As pressure goes, the Iranians did not lay it on very heavily:
Lt. Felix Carman, safely home with his 14 colleagues, said the crew faced harsh interrogation by their Iranian captors and slept in stone cells on piles of blankets. Unable to see and kept isolated, they heard weapons cocking.
“We were blindfolded, our hands were bound and we were forced up against a wall. Throughout our ordeal we faced constant psychological pressure,” Carman said. “All of us were kept in isolation. We were interrogated most nights. . . .
Admittedly, it must have been terrifying but these, are after all, members of the armed forces, not preschool teachers. As a certified wuss myself, I’d nevertheless expect a bit more backbone from them. (And, if you’re in the American military, you’re actually required to show more backbone.)
But did you notice that, when I wrote “We were interrogated most nights” I ended the sentences with ellipses, not a period? As it happened, Lt. Felix Carman had more to say:
“We were interrogated most nights and presented with two options. If we admitted that we’d strayed, we’d be on a plane to (Britain) pretty soon. If we didn’t, we faced up to seven years in prison.”
There you have it, the real threat: not isolation and a stone floor, not even clicking weapons. No, the real threat was seven years in an Iranian prison. And this threat was real because these sailors knew, absolutely knew in their heart of hearts that Britain lacked either the ability or the will to stop it from happening. They knew this because, even though they were not in Iranian waters, and even though the HMS Cornwall, a battleship, was nearby, the British didn’t lift a finger to protect them from capture. That being the case, why should the British lift a finger to protect them from the possibility of a hellish imprisonment?
These sailors caved, not because they were particularly weak, or they were treated particularly badly, but because they knew with dead certainty that their country would abandon them, just as it had done before. That’s how battles, wars and even whole countries are lost. The rank and file knows that there’s nothing for them to protect, and no one bothering to protect them.