Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at the "Salute to Freedom" award ceremony

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: US aircraft carrier Intrepid, New York harbour
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments: Evening.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 3039
Themes: Autobiography (childhood), Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Defence (Falklands), Public spending & borrowing, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Leadership

Ambassador Price, Secretary Dalton, Mr. Fisher, I'm very conscious of the honour you do me in presenting me with this Freedom Award.

Charles PriceCharlie made a marvellous speech. You understand now why he was such a wonderful ambassador from America to Britain. We had a very, very great friendship during the time. And, indeed, they were great years. There was Ronald Reagan and myself who shared the same philosophy, the same ideals, the same beliefs, and Charlie, who was always so wonderful in seeing that everything went smoothly between America and Britain. And I don't think we've ever had a greater time for the Anglo-American alliance since the days of war when we stood together in battling for freedom.

But also for another reason, this is a very great evening for me. The last time I was between decks on a great aircraft carrier, which we are on now, where the aircraft's are kept and where they're maintained, was when I met HMS Hermes on her return from the Falkland Islands, full of harriers and having done such a marvellous job with HMS Invincible, in defeating terror in the Falklands and returning the Falklands and their people to British rule.

Because of that experience, I understand only too well that ships like this should not be scrapped. They are a slice of history, a part of history, months, years of history, in so many people's lives, lives of men who fought for liberty, lives of those whose very existence has been a deterrent to aggression.

And I am delighted that Mr. Fisher, and those who helped him, decided that this aircraft carrier should be preserved as an example to all, as something which children could come and see, see how it worked and honour the men who worked on it and honour the armed forces, who whatever they're called on to do never let their country down, but always did a superb job.

I have particularly enjoyed some of the things which you have prepared this evening, which you did not know about it. When the orchestra played, “There'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover” , I remembered it very well, because it was created and played at a very difficult time in the war for us.

I remember the war. I lived through every day of it as a child, and, as you know full well, the experiences you have as child are etched in your memory in a way that no others are.

And I remember full well when all of the countries of Europe had collapsed against Nazi Germany, and we managed to get our armed forces out. And we were left alone. [end p1]

And I remember full well how marvellous leadership, what marvellous leadership Winston Churchill displayed. We had very, very little left, had very, very little but our tremendous spirit to go on. And Winston came and said: ‘Lift up your hearts.’

Let me just remind you of what he said: ‘Lift up your hearts.’ We'd just come off the continent of Europe, which had collapsed. All of the little ships had gone over, in fact, to rescue our forces from the beaches at Dunkirk. The message had gone out: ‘All ships go to the Dunkirk Beaches.’ And all ships went. And they returned. And we got our people out. We hadn't very much left.

And what was Winston 's message to the world? Quite remarkable. ‘This, then, is the message which we send forth today to all states and nations bound or free. Life up your hearts. All will come right. Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind.’

This was the most remarkable test of leadership which has stayed with me all my life. How a person who could lead could, in fact, use words as if they were an army with which to fight. There's one thing which you can never measure on any computer and which is the thing which ultimately makes the difference, is the spirit of a people. And that's what Winston did.

And I remember, as a child at that time, and doing some exams which we all have to do at school, going for a walk late at night with my Alfred Robertsfather, before I turned in and he went on aircraft—air raid, duty, saying to him: ‘When will it end? How will it end?’

And I remember him saying this: ‘We don't know how long it will take. We don't know when it will end. But we have no doubt that we shall win.’

Quite remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. It was right. It was the spirit of Winston that was so strong. It was the spirit of the British people which was so strong that it made Hitler think: ‘I will not and dare not invade those islands. I will attack Russia instead.’ Quite remarkable. It was a lesson of leadership that I will never forget and a salute to freedom that I will never forget.

And then, after the war, we had, of course, learned the lesson of history. Between the Wars we had thought, ‘Really, we are so civilized now, we would have so much to lose if we went to war, no reasonable nation will ever go to war. There'll be so much to lose, and we're so idealistic.’ And we let our defences down. [end p2]

But, my friend, ideals are no defence against tyranny. And so we were caught with far too little for that war. And the lesson after the war, when Stalin refused to disarm, the lesson afterwards was: Always keep you defences strong.

It's a lesson which became again very much present in my mind when I became Prime Minister, because there was a tendency then to say: ‘Well, we will start to cut expenditure, and we will cut it in defence.’ But I remembered those lessons of the inter-war years. And I was to learn many lessons in my time as Prime Minister. One, that the unexpected always happens. Two, that politics is the art of making the impossible happen. And, three, learn the lessons of history.

And, so, although at the beginning of my period, we had enormous expenditure and it had to be cut down, I nevertheless within the reduced expenditure increased expenditure on defence, because I though we'd cut it too far, because of the lessons of the past. Thank goodness I did increase that expenditure on defence right from the beginning because the unexpected happened with the invasion of the Falklands. But we were well equipped at the time.

Later, as you know, the unexpected happened when we had the Libyan raid. Later, again, the unexpected happened when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait.

And let me say this to you, at no time did either Ronald Reagan or myself or George Bush, both of whom I worked so very closely with, had to think: Can we do what we ought to do? Because we knew full well that wise foresight had seen to it that we had all the aircraft, the ships, the equipment, and the latest technology that we needed. That was the tremendous cooperation which we managed to get between us.

But we are here tonight on a salute to freedom.

My friends, we do not enjoy freedom because of our own deserts. We enjoy freedom because of the sacrifice of those who have given their lives before us, that we may continue to enjoy it in this great country of yours and this great country of mine. And we salute them and remember each and every one of them.

I remember full well during the times of my youth, the war that was fought in the Far East. I remember there again day after day bad news came in, that island after island, your forces or ours had to leave. And how were we to fight back? [end p3]

And I remember again that great battle of 1944 in this great ship, which this great ship was involved, the Battle of the Leyte, which led to the recovery of the Philippine Islands. It was a hard fought battle. Most battles were. They were not ever easy. They were not ever with a preponderance of own people. [sic] A very hard-fought people, which was the beginning of the end and the beginning of the path which led towards victory.

And now we're nearly 50 years, coming up to 50 years, 50 after the battle of Leyte, 50 after that time of victory. And we hope now that we will never see such another great catastrophe again.

Now, may I just, before I speak about anything else political—and I'm conscious that it's an election evening, and for me to be in an election period and not be involved in it is really difficult. It's really difficult.

But as Charlie so wisely said: Unless you altered your law, to have a deeming provision, which is so usual in tax law, but so unusual in citizen law, unless you had a deeming provision, which deemed people born in Britain to be born in the great United States for purposes of election, I shall have to continue to be a bystander during these elections, not, in fact, to get the two countries together to be one, as many, many years ago they used to be.

Now, I want not [sic] to pay great tribute to Mr. Zachary Fisher, a very, very great man, who finally introduced me after Charlie 's wonderful speech. Mr. Fisher is a very, very great benefactor and philanthropist. But those words are rather cold, adequately to express all that he's done out of the kindness of his heart and the concern for humanity. Let us think for a moment. How is it that this great nation gives more for voluntary purposes, gives more to people in need than any other in the world?

It is for two reasons. First, that you have a free market enterprise economy. And that is the one that creates the wealth so there's enough, in fact, to give to those who are in need, unlike the centrally command and controlled economies which do not produce enough even for those who work in it because they are not, in fact, accustomed to creating goods that the market wants.

Well, that's one. That's the economic reason. [end p4]

When you said, someone said that Paul Volcker and I talked economics, I think it's much more likely we talked about money. I understand money. I understand keeping your budget within what you've got to spend. And in my period of—obviously, the last four years, we had a budget surplus. But that means saying no to extra public expenditure, and my theory is that women are very much better at it then men.

Now, then, may I go on for a moment about Mr. Fisher. Why is it that the United States is so remarkable? I think it stems back to the approach which laid the foundations for your country. The fact of the people who came over here to found this great nation came from my country with all of the Biblical ethics. Yes. You must listen to the facts. Came from my country with all of the Biblical ethics.

They didn't come here for subsidies. There weren't any. They came here to pioneer in liberty, to work hard, to build a better future for their families. They know all about justice, and, therefore, they brought it with them. And they knew all because of their Biblical ethics, whether it was the Old Testament, or New, they knew all about the obligation to your neighbour. All of those things. To work in freedom with the will [sic] of law, with an obligation to your neighbour. Those things are built into your very constitution.

John Adams said, after your Constitution had been made, following the Declaration of Independence: ‘This constitution is for a religious and moral people. It will do for no other.’

In no other nation is freedom in the constitution. In no other nation do you have the sense of obligation and unalienable right in your constitution. And that is why.

And in recognition of the obligation which one neighbour owed to another in those days, when they were totally self-reliant upon one another and, therefore, had to look after one another, it passed into your whole history, into your whole sense of humanity. And to this day, the voluntary service which is ever present in his room and far beyond this room, throughout the whole of America, is much greater than in any other nation.

And I was amazed when I was actually looked at your revenue service returns, which came out in 1992. In that year, you gave $124 billion voluntarily. And Mr. Fisher is in the lead in these things. Not only in this Intrepid, great Intrepid, venture to have it here, in the other things which have been described. [end p5]

People who have relatives with terminal diseases want to be near them. And so he's built houses for them to have that facility. And many, many other things, both in some of the medical diseases and some great things in the arts, which so enlarged the quality of our lives.

Mr. Fisher, I'm so proud that you, too, were involved in introducing me to have this great honour this evening. Thank you on behalf of humanity for all the things you do for us and for many people beyond this dinner this evening.

It was John Stuart Mill who said: ‘One person with a belief is a social power equal to 99 who have only interests.’ I think in your case it must be something like 9 million who have only interests. One person with a belief is a social power equal to so many others who do not share that view.

Now, may I say just a few words abut the period during which Ronald Reagan and I and Charlie Price worked so closely together?

The great event finally of the time in politics was the collapse of the Evil Empire of Communism.

And the Cold War didn't just end. It was a total victory for the way of life of Western civilization over the centrally command and controlled tyranny which they operated in those countries.

There are two systems of government, one which has the freedom of people and the government serving the people; one which denies the people all freedom, denies them all property and takes all of it unto a privileged few. And (unclear) the world for 70 years entered into an experiment between the two forms of government, from when Lenin seized power from the first fledgling democracy that Russia ever had and imposed Communism, took away all freedom of expression, took away all freedom of speech, took away all rights to choose your own job and had a total tyranny, total command. And for 70 years these two ran together. And then, as we knew eventually it would, the Communist system collapsed utterly.

But, of course, where we made a mistake was in thinking that the collapse of the Communist system would automatically lead and quite quickly to the foundation of democracy. For people who've suffered so much, it takes quite a long time for them to get used to initiative, for them to have a reasonable currency, strong in its value, for them to build a rule of law, because you can't have freedom without a rule of law. So, it is going to take much more time. [end p6]

You know that I had President Gorbachev over before he was President and said he was a man that I could do business with. I must also tell you that President Yeltsin was also a man I could do business with because it was very interesting to me in looking at the two men that the one had the idea—Mr. Gorbachev,—he didn't know about an enterprise economy. They never had one in Russia, since Lenin took over. He did think that he could give his people back the liberties they ought to have had, the personal liberty and also the economic—the personal liberty and the political liberty and hoped that out of discussion they'd come to an enterprise economy.

To give that freedom, the whole atmosphere changed very quickly. But within three or four years, Mr. Yeltsin came to see me and said: ‘You know full well, you in the West, that political and personal liberty will not survive unless it's accompanied by enterprise economy. Because it's no good having political, personal, but all the economics, in the hands of the government, all the industry in the hands of the government.’ And he understood this. And he said: ‘It's not happening. And I'm going to try to become President of Russia, to try to make it happen.’

So, you've got the two. It was a tragedy they didn't get on well together. This is now what is happening in Russia. It is not very easy, because without a rule of law, you can get some of the corrupt practices taking over. But I believe that they are steadily making their way through the difficulties and will steadily come through.

That being so, we face a period in which having dealt with the really big issue, once you've dealt with one issue in politics, many others come to the fore. The fact that there's no Cold War any longer, the fact that every situation is not looked at through an East-West prism means that there are many, many minor conflicts that would never have taken place otherwise.

You couldn't during the time of the Cold War ever have had the situation of Bosnia. That's not an argument for the Cold War. It's an argument that the West should have dealt with Bosnia more firmly and effectively in the early stages and didn't.

You had danger in the Gulf. You have sometimes the fanaticism that comes from a religion. The fanaticism in Islam, which scholars will tell us has nothing to do with the [words missing] And it's a danger. It's a danger in Algeria. It's a danger in other countries right now. [end p7]

So, we must never, never let our guard go down. Don't somehow think that peace comes on the cheap. It doesn't. You keep your peace when you have your forces strong enough and your technology advanced enough to act as a deterrent against any would-be aggressor.

And I'm constantly saying both to my own government, and I have the temerity to say it to yours: Don't take any risks with the security of the people. Be strong enough always to deter an aggressor, and make certain that marvellous SDI, which Ronald Reagan initiated, and it was his decision, and it was a crucial decision, still keeps ahead in the technology, because the one thing which the other nations of the world know is: America is always ahead and it will give us the greatest security and freedom we could possibly know.

I think, perhaps, my friends, I have exceed my fifteen minutes. But, you know, for women, every minute has longer than sixty seconds. So, perhaps, you will forgive me.

May I, therefore, say that whatever elections there are, whatever difficulties there are, in politics there is no substitute for strong leadership.

And what are leaders? Let me give you the definition. Leaders are the custodians of a nation's ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes and of the face [sic: faith?] which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals.

That's what you have done in America. They came here to be American. And finally—and listen to this one—part of that was speaking the language soaked in values, the language of English, which was and is the unifying factor.

Thank you.