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Margaret Thatcher Is Gone with the Wind

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When you think about your young and easily distracted days, sometimes a moment or an object stands out as a vivid memory that helps qualify time and place. I recall being in London at a flat party in the early ‘80s, and everyone was having a grand old time. We were trading our horror stories about growing up in our respective whited sepulchers (I in New York and the rest in London). I was ready to rant and rave against America’s policies – foreign and domestic – and my English friends had no problem confronting the same issues with their government.

What I remember most was not the political conversations (the specifics of which have long since faded from memory) but the unforgettable image of a poster tacked on the wall. It featured U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher being held in the arms of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The poster was fashioned like a movie advertisement, with a mushroom cloud in the background, the title screaming out: Gone with the Wind.

I remember staring at that poster for a long time, fascinated by the obvious and clever connection to the iconic image of Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler) and Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett O’Hara) from the famous American film Gone with the Wind. The imagery evoked the old film poster in such a way as to enhance the humor of the Thatcher-Reagan one. While Rhett and Scarlett’s romance sizzled even with Atlanta burning, Thatcher and Reagan’s did so as well as a nuke went off in the distance.

Fortunately, there was a real world qualifier in the room that I cannot forget either. A fellow named Nigel sat in the corner in his wheelchair smoking a pipe and drinking whiskey. We were all pointing at the poster, chatting about it and laughing, and he seemed to be brooding as he stared blankly across the room at someplace beyond its walls.

I asked my friend Gary, “What’s up with him?”

Gary sipped his bitter and leaned towards me to whisper. “He lost his legs in the Falklands.”

“Oh,” I said, remembering the “war” that took place earlier that year over the disputed islands off the coast of Argentina. I had been in America at the time and thought it odd that we were supporting a colonial power when the Monroe Doctrine supposedly forbade that kind of thing in our hemisphere long ago.

We all stopped our foolish laughter after that and got on with other things. Gary took a Depeche Mode album off the turntable and slipped U2’s Boy onto it. As “I Will Follow” blasted out of the speakers, I turned away from Gary and walked over to Nigel and sat down next to him. “I’m sorry if my laughing about that stupid poster bothered you.”

Nigel stared at me. “It’s not just the bloody poster; it’s that wretched woman!”

“Yes, well, many of us Americans aren’t too happy with Ray-guns either.”

Nigel pointed the wet end of his pipe up at the wall. “You see, you are all laughing about that, but there is a mushroom cloud there. I’m certain the Japanese tourists who see it in the shops in Piccadilly aren’t laughing!”

I nodded but said nothing. Gary came over and sat next to me. Nigel stared off again at the distant place beyond the confines of the flat and said, “The whole thing is not amusing.”

I glanced down at the stumps of his legs, the floppy ends of his jeans hanging over the seat of the wheelchair. I felt compelled to respond so I said, “You’re right; it’s not funny at all.”

The proceedings turned decidedly grim after that, so Gary and I ended up leaving the flat and going down to a pub where we knew everyone. We both ordered a pint and Dexys Midnight Runners were singing “Come On, Eileen” on the jukebox, and everything seemed right with the world at that moment, yet I knew that wasn’t true.

Later that night I walked home the long way along the Thames and stared at the illuminated Big Ben and Parliament, the lighted bulbs along the embankment swaying in the breeze. It was a great photographic moment, but I didn’t have my camera with me. I recalled the poster and Nigel’s reaction to it, and all I could think about was how he said it wasn’t funny and how all of Reagan’s shoot-from-the-hip stuff wasn’t humorous to me either.

All these years later I had forgotten about Nigel and that poster and the night walking along the Thames, and then I heard that Margaret Thatcher died. I guess she and Reagan are having a few laughs now, reminiscing about how they did this and that and stopped the Cold War, and I am certain that world leaders from many countries will heap praise on the “Iron Lady,” so named by Russians who thought that she was a strong-willed leader.

A new indelible image comes into my mind now. I picture Nigel sitting in a room somewhere watching TV. When the announcer says, “Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died,” I see Nigel removing the pipe from his mouth, raising his glass of whiskey in a mock toast, and saying, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Photo credits: reagan/thatcher-flickr.com; gable/leigh-cornel1801.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books 'A Death in Prague' (2002), 'Move' (2003), 'The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories' (2005), and 'Like a Passing Shadow' (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. His latest books 'If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,' 'Garden of Ghosts,' and 'Flashes in the Pan' are available exclusively on Amazon. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with 'Blogcritics Magazine' since July 2005 and has written well over 500 articles; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.
  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    President Reagan helped to conclude the Cold War. In addition, America had one of the longer peacetime periods of continuous prosperity. The budget was much closer to balance. President Clinton turned in another spectacular performance on leaving this country with a budget surplus. We have yet to equal those performances partly due to the huge costs of the Iraq/Afghan Wars. Also, this country is growing over a million people a year beyond the death rate. I don’t know how our social infrastructure will handle this new reality.

    Former PM Thatcher had a good relationship with President Reagan and probably with President Clinton too.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Thatcher had been out of office for more than two years by the time Clinton came to the White House, so the two only ever met informally. Details of their private relationship must therefore be a matter of speculation, though it’s unlikely they ever got to know each other all that well.

    What should be remembered is that Reagan and Thatcher wanted to modernize and beef up their respective nuclear arsenals as a means of keeping the Russians on the back foot, and this was a source of real fear and alarm in Britain, which would have been first in the firing line had the blue touchpaper ever actually been lit.

    Additionally, older Britons knew exactly what being bombed to buggery was like, and understandably weren’t that keen on it happening again.

    The question was how to prevent a conflagration. Older and more conservative people, recalling that appeasement hadn’t helped with Hitler, tended to feel that a strong deterrent was the answer; whereas younger and more leftward-leaning folks pointed out that as powerful as Hitler was even he didn’t have the firepower to obliterate the globe several times over, and reasoned that if the weapons didn’t exist in the first place, a war in which they might be used couldn’t happen.

    Some of the more naive actually believed the bluster coming out of Moscow, and felt it was of paramount importance not to antagonize the Soviets. Thus, it was Reagan and Thatcher who came to be seen as warmongers: you never saw similar posters depicting Brezhnev or Deng Xiaoping in front of a background of mushroom clouds.

    On balance, Reagan and Thatcher probably were the right leaders at the right time, even if this was only because they happened to come to power during an era when the Soviet bloc was starting to show visible cracks and they saw an opportunity.

  • Baronius

    My friend Victor wasn’t one to sit quietly in a room while others talked. He was always the one leading the debate. He was Russian – his family escaped to Germany as the Red Army advanced, and eventually to America. He loved Reagan and Thatcher. He told stories of how his extended family behind the Iron Curtain would be tearful in thanks when he sent them razors or soap.

    The Soviet Union wasn’t simply a little more oppressive on a sliding scale that includes gay marriage and soda size restrictions. They were a monstrous regime who did not recognize individual rights and murdered those who failed to comply with their plans. Reagan, Thatcher, John Paul II, and eventually Gorbachev brought down the Soviet system. Moreover, it ended without a single mushroom cloud. And you at least have to acknowledge that. You can interpret history however you want to, and we can argue about causes and consequences all you want, but to sell this article based on a mushroom cloud? That’s the very thing that the leaders of the 1980’s prevented. It would be like superimposing a picture of Churchill on a Nazi flag flying over London. If it’s a symbol of anything, it’s a symbol of how badly Reagan’s and Thatcher’s opponents misunderstood what he was trying to – and did – accomplish.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    Reagan, Thatcher, John Paul II, and eventually Gorbachev brought down the Soviet system. Moreover, it ended without a single mushroom cloud. And you at least have to acknowledge that.

    Amen. That’s why, even though he well and truly screwed the American economic system (our economy is still based on ‘Reaganomics’), I hold Reagan to be one of our top five presidents ever.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    My most recent vote for a republican presidential candidate was for President Reagan.

  • S.T.M

    OK Victor, nice memoir, cool vignettes, except when you read through the lines and get to the arrogance – the usual, typical American one-eyed horseshit.

    Monroe doctrine and colonies … fuck, is there no end to the stream of bullshit and useless navel gazing coming out of both sides of politics in America?

    I’ve never encountered a people with so many merchant bankers per head of population, or so many people with a wire loose between brain and mouth (or keyboard fingers, these days).

    Come on … you need a reality check, mate.

    It’s two previously uninhabited rocks in the south atlantic that were settled by … Britons.

    Those settlers turned a bleak, dreary outpost into a paying proposition, as Britons have done pretty much wherever they’ve gone – including America.

    The few thousand Falklanders like being British, and consider themselves so; they were the only people on the islands apart from a couple of Argentines living there when the junta invaded, and they had – and still have – a right to self-determination.

    (They recently voted almost unanimously in a referendum to remain British – doesn’t get much more telling than that.)

    So, hardly a colony in the old sense of the word, with the slaves picking bananas and cutting sugar cane and getting nothing but a kick up the arse for their efforts.

    As for the invasion, three nasty idiots in a ruling military junta who destroyed their own country and tortured and murdered their own citizens decided that to take the heat off the dreadful problems besetting their own country (problems entirely of their own making) by invading the “Malvinas”.

    The whole thing was a crock, as are the ongoing Argentine claims of “ownership” to a place they never settled or “owned”. Their main problem was they under-estimated the person they’d chosen to make their new enemy – Margaret Thatcher (and the British people).

    The other thing is: People who value freedom and live under a democracy generally don’t want to be taken over and bullied by nasty military dictatorships.

    So good on the Brits and Margaret Thatcher for standing up to the mongrels.

    Sad that so many young Argentine conscripts and professional British soldiers and sailors had to die for the folly of the junta, and sad too about the bloke who lost his legs, as there is always a price to pay for stupidity. And I agree, too, in Nigel’s case, it’s a lousy price.

    But in this case, I wouldn’t be blaming Thatcher. Blame the idiots who invaded the joint in the first place.

    She can be blamed for plenty of other things, especially the madness of some of her divisive policies that still resonate and echo around northern Britain today, but for protecting her own people against the whims of a band of torturers and murderers, she probably deserves a gold star.

    In fact, even though most Argentines wouldn’t admit it, they are today benefiting from it – in that they at least now have a democracy (well, it almost is) in the wake of the Falklands defeat and the subsequent downfall of the Galtieri junta.

    She’s actually the person who’s had the most profound effect on Argentine politics in the past 50 years.

    I bet Nigel knows that, too.

    Don’t be a twat, Victor – if you’re going to ruin an otherwise nice little piece with a dash of bollocks, at least do your homework first.

    While we all doubtless love a good Jodrell, it’s not always a good idea to do it in public.

  • S.T.M

    In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Falklands are no more a colony than are the southern states of the US that were stolen from Mexico. Acquired and settled with far less bloodshed, though.

  • S.T.M

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a nice cup of tea.

  • STM, I appreciate your POV. Actually, I didn’t understand that at the time, mind you, as a kid who saw all governments as evil and a guy with no legs because of a war far away who blamed the woman in the poster. I have no idea how Nigel feels today, so I am only extending the metaphor if you will.

    The history and truth about the Falklands/Islas Malvinas are better left to people like yourself who know more about it. What stands above is more a personal essay from the POV of the person I was long ago.

  • S.T.M

    Fair enough. Sorry for giving you a bollocking, but this always comes up on your side of the big pond as a “colonial war”, when it wasn’t, and bizarrely is often pointed to as Maggie Thatcher was struggling at home, so she started a war, and cited as an example of what a terrible person she was.

    True, her policies divided a nation – even if the short-term pain was need for the long-term gain in turning Britain back into a wealthy nation post WWII, albeit now a post-inudstrial one.

    In the case of the Falklands, though, nothing could be further from the truth; she simply refused to allow torturers and murderers no better than Hitler and Stalin to bully and harass 2000 Britons living on a piece of British territory 8000 miles away. In short, she decided not to leave them to a very uncertain fate.

    It’s my view that the British generally go to war reluctantly, but they do have a track record of standing up to bullies and murderers once they decide to do so.

    I’m certain Thatcher, for all her failings, and they were many, would not have committed the lives and wellbeing of blokes like Nigel without plenty of soul-searching.

    It remains my view to this day that the British had no option but to do what they did. 20/20 hinsight is a marvellous thing, but truly, Argentina also benefited from its defeat in terms of a return to democracy – although they remain ungrateful and still wrongly claim the islands are theirs.

    I still think one of the greatest tragedies of the whole episode is how the Argentine military junta committed poorly trained conscripts to fight against the highly trained professional soldiers of what is historically one of the world’s most formidable military machines. Those poor misguided and conned kids never had a chance once the British arrived on the scene.

    Why they thought the British would react any other way than they did still escapes me.

    However, the pain of Thather’s internal policies in the UK remains, and it’s much of that she can stand condemned for, even if for not all of it.

    She at least began the process of turning Britain into a meritocracy by dismantling certain aspects of the class system. Any kid from anywhere in Britain today can now climb up the ranks of business and politics, and that it took a Conservative Prime Minister to this must still rankle with the so-called upper classes.

    I’m not British, although I was born in the UK; I grew up in Sydney, another big metropolis, but I, too, spent a bit of time in London for a time during that period, and it was interesting, to say the least – especially coming from a country where most people had a very high standard of living relative to many other places.

    Many of the people I associated with were from the “upper class”, and many of them they were as angry as the rest.

    It was a real-eye opener. If you’re interested in history, it’s worth a look at the whole picture as it all dovetails very nicely with what was going on in the US, the eastern bloc and western Europe at the time.

    Cheers, and once again, sorry for the personal attack.