fighting a war,” the renowned historian concluded. “That’s one of the many lessons to be learned from what happened on the fateful day of December 7, 1941.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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