Margaret Thatcher laid the basis for policies that wrecked the lives of many in Britain. But she should also be remembered as a warmonger
She led, alongside US president Ronald Reagan, the escalation of the Cold War in the early 1980s, threatening a new round of nuclear weapons that could be used in the event of 'theatre nuclear war'.
She introduced Cruise missiles to Britain in the face of mass opposition, with major demonstrations against Cruise and a peace camp at the Greenham Common base in 1982. In the same year she enhanced her electoral popularity by fighting the Falklands war, and agreed the order to sink the Argentinian ship General Belgrano when it was sailing away from the combat zone. Her arms deals with Saudi Arabia were notorious.
She was the first woman prime minister of a major western power and as such some had illusions that she would represent a softer or gentler approach to politics. They were rapidly disillusioned.
Thatcher had few qualms in dealing with autocrats and dictators, supporting not just the reactionary House of Saud but also the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, brought to power in a US backed military coup, and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, supported by the west in the Iran-Iraq war.
She was a strong supporter of apartheid in South Africa. In 1987 she described the ANC as 'a typical terrorist organisation'. Anyone who thought it would run South Africa was 'living in cloud-cuckoo land'. She denounced Nelson Mandela, the then imprisoned ANC leader, as a terrorist.
Margaret Thatcher was in at the beginning of the new world order that followed the end of the Cold War, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. The west "won the Cold War without firing a shot", Thatcher said triumphantly in 1991, not knowing she was heralding the 30 years of endless war waged by the west ever since.
Before she was driven from office in 1990, as a result of mass protests against her poll tax policy, she had enthusiastically signed up to the first Gulf War against Iraq, alongside the new US president George Bush senior.
The Gulf War began two months after Thatcher left office. It changed the face of the Middle East. Thousands of Iraqis were killed, including many soldiers bombed in a 'turkey shoot' as they retreated from Kuwait on the Basra Road. The western powers ensured that the war was followed by the imposition of sanctions on Iraq and a 'no fly zone' over the country, which effectively marked the prelude to further war. An estimated 500,000 Iraqi children died as the result of sanctions.
Thatcher was no longer in office but her influence lingered, and not simply within her own Conservative party. Her true legacy was Tony Blair, who matched his zeal for neoliberal policies and privatisation with a propensity for war mongering which Thatcher can only have envied. Blair built on her record. He followed her in deep devotion to US presidents and complete accord with US foreign policy.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were backed by Blair and endorsed by Thatcher's successors in the Tory Party. Blair supported George Bush at every turn, ignoring intelligence and legal warnings that there was no justification for war.
Britain in 2013 is a very different place from what it was when Thatcher came to power in 1979. When we consider the much weakened welfare state, the growth in inequality and poverty which are now a hallmark of one of the world's richest countries, we should also consider the wreckage caused by British imperialism.
There have been more wars since the 1990s than at any time since the Second World War, and the threats of war and terrorism are greater now than they have been for decades. Thatcher's militarism, support for arms dealers and warmongering all helped to create this legacy.
First published on the Stop the War Coalition website
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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