Thatcher papers: 'worst moment' of her life

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 28, 2012 at 1:22 am •  Published: December 28, 2012
Advertisement

She concedes to the committee that her political analysis was incorrect because she believed Argentina's junta would not invade, as it was making progress at the United Nations in its effort to build diplomatic support for its claim to the disputed islands. She said she thought the junta wouldn't risk this support with unilateral military action.

"I never, never expected the Argentines to invade the Falklands head-on," she told the inquiry board, which was investigating, among other things, whether the government should have been better prepared. "It was such a stupid thing to do, as events happened, such a stupid thing even to contemplate doing. They were doing well."

The papers detail how Thatcher urgently sought U.S. President Ronald Reagan's support when Argentina's intentions became clear, and reveal Thatcher's exasperation with Reagan when he suggested that Britain negotiate rather than demand total Argentinian withdrawal.

The documents describe an unusual late night phone call from Reagan to Thatcher on May 31, 1982 — while British forces were beginning the battle for control of the Falklands capital — in which the president pressed the prime minister to consider putting the islands in the hands of international peacekeepers rather than press for a total Argentinian surrender.

Reagan's considerable personal charm failed on this occasion. Thatcher, in full "Iron Lady" mode, told the president she was sure he would take the same dim view of international mediation if Alaska had been taken by a foe.

"The Prime Minister stressed that Britain had not lost precious lives in battle and sent an enormous Task Force to hand over the Queen's Islands (the Falklands) immediately to a contact group," says the memo produced the next morning by Thatcher's private secretary. She told the president there was "no alternative" to surrender and re-establishment of full British control.

The newly public documents also reveal an extraordinary draft telegram written several days later by Thatcher to Argentinian leader Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri in which she describes in very personal terms the death and destruction both leaders would grapple with in the coming days unless Argentina backed down.

She tells her counterpart that the decisive battle is about to begin, imploring him to begin a full withdrawal to avoid more bloodshed.

"With your military experience you must be in no doubt as to the outcome. In a few days the British flag will once again be flying over Port Stanley. In a few days also your eyes and mine will be reading the casualty lists. On my side, grief will be tempered by the knowledge that these men died for freedom, justice, and the rule of law. And on your side? Only you can answer the question."

The telegram was never sent, and Galtieri resigned in disgrace several days after Britain reclaimed the islands.