Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Margaret [Thatcher], Bill [Buckley], and Ron [Reagan]

In a graceful 1975 column titled “Just Call Me Bill,” William F. Buckley Jr. wrote about his correspondence with Margaret Thatcher after she appeared on his TV show as the new leader of the Conservative Party. Buckley always referred to others as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” on television, even if he knew them well, but after Mrs. Thatcher called him “Bill” at one point during the interview, he felt he could write her a “Dear Margaret” letter. She responded with a “Dear Mr. Buckley” letter, and on checking the transcript of the interview, he was shocked to discover that on the show she had been referring to a piece of legislation, not his first name.

At the beginning of this year, Thatcher’s papers from 1982 were released, under the 30-year rule that governs such releases. Included in them is a secret personal message she sent to President Reagan on May 5, 1982, in the midst of the Falklands war. She had just completed a four-hour meeting with her cabinet to discuss U.S. proposals for a negotiated settlement, and she wrote to Reagan privately “because I think you are the only person who will understand the significance of what I am trying to say.” Her message continued as follows:

Throughout my administration I have tried to stay loyal to the United States as our great ally and to the principles of democracy, liberty and justice for which both of our countries stand.

In your message you say that your suggestions are faithful to the basic principles we must protect. But the present rulers of the Argentine will not respect those principles, and I fear deeply that if a settlement based on your suggestions is eventually achieved, we shall find that in the process of negotiation democracy and freedom for the Falkland Islanders will have been compromised.

Above all, the present proposals do not provide unambiguously for a right to self-determination, although it is fundamental to democracy and was enjoyed by the Islanders up to the moment of invasion …

I also believe that the friendship between the United States and Britain matters very much to the future of the free world. That is why, with the changes Francis Pym has suggested to Al Haig, we are ready, with whatever misgivings, to go along with your latest proposals. Assuming that they are accepted by the Argentines, then during the negotiation period that will follow we shall have to fight fiercely for the rights of the Falklanders who have been so loyal to everything in which you and we believe.

The Argentinians rejected the terms for negotiation the next day, so the U.S. proposal never became a reality. The historical significance of Thatcher’s message to Reagan relates less to the Falklands crisis itself than to the personal relationship she and Reagan had established by the second year of his presidency. The May 5, 1982 secret message was addressed to “Ron,” and it was signed simply, “Margaret.”