For decades Najmedin Meshkati proudly designed advanced technologies for America, including support for the B-2 stealth bomber. Now he has nightmares of this aircraft attacking his homeland, Iran. Worse still, he fears his young American son won't know or care when the aerial strike begins.
If you were casting an epic tragedy in Hollywood, you probably wouldn't pick Meshkati, a bald, soft-spoken Iranian American engineer to play the lead. But this is Irvine, not Hollywood. And Meshkati insists that if war erupts between the two nations, his life would become a "tragedy of Homeric proportions…one fit for all the ages.”
In 1976, Meshkati left Tehran for Los Angeles to pursue advanced studies. He quickly climbed departmental ranks, detailing the human capacities required to operate advanced machinery. His work contributed to civilian and military technologies -- from nuclear power plants to flight control towers to war crafts, the most notable of which was the stealth bomber.
Meshkati's office at the University of Southern California is flooded with B-2 bomber memorabilia. A model aircraft sits on his desk. One wall is plastered with a large blueprint of the cockpit and photos of its sleek facade. On the other wall hang framed signatures of the plane’s original test pilots from Edward's Air Force Base, many of whom he taught. Off the arm of his chair dangles a B-2 bomber baseball cap.
This plane was once a source of immense pride, but it has become his Frankenstein. With words of war between Presidents Bush and Ahmadinejad reaching a feverish pitch, “worse even than during the hostage crisis,” the professor says, dread is replacing pride.
For Meshkati, the cover of The Economist magazine "was the straw that broke the camel's back." On it, a menacing B-2 bomber shoots across a blood-orange sky under the bold headline, “Next Stop Iran?”
Glancing at the headline, the elder Meshkati "felt a shot of agony" race through his body and replied blankly, "'I'll get you a photo like that from my office tomorrow if you want…but don't take this one.'" Dejected, his son left the room. Meshkati wept.
If war were to break out with Iran, would the child care? What would war make of his father’s career, of his father’s life work? Meshkati asks me this with his eyes welling up. Meshkati can’t answer these questions; he just hopes he never has to.