Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Margaret Thatcher RIP

Margaret Thatcher RIP, 1925 - 2013
When I was a boy growing up in the 1960's, my parents brought me along on a trip to France.  We were in Paris on Bastille day and joined the throng that was watching the parade down the Champs Elysee. Vendors were selling cheap 'periscopes' made of paper and a mirror that allowed one a chance to see above the massive crowd.  The Cuirassiers trotted by with their steel breastplates gleaming in the July sun.  French army tanks rumbled along.  Three jets from the French air force screamed overhead laying out a Tri-color pattern overhead.  Finally, everything built up to the arrival by Jeep of a tall large-nosed man wearing a kepi -- it was Charles DeGaulle.  He was the only World War II era leader that I had a chance to see in the flesh, admittedly from a distance.  Now all the World War II leaders belong to history.

Thatcher Funeral, April 17, 2013
St. Paul's, London
Today I had a chance to attend the procession of Baroness Thatcher's funeral to St. Paul's Cathedral in London.  Today I witnessed not merely a funeral but also the end of an era.  The streets were thronged with those who wished to bid farewell to the last of the three leaders that led the West in the Cold War -- Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.  Just day's after the horrific tragedy at the Boston Marathon we are reminded that all three of these leaders were very nearly assassinated (by John Hinckley, Mehmet Ali Agca and the IRA).  The snipers perched among the angels on the roof of St. Paul's were visible reminders of the dangerous world we all now live in.

Snipers at St Paul's, April 17, 2013
The daughter of a grocer, she rose to the highest level of British political life in a class conscious society shattering the glass ceiling forever.  Moreover, she did so as a staunch Conservative.  She was indomitable; "this lady is not for turning".

To really appreciate Thatcher one must understand something of the turbulent time that preceded her administration.  The Britain of the 1970's was paralyzed by strikes and Labor unrest.  London streets were piled high with reeking garbage due to labor action.  In December of 1970 I recall reading about one clever Londoner who gift wrapped their garbage and left it in the backseat of his automobile with the car doors unlocked, sure in the knowledge that it would be stolen.  One could not complain too loudly because the print unions exercised control over the press as well.

Adieu Thatcher (Photo courtesy: Marc Lelslie)
I lived with my family in Chelsea for about six months in 1970 during the garbage strike.  I will never forget my father sneaking out in the dead of night to drop our garbage off in Sloane square along with hundreds of other families.

On the international front the British Empire had been in full retreat since 1945.  The year she came to power, 1979, marked the withdrawal of the Royal Navy from Malta -- a critical garrison of the British empire from 1800 to its independence in 1964.  Britain was no longer great.

On the domestic front, Thatcher fought a war against the scourge of socialism that had occupied the driver's seat of British politics since 1945.  She famously declared, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.”    Home ownership soared during her administration and jobs were created.  Her free market approach helped London restore its leadership as a global financial capital.

Thatcher was viscerally determined to not jettison the British Pound in favour of the Euro.  Recent events in Greece and Cyprus have proven the wisdom of her decision. 

British Sacrifice from the 1982 Falkands War
St. Paul's Cathedral, London
It was the Soviet press that first called her the "Iron Lady" and she relished the label.  The "Iron Lady" helped Britain to become great once more.

In 1982 Argentina made the huge mistake of invading the Falkland islands and provoking the Iron Lady.  Thatcher was not about to abandon the Falkland Islanders who wanted to remain British.  Recalling the lessons of Munich, she led Britain in a principled war against Argentine aggression in the cause of self-determination.  Her leadership in the Falklands crisis demonstrated to the world that the British lion still had claws.

Thatcher was a friend to Ronald Reagan and to America.  The United States, caught between two allies, remained neutral during the Falklands conflict, but Ronald Reagan made sure that US Intelligence services provided the most up to date satellite photography of the South Atlantic battle zone.

St. Paul's, London
Margaret Thatcher did not merely win the argument;  she, like Ronald Reagan in the US, changed the terms of the debate.  All of Britain's current politicians, across the spectrum, owe a debt to Thatcher.

Faithful readers of this blog know of my love for oysters (see earlier posts Cats, Oysters and Dr. Johnson 1/23/13, Oysters and Civilization 2/4/13).  Could there be an oyster connection to Maggie Thatcher?  You betcha!  The name "Margaret" is derived from the Greek word "margarites" which means "pearl".  Thatcher was indeed a rare pearl among women!

Angel, St. Paul's, London
I never had the opportunity to meet Baroness Thatcher personally.  I do, however, have some friends who did have the pleasure of spending time in her company.

From one friend I learned that her "drink of choice" was Bells whisky -- a very unpretentious choice.  She nixed the idea of an RAF flyover at her funeral celebration as an unnecessary burden on the British taxpayer.  She was the parsimonious to the core.  Perhaps this explains why free-spending President Obama chose to snub Thatcher by not attending today's ceremonies...?

Another American friend of mine spent a few days on a cruise with Thatcher after her retirement from political life.  She inquired of Thatcher what she thought her ultimate legacy would be.  Thatcher replied, "It only requires a gentle hand upon the rudder to eventually turn a big ship around in the ocean".  

Thatcher did have her hand of the British rudder and, perhaps, it turns out that "This lady really was for turning after all"!

Special thanks to David Ansell.

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Maggie@MaggiesNotebook said...

She was a great Lady and you did a fine job remembering her. Very special for you to be there today. Linked at my place.

Christopher Cook said...

Terrific post. What a great honor for you to be there in person! My wife and I went to see Reagan lying in state at the Reagan Library; we waited for four hours, and when we arrived at the rotunda, we just happened to be in time to see the changing of the guard. Unbelievably moving. You are very lucky to have been able to attend the funeral of one of history's greatest leaders.

Unknown said...

Thank you for a fine historical overview and the pungent personal details of the crippling strikes many of Baroness Thatchers barbaric detractors seem to overlook!

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