In the United States, Margaret Thatcher is regarded as the British Ronald Reagan, the “Iron Lady,” the Cold War Bodicea who backed America against the Soviet Union, and won. She’s also a progressive icon of female power — the first woman premier, a gender barrier that has yet to fall in the U.S.
I lived through the Thatcher years in Britain, and I hated her. I left the country still owing money to Thatcher’s regressive “poll tax.”
A lot of British people hated her.
She was the most divisive prime minister Britain has ever had, and she plunged the country into a pit of unemployment, riots, strikes, and crime. After her election in 1979, unemployment hit 18 per cent and peaked at more than 3 million, the first time it had done so since the recession. Manufacturing output fell 30 per cent as the Thatcher government pulled government funding for the country’s coal industry.
She will receive all the proper respects in a state funeral, and world leaders will send their emmissaries to attend.
But millions of Britains will quietly — and in the North of England and Scotland, not so quietly — drink a toast to her death tonight.
They’re already celebrating on Twitter. #NoStateFuneral is the No.1 unpaid trending topic on Twitter in the UK right now.
But, as the years have gone by, I’ve come round to the opinion that Thatcher did get one thing right: The Falklands War of 1982.
At the time, the Falklands conflict seemed like yet another one of Thatcher’s extreme, ideological acts of madness. Mature governments don’t declare war on faraway countries that haven’t invaded their borders.
Most Brits had never heard of the islands when they were invaded by Argentina. They’re a tiny archipelago just North of the South Pole, hundreds of miles from the coast of Argentina. There is almost nothing on the Falklands except sheep, penguins, and guano. Only a couple of thousand people live there.
But they are all British.
Thatcher recognised instantly that Argentina’s claim to the Falkland’s was weak. Sure, the islands are nearer Argentina than Britain, but they were discovered by a Brit and Argentina had never settled people on them. There’s a more legitimate dispute as to whether the islands should belong to the Spanish, French, Portugese or Dutch than the Argentinians.
Whatever their early history, the Falklands were settled permanently by the British in the 1830s, and no one paid any more attention to the islands until Argentina invaded in 1982.
The other thing Thatcher got right was noticing that Argentina, at the time, was a dictatorship that had killed its own citizens in a “dirty war” against dissenters. The Falklands was not really about who the islands belonged to. Rather it was about what democracies do when dictatorships invade.
Imagine if Guam was suddenly invaded by Indonesia. The U.S. would not stand idly by. There would be a price to pay.
The United States, shamefully, was initially neutral on the war and only belatedly came to support the U.K. That was another factor in Thatcher’s favour — she made everyone else look like cowards.
Finally, the naval campaign that retook the waters around the islands, and the land invasion by paratroopers that followed, was swift and decisive. This was not a drawn-out quagmire, wasting blood and treasure. It proved not only that Britain could protect its far-flung people, but that also Argentina was too feeble to enforce its will on the islands — which is something of a prerequisite if you’re going to invade foreign territory.
Earlier this year, the 2,000 or so Falkland Islanders voted in a referendum on their sovereignty. They polled 99.8 per cent to stay British.
History has shown, Thatcher got this one right.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.