Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died today. The so-called “Iron Lady” visited Virginia Military Institute in 1992 — this was after she had stepped down. Here’s the story I wrote about her speech on January 25th of that year:
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher urged Western governments Friday to increase their aid to the former Soviet republics.
“We should be doing this on a larger scale than we’ve thought so far,” she told a crowd of more than 4,400 at Virginia Military Institute.
She said the United States and Europe, after spending four decades standing up to communism, have a moral obligation to help the people of the now-disintegrated Soviet Union avoid starvation.
“They are reaching out, they are crying out for liberty,” Thatcher said. “It didn’t cost us a penny apiece to beat them, to beat communism, to release the people into freedom. No sacrifice, no third World War, no sacrifice of life.
“Wouldn’t it be right for those who love liberty to give them a much greater helping hand when we will have surpluses of food in the United States and Europe? We need to get them through the winter,” so the former Soviet republics can then concentrate on building up democratic institutions.
But she quickly added a geopolitical note: “It is in our interest to do so.”
Thatcher, with a touch of her characteristic sharp-tongued humor, also urged Americans not to fear the emergence of new nations from the rubble of the Soviet system.
“Please do not worry that the Soviet Union is breaking up,” she said. “After all, the British Empire was, at one time, about 1776. And that would have turned out better if I had been there at the time.”
More seriously, Thatcher pointed to the breakup of the British Empire after World War II, giving birth to some 50 nations. She ticked off a list of other doomed empires from history, the Hapsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire – even the current demise of Yugoslavia.
“Nations put together artificially will break up,” Thatcher said. “Do not be afraid of it.” Instead, she said Western governments should work with the former Soviet republics to encourage what she considers the bedrock of democracy – private property.
Nevertheless, Thatcher also warned the United States not to cut back its military too much in the wake of the collapse.
“The unexpected won’t stop happening,” Thatcher said. “Tyrants won’t stop being born. The very best assurance . . . that tyrants won’t succeed is to retain your defenses in peak condition,” a line that brought thunderous applause at the 153-year-old military school.
Thatcher spoke at VMI’s basketball arena as part of the school’s distinguished lecture series. Her appearance brought requests for tickets from a dozen states.
Thatcher spent much of her nearly hour-long talk taking the audience on a greatest-hits tour of military crises during her three terms from 1979 to 1990.
She said the lesson was that “if you ever commit your forces, we put our whole weight, whole might, whole economy behind them.”
Thatcher cited her own country’s example when Argentina seized the Falkland Islands in 1982.
She told of being interrupted, late one night during debate in the House of Commons, and told that the Argentine fleet had set sail, likely for the disputed islands.
The response required little debate – at least on her part. “It was one thing I was certain of. If they landed – it was the Queen’s islands, everyone who lived there was British, had been British for 150 years – if they took them, we would recover them.”
Nevertheless, Thatcher said she still marveled at Britain’s ability to project its military power 8,000 miles away – an ability she attributed to her emphasis on defense spending.
But even more impressive, she said, was the response of civilians. Workers at a Scottish factory spent a frantic three weeks fashioning refueling equipment needed for the Falklands war. “They didn’t give a damn the hours they worked, they were doing something for the armed forces,” she said.
We also refer you to our post about the movie about her, starring Meryl Streep, that played at the Grandin Theatre last year.