Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech on Japanese youth

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: New Tokyo Metropolitan Building, Tokyo
Source: Thatcher Archive: press release
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1430 local time.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 3457
Themes: Commonwealth (South Africa), Conservatism, Education, Environment, Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Africa), Family, Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Religion & morality, Defence (Gulf War, 1990-91)

My Generation

It is a great pleasure to be invited here today to address you—and on such a topic. It is a measure of your seriousness—as well as tolerance—that you have asked me to give you my ideas of the challenges which face your generation. But first I would like to reflect for a moment on the demands which were made of mine.

Every generation has its own unique opportunities and runs its own particular risks. And if we miss the opportunities or ignore the risks it is often those who come after us who must face the consequences.

For my generation there has been one overriding issue on which everything else hung. Would liberal democracy and free enterprise capitalism prevail? Or would socialism, in whatever form, become the dominent ideology? [end p1]

Not everyone saw the contrast so starkly.

In Britain in the 1960s and 1970s—and elsewhere in the world as well—there were those who minimised the differences between the Communist system and the free enterprise democracies. The talk was of a convergence between the two systems resulting in some kind of half way house, a social democracy which seemed for all practical purposes a socialist democracy.

And, of course, it was easy to be distracted by other questions. In Britain we argued about our role in the world in the wake of Empire. We disputed about how to modernise our industries. And we worried about that famous generation gap. But I can fairly claim that for me it was always the fundamental conflict between freedom and socialism which was the heart of politics.

That was true in domestic politics—in economic policy, in education, in the welfare state.

And it applied still more dramatically in foreign policy and defence. There, the risk which my generation faced was that through our own weakness of purpose and through our opponents' military might the struggle for freedom might be lost.

But the opportunity we faced was still greater. It was to prove—first to ourselves and our fellow countrymen, but then to the populations and even the governments of the Communist states—that democracy and free enterprise alone could ensure peace, [end p2] prosperity and progress.

And we did rise to the opportunity. The leaders of the Free world kept faith with the future. And the citizens of their countries made the sacrifices which were required of them.

Young people of your generation too have shown themselves prepared for sacrifice. They have faced the tanks on many occasions—most recently and dramatically in Moscow. They have shed their blood for their beliefs. But they have this consolation: they know they are riding the wave of history.

It is not that they or we know precisely what the future holds. We have no illusions about the difficulties and dangers. But we are utterly confident that the case for freedom is unanswerable—and that wherever it is heard, whatever the culture, country or continent, it stirs hearts and strengthens wills. And however shameless the intimidation, however brutal the measures, taken to suppress it, the rising clamour for liberty cannot ultimately be stilled.

Freedom's Advance

Democracy and capitalism are advancing across the world. In Asia and in Africa, the direction is clear, though the pace is painfully slow. [end p3] But the newly democratic countries of Eastern Europe are competing to dismantle their command economies and to privatise their industries. And in the Soviet Union, the hard line Communist coup only served to show the depth of people's commitment to their young democracy. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “rough water can teach lessons worth knowing” .

I hope that I, in my lifetime, and I believe that you in yours, will see political and economic freedom stretch across every continent.

Freedom of thought, of speech and of worship, free elections, freedom under the law, freedom to own, accumulate and pass on property, the whole panoply of human rights whose enjoyment makes a people truly free—these must become the common heritage of all mankind.

Ladies and gentlemen, this has been the greatest movement for progress that the world has seen. Progress through prosperity: because only capitalism can create the wealth and generate the jobs and living standards which can match our peoples' expectations. Progress through peace: because democracies do not make war upon one and other. [end p4]

A Time for Vigilance

I pointed out that democracy in the Soviet Union is stronger since the failed coup. But I trust there will be another advantage to flow from it as well. Any trace of complacency, any hint of weakness, among the democracies should be banished.

We rejoice at the restoration of legitimate government and the improved prospects for reform now the Soviet coup is ended. But this remains as much a time for vigilance as it is for celebration.

After all, the ideals which inspire us today are not new. True, the practice of democracy is relatively young: but for several centuries, perhaps above all in Britain, men have treasured the idea of freedom—they have argued, fought and died for it. But just when it seemed that ultimate success was in sight new tyrants arose. Just cast your minds back to the early years of this century—years when Britain was Japan's first ally: who could then have foretold that so much tyranny and torture, death and devastation would darken our enlightened age?

So too today, let us ensure that our democracies remain strong enough to hold the precious ground which we have won, to build upon it and then move forward. And let us pursue a determined policy of seeing that the momentum for democracy's expansion is maintained—above all in the Communist and former Communist countries, where so much is still at stake. [end p5]

In the Soviet Union and its republics there is a real chance of a fresh start—both for the country's leaders and people and for our own relations with them. The reformers can now move forward more quickly because they know that they have popular support for reform and that the old guard have proved powerless to reverse it. For this reason, the capitalist democracies can now afford to be more generous with the assistance they give: there is much less chance of aid being used to shore up the old system rather than create the new.

Of course, it is what the governments of the USSR and of the republics themselves do to accelerate market reforms which will be most important. The faster they go, the quicker results will show—as the example of countries in Eastern Europe shows. But we for our part must provide the help they need to build the economic structures of democracy and therefore to see that goods find their way into shops and homes as soon as possible. We can't stand by and let them struggle unaided, making mistakes which our help could avoid.

The other side of the balance must not, however, be forgotten. It is only because the Soviet Union retained an immensely powerful internal security apparatus and because it had an army far larger than a democracy would have built up that the perpetrators of the coup chanced their arm. And had the coup succeeded we in the West would have faced a hostile Soviet Union, whose capacity to inflict mortal damage on the Free World was barely diminished. [end p6]

In politics the unexpected does happen. We in the West must keep up our defence and our commitment to advanced technology.

This same approach of constructive firmness will be required as countries in Africa and Asia adopt political and economic freedom. Of course, problems will still remain and practical benefits will take time to come through. Particularly in the early stages, progress could be reversed by small cliques of hard line socialists.

If, in particular, South Africa were to fall into the hands of those determined to make it a one-party state and a socialist economy the long term consequences for the whole of Africa could be disastrous. We must do all we can to help the moderate leaders steer South Africa away from that abyss.

So the fight for freedom is not yet won. Indeed, it is never finally won.

Take heed of those sombre words of Goethe:

“That which thy fathers bequeathed thee
Earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it”

And, I would add, not only earn it—but defend and extend it. It was bought at a great price. [end p7]

But what particular advice can I give you as we look ahead together into the next century? I want to suggest six very different issues which should concern you as you seek to create a better life for yourselves and for others.

Strong Families

As we review the great issues of world affairs, we can all too easily lose sight of the underlying values which often determine their outcome. In particular, we can lose sight of the role played by character.

President Theodore

Teddy Roosevelt summed it up like this: “It is a good thing to have a keen, fine intellectual development in a nation, to produce orators, artists, successful businessmen; but it is an infinitely greater thing to have those solid qualities which we group together under the name of character—… steadfastness, the sense of obligation towards one's neighbour, … hard commonsense … and generous enthusiasm toward whatever is right.

“These are the qualities which go to make up true national greatness.”

Character is first and most deeply influenced by life at home. And nothing is more important for your country's and our world's [end p8] well being than that we keep the family unit strong. In every society it is the family which is the means of passing on to the next generation the wisdom of the last. It is through the family that we learn to distinguish right from wrong; we learn to have respect for other people, their opinions and their property; we learn first discipline and then self-discipline.

It is for the sake of our families that we work hard and well. And it is because we can rely on our families, not only for comfort and consolation but also for security, that we do not need to become a burden on our neighbours or dependent on the State.

In Britain, elsewhere in Europe and in the United States increasing dependence on the State and a diminishing sense of responsibility in the family lie at the root of a host of intractable social problems, such as juvenile delinquency, low educational achievement and teenage homelessness. Rising levels of divorce and the sharp rise in the number of single parent families are also blighting many of our children's lives and reducing their opportunities—as well as placing heavy strains on our social services. And as the State intervenes more to deal with the problems which inadequate parents create, it increases the level of dependency—so again diminishing responsibilities. [end p9] Once this cycle has begun it becomes ever harder to break.

So my advice to you is that, whatever else you may reject or wish to change in traditional Japanese society, do nothing to sap the independence, diminish the responsibility, or undermine the values of the family. And remember: it is what we learn as children from our parents—not just about the ways of the world but about truth and goodness, courtesy and kindness, effort and duty that most affects our adult life.

Education for the Future

After the family, the school.

I know that in Japan your schools are intensely competitive and that the child's performance at school is widely understood to affect his whole life.

You are right to emphasise that one of the main purposes of schooling is to equip children with the attitudes and knowledge required to obtain and excel in a good job. So much of our industry today is science based: that is why in Japan and Britain alike we have to be sure our children receive a first class education in science and in the mathematics it requires.

Equally, young people need to be able to understand other nations—something of their culture and at least one other language. [end p10] This not only broadens our intellectual horizons: paradoxically, it gives us new insights into our own countries' distinctive achievements. Moreover, knowledge of other languages will be of increasing practical importance, as our businesses and professions become more international.

It is in our universities that achieving the right balance between practical and vocational skills on the one hand and the pursuit of liberal learning for its own sake on the other is most important—and often most difficult. But the challenge for all of us is to develop the education our young people receive so that they not only know, they can also think; they not only remember, they can understand; they not only master another country's culture, they learn also to appreciate it.

Protecting the Environment

There has surely never been a generation more conscious than yours of the need to preserve and improve our environment. And this is the third issue you might like to consider.

In Japan you have a deep traditional appreciation of nature. But you have also long had a pressing need to use available land for industrial and commercial development. So you know better than any of us perhaps that conservation and economic growth have to [end p11] go hand in hand.

It is only in recent years that we have begun to understand how seriously we have together upset the balance of nature. Acid rain, the threat to the ozone layer, global warming—these are problems which have to be overcome by international cooperation. And never has the international community worked together more closely than in meeting the threat to our global environment.

But the point I would most like to make to you today is that sound science, not sentimentality, must be the basis of our approach. And the system best able to develop that science, most willing to apply it and best able to generate the wealth required to pay for it is free enterprise. Green socialism is no more an answer to the world's environmental needs than was the smoke-stack socialism of Eastern Europe which poisoned our rivers, disfigured our buildings and rotted our forests.

Free Trade

The fourth issue I believe you should consider may strike you as rather more dry and technical than the first three: it is the future of free trade. But the reality of trade is throbbing factories, bustling ports and airports, shops with an unimaginable variety of products on the shelves. Free trade is vital to world prosperity: it is the essential condition for improving living standards in our own countries—and for raising the incomes of the poorer nations, whose producers need access [end p12] to our markets.

There is nothing inevitable about the post-War move towards lower tariffs, the progressive elimination of non-tariff barriers and the huge increase in world trade which followed. If we look back still further that becomes apparent. Between 1870 and 1913 there was a gradual erosion of international free trade, as tariffs were raised for political reasons. The death blow of free trade, however, was the introduction by the United States of the Smoot-Hawley tariff in 1930, which turned a financial crisis into a disastrous economic slump. The resulting ferocious tariff wars caused world trade to shrink by 1933 to a third of its value of 1929.

Perhaps this seems like ancient history. And certainly, after the Second World War there was a concerted determination to avoid a repeat of history. The institutions created then—and particularly the GATT—have sustained confidence and allowed prosperity to grow. But now, it seems, memories have dimmed. Past experience—happy and unhappy—has been forgotten. And because of disputes over a range of subjects—but particularly over agriculture—the GATT itself is at risk.

Agricultural subsidies cannot be suddenly ended: they have to be reduced gradually to give agricultural communities time to adjust. But the advanced industrial nations cannot expect to have free access to world markets for their industrial goods if they continue to subsidise their agriculture at anything like the [end p13] present level thus making it impossible for farmers in other countries to compete. Free trade will only be achieved when we prove to the poorer nations of the world that it is in their interests as much as ours.

I hope that young people in Japan, and in other countries too, will resolve to strengthen and extend free trade. It is a challenging prospect which will benefit all nations.

True Internationalism

This brings me rather neatly to my fifth point. I hope too that your generation will prove to be true internationalists.

Let me say at once that in my years as Britain's Prime Minister I heard more platitudes uttered—and at times witnessed more posturing and hypocrisy—at international gatherings than I care to reflect upon. And a false internationalism which overlooks practical problems and national differences can be profoundly damaging.

That is what those who today wish to create trade blocs are about. They would do greater harm to the world's prosperity—and therefore cause more resentment and retaliation—than would protection at a national level.

But I have no doubt that genuine international cooperation through the GATT, the IMF, the world Bank and increasingly the [end p14] Group of 7 major industrial countries of which Japan is an influential member will grow and will become more effective. The authority of the United Nations has also increased—particularly since the Gulf War demonstrated that the most powerful countries were prepared to agree to action under its auspices to uphold the rule of international law.

It is easy to see why international action will become ever more important in a range of different areas. There are the threats to the world environment. There are the changes which are taking place in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Africa and in due course Asia too which, however beneficial, make for short-term uncertainties. There is the greater economic interdependence which means that we all have a bigger stake in each others' economic health. There is the great vulnerability we all feel when faced with the risk—and in some cases the reality—of dictatorships acquiring high technology weapons of mass destruction.

By contrast, there is a renewed optimism that international diplomacy can help the parties to regional disputes resolve their [end p15] differences and find a way of living in peace and security. We think especially of the Middle East, Cyprus and Cambodia.

True internationalism consists of cooperation between independent sovereign states—either pursuing practical mutual interests or defending fundamental concepts such as the rule of law, the need to settle disputes by peaceful means and the requirement to uphold basic human rights. It recognises the lesson of this Century that states put together artificially and held together by force tend to fly apart. We have only to consider the cases of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia and well as the Empires of former days to see the truth of this.

So I would like to see the young people of Japan act as genuine internationalists—in a world of which their own country is now a great economic power.

The Battle of Ideas

The sixth and final challenge which I hope you will accept is to defend your beliefs in the battle of ideas. And that battle has to be fought again and again—because there will never be a shortage of individuals or of interest groups seeking by violence or by stealth to erode freedom.

The practical case for democracy and free enterprise is proven [end p16] almost beyond dispute. We see the evidence everywhere we look. Where limited government, the rule of law, private property and free enterprise thrive—prosperity grows. And where big government, haphazard regulation and state ownership are to be found—so is poverty.

But what of the moral case?

Let me immediately say that no political or economic system itself makes men good—and democracy is no exception.

Some virtues, like tolerance and honesty, are necessary to sustain freedom: and some virtues, like industry, thrift and taking responsibility, are even encouraged by it. But the main moral argument for freedom is not that it moulds people in its own image but that it allows them to create theirs. It does this because it alone protects those rights without which none of us enjoys the full dignity of human personality and without which none of us fulfils his potential as a unique, thinking, acting human being.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you will put these arguments with force and conviction. And you can do so sure in the knowledge that in doing so you prove yourselves today's true revolutionaries—the revolutionaries of freedom.

Young people in every generation have a thirst for truth, a [end p17] commitment to ideals and a boundless enthusiasm to build a better world. And yours is certainly no exception.

So I urge you to reflect on this …   .

The world has seen many revolutions. Some at the time have been hailed as great advances. Now they are considered to have been great tragedies. But the true revolution—the revolution of freedom which is sweeping the world today—is one which should be a cause for joy. Not joy because one side or another has won. But joy because all mankind has won.

For Man was created to enjoy the dignity of freedom—and to bear its responsibilities.

This is the passionate conviction which I have held throughout my life.

It is the high calling to which your generation now is summoned. It is the faith to which freedom's martyrs have borne testimony—with cries of defiance which will not be stilled.

Against that rock of faith the storms of tyranny in vain have beaten.

Upon it we can build an enduring edifice of plenty.

And in its shelter the peoples of the world may live in peace.