Death to America

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Iranian protesters burning the flag of the United States along with a US Dollar in Tehran, November 2018

Death to America[a] is an anti-American political slogan widely used in North Korea, Iran,[1] Afghanistan,[2] Lebanon,[3] Yemen,[4] Iraq,[5][6] and Pakistan.[7][8] Originally used by North Korea since the Korean War,[9][10] Ruhollah Khomeini, the first supreme leader of Iran, popularized the term.[11] He opposed the chant for radio and television, but not for protests and other occasions.[1]

The literal meaning of the Persian phrase "Marg bar Âmrikâ" is "Death to America." In most official Iranian translations, the phrase is translated into English as the less crude "Down with America."[12][13] The chant "Death to America" has come to be employed by various anti-American groups and protesters worldwide.[14]

Iranian officials generally explain that the slogan in its historical context has been provoked by the U.S. government's hostile policies towards Iran and expresses outrage at those policies, and does not wish for literal death for American people themselves.[15] In a speech to university students, Iran's Supreme Leader, Khamenei, interpreted the slogan as "death to the U.S.'s policies, death to arrogance."[16] Following a meeting with Army and Air Force commanders, Khamenei declared that the Iranian people are not against American people, but that "Death to America" means down with American leaders, in this case Donald Trump (President), John Bolton (National Security Advisor), and Mike Pompeo (Secretary of State).[17][18]


A conference named "Long Live Death to America" held on November 3, 2015, at Tehran University explores historical reasons for chanting the slogan.[19]
Two protesters in Iran tearing an American flag at an anti-American rally.

Following the fall of the pro-American Pahlavi dynasty in early 1979, Iranian protesters regularly shouted "Death to America" and "Death to the Shah" outside the U.S. embassy in Tehran, including the day the embassy was seized on November 4, 1979, which commenced the Iran hostage crisis.[20] Throughout the crisis, Iranians surrounding the embassy chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Carter."[21] When Iran released the remaining 52 American hostages on January 20, 1981, they were led through a gauntlet of students forming parallel lines that shouted "Death to America" as they boarded the airplane that would fly them out of Tehran.[22] "Death to the Soviet Union" and "Death to England" also became popular. A similar slogan "Death to Israel" (Persian: مرگ بر اسرائیل) is also used, and regularly chanted in Iranian and Pakistani political rallies.[7] It is the best-known variation.[23] However, the slogan predates back to the 1950s when it was first used by North Korea during the Korean War (known in North Korea as the Fatherland Liberation War) and it is still in use to this day.[9]

Throughout the existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the slogan has formed a pillar of its revolutionary values.[12] It is regularly chanted at Friday prayers and other public events, which is often accompanied by a burning of the flag of the United States.[13] These events include the November 4 anniversary of the U.S. embassy seizure, which Iranian leaders declared in 1987 as a national holiday, called "Death to America Day."[24] State-sponsored murals that feature the slogan "Death to America" are common in Iranian cities, particularly Tehran.[25]

However, according to Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khomeini agreed in principle to drop the usage of the slogan in 1984. Rafsanjani's statement was rejected by his hard line opponents who said that "The Imam throughout his life called America 'the Great Satan'. He believed that all the Muslims' problems were caused by America."[26]

According to Politico magazine, following the September 11 attacks, Sayyed Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, "suspended the usual 'Death to America' chants at Friday prayers" temporarily.[27]

On March 29, 2013, during a public gathering in Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang to support Kim Jong Un call to arms, attendees had chanted 'Death to the U.S. imperialists'.[10]

On March 21, 2015, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei backed and shouted the phrase 'Death to America' while addressing a public gathering in Iran, during the holiday of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.[28][29][30] In a statement published on his website on November 3, 2015, Khamenei said: "It goes without saying that the slogan does not mean death to the American nation; this slogan means death to the U.S.'s policies, death to arrogance."[31][32]

On June 23, 2017, during Quds Day, protestors chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".[33] On April 25, 2018, Iran announced that a "Death to America" emoji would be included in a domestically produced messaging app.[34] On May 9, 2018, an American flag was burned in the Iranian Parliament amidst chants of 'Death to America' after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran.[35] On November 4, 2018, Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the religious group Nation of Islam, led a "Death to America" chant during a solidarity trip to Iran, ahead of sanctions expected to be imposed by the Trump administration.[36][37]

Many anti-Iranian government protesters, both within Iran and abroad, used similar phrases to demonstrate against the theocratic government. Slogans such as "Death to Khamenei", "Death to the Dictator" and "Death to Islamic Republic" have been chanted in those occasions, the latest being the Mahsa Amini protests, which began in September 2022.[38][39] Protesters also refused to trample over giant U.S. and Israeli flags that had been painted on the ground of the universities,[40] which was praised by President Donald Trump in 2020.[41]

At the funeral of Qasem Soleimani, the chant "Death to America" could be heard from many mourners across Baghdad, Islamabad, Karachi and many other cities.[6][7][8]

Usage in the Arab world[edit]

The slogan on the flag of the Houthis in Yemen reads, "Allah is the greatest. Death to America. Death to Israel. A curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam."

Supporters of Hezbollah, the Shi'a Islamic militant group based in Lebanon that is closely aligned to Iran, regularly chant "Death to America" in street demonstrations.[42] A week before the March 20, 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared, "In the past, when the Marines were in Beirut, we screamed, 'Death to America!' Today, when the region is being filled with hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, 'Death to America!' was, is and will stay our slogan."[3]

The slogan of the Houthis, a Shi'a rebel group in Yemen also supported by Iran,[43] is "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, A curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam."[4]

Interpretation and meaning[edit]

Mohammad Nahavandian, chief of staff for Iranian former President Hassan Rouhani has said that:

If you go and ask anyone who uses that slogan [...] what he is against, it is interference in Iran's policies by overthrowing a nationally elected prime minister at the time of [Mohammad] Mossadegh. For them, what they are against is the kind of government who shoots an airplane full of innocent passengers. For them, it's not the people of America, per se. For them, they are opposed to that sort of policy, that sort of attitude, that sort of arrogance. It's not a nation. It's a system of behavior."[15]

"Regarding the words 'Death to America', we mean American politics, not the American people", says Hussein al Hamran, head of Foreign Relations for Ansar Allah (Houthis).[44] Ali al-Bukhayti, a former spokesperson and official media face of the Houthis, has said: "We do not really want death to anyone. The slogan is simply against the interference of those governments [i.e. US, and Israel]".[45]

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has also dismissed the literal interpretation of the slogan, stating that the slogan is to express opposition to US intrusive policies rather than hatred against American people.[46]

On 8 February 2019, Ali Khamenei stated "Death to America means death to [Donald] Trump, [John] Bolton and [Mike] Pompeo. We criticize American politicians who are managing that country. Iranian nation are not against American people."[17]

Travel writer Rick Steves recorded a taxi driver in Tehran exclaiming "Death to traffic!" in English, explaining that "when something frustrates us and we have no control over it, this is what we say". Steves compares the phrase to non-literal use of the word damn in American English.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Korean: 미국에 죽음을, romanizedMiguge chugŭmŭl; Persian: مرگ بر آمریکا, romanizedMarg bar Âmrikâ; Arabic: الموت لأمريكا, romanizedal-mawt li-‘Amrīkā; Urdu: امریکہ کے لیے موت, romanizedAmerica ke liye mout


  1. ^ a b Arash Karami: Khomeini Orders Media to End 'Death to America' Chant Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, Iran Pulse, October 13, 2013
  2. ^ "Protestors Chant 'Death to America' Amid Leaflet Outcry". TOLOnews. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  3. ^ a b "Hezbollah Vows Anew to Target Americans". Los Angeles Times. 17 April 2003.
  4. ^ a b "Yemen's 'Death to America' rebels bring calm to northern Yemen". The Christian Science Monitor. 28 October 2012.
  5. ^ Hassan, Falih; Hubbard, Ben; Rubin, Alissa J. (2019-12-31). "Protesters Attack U.S. Embassy in Iraq, Chanting 'Death to America'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  6. ^ a b "Mourners shout 'Death to America' at funeral for Iranian general". ITV News. 4 January 2020. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  7. ^ a b c Peshimam, Syed Raza Hassan, Gibran Naiyyar (2020-01-05). "Thousands protest in Pakistan over U.S. killing of Iranian commander". Reuters. Retrieved 2021-07-28.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ a b "Pakistan Stress Neutrality, Big Rally Protests Killing of Soleimani | Voice of America - English". 5 January 2020. Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  9. ^ a b "North Korea's bold wave of propaganda art - in pictures". 5 August 2019. Retrieved 2024-01-12.
  10. ^ a b "North Korea Holds Mass Rally — Soldiers And Students Chant 'Death To US Imperialists'". 29 March 2013. Retrieved 2024-01-12.
  11. ^ Philip Herbst (2003). Talking Terrorism: A Dictionary of the Loaded Language of Political Violence. p. 6. ISBN 9780313324864.
  12. ^ a b "The politics of 'Death to America'". The Washington Post. 8 October 2013.
  13. ^ a b "Iran's hardliners planning 'Death to America' rally on anniversary of US Embassy attack". The National. 22 October 2013.
  14. ^ Herbst, p. 6-7
  15. ^ a b ""Death to America" and the Iran Deal". New Yorker. 30 July 2015.
  16. ^ Melvin, Don (5 November 2015). "Iranian leader: 'Death to America' refers to policies, not the nation". CNN. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  17. ^ a b Erdbrink, Thomas (8 February 2019). "'Death to America' Means 'Death to Trump'". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
  18. ^ "Down with USA' means down with Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo". english.khamenei. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
  19. ^ "عکس/سعید جلیلی در همایش زنده باد مرگ بر آمریکا | مرگ بر آمریکا | قرارگاه سایبری صیانت از شعار مردمی مرگ بر آمریکا". Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  20. ^ David Patrick Houghton (2001). US Foreign Policy and the Iran Hostage Crisis. p. 51. ISBN 9780521805094.
  21. ^ Mark Bowden (2006). Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 221, 245. ISBN 9780871139252. death to america.
  22. ^ Bowden, p. 584
  23. ^ Taylor, Adam (4 November 2015). "Why 'Death to America' won't go away". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  24. ^ "Millions Of Iranians Demonstrate Against U.S." Associated Press News. 3 November 1987.
  25. ^ Khatib, Lina (2012). Image Politics in the Middle East: The Role of the Visual in Political Struggle. pp. 81–83. ISBN 9781848852822.
  26. ^ Khomeini 'sought to drop Death to America chant', Guardian, Robert Tait, 20 August 2007
  27. ^ 34 Years of Getting to No with Iran. Politico Magazine. Barbara Slavin. November 19, 2013. Permanent Archived Link. Permanent Archived Link at WebCite. Retrieved and archived on July 4th, 2016.
  28. ^ "'Death to America': Iran's Supreme Leader accuses the US of 'bullying'". Euronews. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  29. ^ "Iran's supreme leader screams 'Death to America' amid ongoing nuclear talks". New York Post. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  30. ^ "Obama downplays Iran 'death to America' remarks, toes hard line on Benjamin Netanyahu". The Washington Times. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  31. ^ Dehghan, Saeed (November 3, 2015). "Iran's Ayatollah clarifies that 'death to America' slogan refers to policies". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  32. ^ Vinograd, Cassandra (3 November 2015). "Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Explains 'Death to America' Slogan". NBC News. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  33. ^ "'Death to Israel.', 'Death to America' at Iranian parade". Arutz Sheva. June 23, 2017.
  34. ^ "'Death to America' emoji reportedly included in Iran messaging app". CNBC. April 25, 2018.
  35. ^ Iran lawmakers shout 'death to America,' burn U.S. flag after Trump nixes nuclear deal
  36. ^ Parke, Caleb (November 5, 2018). "Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam leader, leads 'Death to America' chant in Iran". Fox News.
  37. ^ Renowned antisemite louis farrakhan chants death to america on solidarity trip to Iran
  38. ^ 'Death to Khamenei': After Protests, Iran's President Apologizes Over Power Blackouts
  39. ^ "'Death to the Dictator' - Iran protests rage on". Archived from the original on 2022-11-29. Retrieved 2022-11-29.
  40. ^ Iran protests: Crowds in Tehran refuse to walk on U.S. and Israeli flags
  41. ^ Trump hails Iran protesters for not trampling US flag, Hurriyet Daily News
  42. ^ Wistrich, Robert (5 January 2010). A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad. p. 974. ISBN 9781588368997.
  43. ^ "With Arms for Yemen Rebels, Iran Seeks Wider Mideast Role". The New York Times. 15 March 2012.
  44. ^ "Yemen in crisis". Esquire. 4 Jun 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  45. ^ "Photo Essay: Rise of the Houthis". Newsweek. 9 February 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
  46. ^ "'Death to America' chants not personal, Rouhani says". Retrieved 2017-10-15.
  47. ^ Steves, Rick (2018). Travel as a Political Act. Avalon Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8133-5116-2.