Margaret Thatcher: The Last of the Three Great Cold Warriors
The death of Margaret Thatcher at 87 marks the passing of the last of the three great cold warriors – – Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II – – three world leaders who came along when the world needed them the most and helped to save the West in the struggle with the Soviet Union.
The Thatcher tributes point to her tenure as the longest-serving British Prime Minister in the 20th Century and her public service as the first woman to lead the British government. The tributes highlighted her nearly heroic efforts to establish free-market economics in a country on the brink of economic collapse when she took office in 1979.
But it is Thatcher’s role as a cold warrior that will last in history. Along with Reagan and Pope John Paul II, the Iron Lady faced down the leaders in the Kremlin and never flinched in her conviction that communism was doomed to fail.
The first great cold warrior was John Paul II. He became Pope in 1978 as the first non-Italian Pope in 400 years. A year later, he visited his native Poland and electrified the nation with his message of hope and promise in the face of communist tyranny.
Speaking before a million Poles in Warsaw, he sent his countrymen a universal message of morality and freedom when said, “Don’t be afraid.”
Only a year later shipyard workers in Gdansk won the battle for better working conditions and the right to form independent trade unions. The victory gave birth to Solidarity and a young leader named Lech Walesa. It was the first crack in Soviet domination that culminated in 1989 when Poland won its freedom and later that year the Berlin Wall collapsed.
Thatcher came to power as the Conservative Party Prime Minister in 1979 after years of Labour Party rule. Britain was an economic basket case, demoralized after years of postwar decline and the failed policies of an ever-expanding union domination and central government planning.
Thatcher was quick to take action in the face of stiff opposition. But she never flinched and as the current Prime Minister David Cameron remarked upon her death, she saved the country. Britain would not be the country it is today without the tenure of Margaret Thatcher.
At the same time, Thatcher stood up to the Soviet threat. She defied the reckless Soviet installation of missiles that could strike Britain and all of Europe within minutes. Then she met with the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and famously declared,” I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”
In another fortunate fate of history, Ronald Reagan became President three years after Karol Wojtyla became Pope and two years after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister.
Early in his first term, Reagan was vilified for calling the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.” But like the Pope and Thatcher, he never wavered. He knew that the spirit of individual freedom would triumph in the end.
Reagan strengthened the American military and advocated missile-defense. Together he and Thatcher resisted the deployment of Soviet missiles that threatened Western Europe. When Gorbachev caught Thatcher’s eye, she convinced Reagan to take a close look at the new Soviet leader.
Reagan met with Gorbachev in Geneva and broke the ice. But he never caved to Soviet demands. His refusal to abandon missile-defense at a pivotal summit with Gorbachev in Reykjavík was the decisive moment in the final years of the Cold War. The Soviets knew they could not win.
A grocer’s daughter from Lincolnshire who became Prime Minister. A man from small-town Illinois who became President. A priest from Poland who became Pope.
Together these three were powerful world leaders, but most important of all, they shared the moral imperatives of freedom and respect for the individual. They showed the courage to defy tyranny and changed the world.