I suppose that forests will be denuded by the tributes that will be devoted to Lady Thatcher in the weeks and months ahead. I also mourn her passing. The only claim that I have to mourn for her is that for some of the years she served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I also lived in England. Much will be written about her strong and steadfast leadership, about her economic and political wisdom, and her fierce anti-communism and anti-socialism. She, along with President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul the Great, provided the intellectual, economic, and moral strength that contributed to the collapse of communism in many nations, and to the great increase in freedom and prosperity for so many.
I never met her, but my years in England were during some of the most difficult days of her leadership. I had moved to London to work in international finance early in her first term of office. Her economic policies (and those of her Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Geoffrey Howe) were shaped by monetarist economic thinking. She increased interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply to lower inflation. She introduced limits on governmental spending, and in an economy that often coddled Britons, she reduced expenditures on government welfare programs, including those in education and housing. Every evening, I would return to my home in the English countryside to watch the BBC News at 8 P.M. Night after night, the BBC newsreader would passively describe, “Today it was announced that another 1,500 would be made redundant” at a particular company or industry, or that another factory would be closed with another 150 losing their positions. This economic drumbeat went on night after night. On my morning drives to work, I would listen on the radio to the prior day’s “question time” from Parliament where Lady Thatcher would forcefully defend her government’s policies from questions and comments from the Labour Party opposition. (To catch a glimpse of Lady Thatcher in vigorous legislative debate, please see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CiNqfEJLsw ) She was often described by her political opponents as a dictator, and often far worse. I remember thinking at the time how strong and deep her convictions must be to stand stalwart against the vitriol directed against her and her government from her political opponents. During 1981, there were riots in many English cities arising from opposition to her government’s policies. The British media urged her to undergo a policy U-turn, but at the 1980 Conservative Party conference, Lady Thatcher announced: “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning!” Despite job approval ratings that were lower than any previous Prime Minister, she persisted. But within several years, unemployment fell dramatically, the British economy was stable and strong, and inflation was low. She went on to be re-elected as Prime Minister two more times.
On many occasions, my work brought me to the city of Aldershot, a town southwest of London, which is the home of the British Army. This town has been a garrison town since the Crimean War, and soldiers and Gurkhas, with their traditional Khukuri, were visible everywhere. After the Argentine Army invaded and occupied the Falklands Islands in 1982, Lady Thatcher announced that her government would dispatch a naval task force of 127 ships to engage the Argentine navy and air force, and to retake the islands. Aldershot became a ghost town. I remember a certain lightness in Britain as the military prepared to sail south, as the average Briton expected this conflict would be settled diplomatically in short order, and without war. After all, the British fleet would take several weeks to arrive on station, and in the meantime, a negotiated settlement would come to pass.
This lightness among Britons changed when the Argentine naval cruiser General Belgrano was sunk by a British nuclear submarine with the loss of more than 300 Argentine sailors. Two days later, the British destroyer, HMS Sheffield, was burned and sank due to a direct hit from an Argentine Exocet missile, with the loss of twenty British sailors, and severe injuries to 24 others. Eventually, British paratroopers, commandos, and Gurkhas retook the Falklands, and after 74 days of conflict, 907 were killed, of which 649 were Argentine, 255 were British, and three were female Falkland Islands civilians. There were also 2,000 injured in the hostilities. Lawrence Freedman, writing in The Official History of the Falklands Campaign: War and Diplomacy, noted the determination of Lady Thatcher. She did not ignore opposition or fail to consult others in the meetings of the War Cabinet, however, when a decision was taken, “she did not look back.”
There are other incidents that highlighted her strength. I remember her steadfastness in the face of large, weekly protests against nuclear weapons at the RAF Greenham Common. In 1983, more than 300,000 people gathered in London to protest nuclear weapons. But Lady Thatcher was determined that her nation would bravely and boldly stand for freedom against communist authoritarianism. I mourn the passing of Lady Margaret Thatcher, but I also thank God and rejoice that she lived. Thank you, Lady Thatcher, for being the leader we desperately needed. Peace to her memory, and may God grant mercy to her soul.