In 1982, then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher wrote an emotional letter to then-US president Ronald Reagan during the Falklands War, calling him the “only person” who could understand her position, formerly secret documents showed yesterday.
Newly declassified files from 1982 lift the lid on contacts between the two leaders over the crisis and reveal the extent of the pressure Thatcher felt she was under when Argentina invaded the remote South Atlantic archipelago to reclaim what it said was its sovereign territory, triggering a 10-week war.
In one file, the tough, outspoken Thatcher called the time of the buildup to the Argentine invasion the “worst, I think of my life,” while letters to Reagan from the time show her reliance on the US president and their close working relationship.
“I am writing to you separately because I think you are the only person who will understand the significance of what I am trying to say,” Thatcher told Reagan in one letter, saying the principles of democracy, liberty and justice were at stake.
Britain held its breath when Thatcher dispatched a naval task force to the British-ruled Falkland Islands following the Argentine invasion. Despite losing several warships, the British reclaimed the South Atlantic islands 74 days later. A total of 649 Argentines and 255 British troops were killed.
Elsewhere, the files show that Thatcher stressed the special relationship between the two countries as she requested Reagan’s help in a letter signed off with “Warm personal regards, Margaret.”
“I also believe that the friendship between the United States and Britain matters very much to the future of the free world,” she wrote.
The files provide a unique perspective on the first and only female British prime minister’s personal feelings as she waged war against Argentina, contemporary records specialist Simon Demissie said.
“You really hear how personally strained she was, how surprised she was. Her voice really comes through — her sense of shock that she would have to send forces to the other side of the world,” Demissie said.
“We get a sense that she is as decisive as ever and that is something which really appealed to the military officials close to her,” Demissie said in reference to minutes from the War Cabinet meetings ahead of the crisis, which were also released yesterday.
Secret for 30 years, the files reveal Thatcher’s political maneuvering during other events in 1982, including the Iran-Iraq war, the imposition of military rule in Poland and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
They also show that British attitudes to its US ally were less deferential than the prime minister’s letters to Reagan suggest.
In a transcript of a telephone conversation between Thatcher and her foreign minister, the prime minister criticized Reagan’s communication style, describing a message from the president as “so vague I didn’t think it was worth reading when it came in at half-eleven last night.”
In another file, she said: “The US just does not realize the resentment she is causing in the Middle East,” while a Foreign Office briefing on Reagan described the actor-turned-politician as “knowing much less than he seems to.”