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How the Falklands War Cemented Margaret Thatcher's Reputation as the 'Iron Lady'

May 3, 2019 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

The 74-day Falklands War became Prime Minister Thatcher’s “moment” that led to swift British victory—and also helped save her political skin.

When Argentina’s military junta invaded the Falkland Islands, a British colony, in April 1982, Margaret Thatcher’s political future was in serious question.

Britain’s first female prime minister was facing sharp criticism from both her cabinet and the public in response to her domestic policies. Savage government spending cuts, a declining manufacturing industry and high unemployment all pointed to an early exit for the leader.

“It began to look as if the lady who said she was ‘Not for Turning’ would have to do a U-turn, halt her deflationary economic policies, and pump money back into the economy,” says Victor Bailey, distinguished professor of modern British history at the University of Kansas and director of the Joyce & Elizabeth Hall Center for the Humanities. “The Falklands War saved her political skin. She could show all her indomitable will in a single cause with moral clarity: saving the Falkland Islanders and their sheep from the rampaging Argentinians.”

An Argentinean businessman reads a paper with Margaret Thatcher wearing a blindfold splashed across the front page, in reference to the conflict in the Falkland Islands. It reads, “You Can Help Win the War. Pirate, Witch, Murderer. Guilty!”

Thatcher’s decision to go to war to recover the islands was at odds with several members of Parliament and close advisers, as well as U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who repeatedly urged peace talks.

“When you are at war you cannot allow the difficulties to dominate your thinking: you have to set out with an iron will to overcome them,” Thatcher writes in Downing Street Years, her 1993 memoir. ”And anyway what was the alternative? That a common or garden dictator should rule over the queen’s subjects and prevail by fraud and violence? Not while I was prime minister.”

The Falklands War Ends in 74 Days

Under Thatcher’s leadership, on April 5, 1982, the British government sent a naval task force 8,000 miles into the South Atlantic to take on the Argentine forces in advance of an amphibious assault on the islands. The British fleet ultimately included 38 warships, 77 auxiliary vessel and 11,000 soldiers and marines.

“We must recover the Falkland islands for Britain and for the people who live there who are of British stock,” Thatcher said in an April 5, 1982 interview with ITN. …read more


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