Editor’s Note: Apparently we’re far from alone in dancing on the grave of this reactionary vulture. Like Reagan and other conservative corporatist criminals, Thatcher was a blight on the history of our time. Now not only the indispensable Glenn Greenwald has come forth with an scathing sendoff (this despite the fact that the official voice of the Guardian adopted a tone of “suitable respect”), joining Diane Gee, and our own “salute”, but our colleague Rob Kall (OpedNews, see addendum 1), the protean and tireless Danny Schechter (see addendum 2), and other clear-thinking people unafraid of cutting through the disingenuous muck of PC media treatments. —PG
The dictate that one ‘not speak ill of the dead’ is (at best) appropriate for private individuals, not influential public figures.
News of Margaret Thatcher‘s death this morning instantly and predictably gave rise to righteous sermons on the evils of speaking ill of her. British Labour MP Tom Watson decreed: “I hope that people on the left of politics respect a family in grief today.” Following in the footsteps of Santa Claus, Steve Hynd quickly compiled a list of all the naughty boys and girls “on the left” who dared to express criticisms of the dearly departed Prime Minister, warning that he “will continue to add to this list throughout the day”. Former Tory MP Louise Mensch, with no apparent sense of irony, invoked precepts of propriety to announce: “Pygmies of the left so predictably embarrassing yourselves, know this: not a one of your leaders will ever be globally mourned like her.”
This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. “Respecting the grief” of Thatcher’s family members is appropriate if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse about the person’s life and political acts. I made this argument at length last year when Christopher Hitchens died and a speak-no-ill rule about him was instantly imposed (a rule he, more than anyone, viciously violated), and I won’t repeat that argument today; those interested can read my reasoning here.
But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren’t silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person’s death to create hagiography. Typifying these highly dubious claims about Thatcher was this (appropriately diplomatic) statement from President Obama: “The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.” Those gushing depictions can be quite consequential, as it was for the week-long tidal wave of unbroken reverence that was heaped on Ronald Reagan upon his death, an episode that to this day shapes how Americans view him and the political ideas he symbolized. Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms.
Whatever else may be true of her, Thatcher engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”, something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein andIndonesian dictator General Suharto (“One of our very best and most valuable friends”). And as my Guardian colleague Seumas Milnedetailed last year, “across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown.”
To demand that all of that be ignored in the face of one-sided requiems to her nobility and greatness is a bit bullying and tyrannical, not to mention warped. As David Wearing put it this morning in satirizing these speak-no-ill-of-the-deceased moralists: “People praising Thatcher’s legacy should show some respect for her victims. Tasteless.” Tellingly, few people have trouble understanding the need for balanced commentary when the political leaders disliked by the west pass away. Here, for instance, was what the Guardian reported upon the death last month of Hugo Chavez:
To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.”
Nobody, at least that I know of, objected to that observation on the ground that it was disrespectful to the ability of the Chavez family to mourn in peace. Any such objections would have been invalid. It was perfectly justified to note that, particularly as the Guardian also explained that “to the millions who revered him – a third of the country, according to some polls – a messiah has fallen, and their grief will be visceral.” Chavez was indeed a divisive and controversial figure, and it would have been reckless to conceal that fact out of some misplaced deference to the grief of his family and supporters. He was a political and historical figure and the need to accurately portray his legacy and prevent misleading hagiography easily outweighed precepts of death etiquette that prevail when a private person dies.
Exactly the same is true of Thatcher. There’s something distinctively creepy – in a Roman sort of way – about this mandated ritual that our political leaders must be heralded and consecrated as saints upon death. This is accomplished by this baseless moral precept that it is gauche or worse to balance the gushing praise for them upon death with valid criticisms. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loathing Margaret Thatcher or any other person with political influence and power based upon perceived bad acts, and that doesn’t change simply because they die. If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history.
Glenn Greenwald needs no introduction to progressive publics. The flagship platform for his current essays is now The Guardian (UK).
Good Riddance Thatcher and Other Thoughts on Dead Vile People
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Sorry. But I don’t really feel sad that Margaret Thatcher is gone, dead. Not only am I not sad, I feel that her death is an opportunity to discuss what was wrong with her and her life. I’m not doing the writing, but I’ve published articles that deride her, her actions, her policies. I’d put Thatcher in the same category with Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney. They were vile people alive and they should be buried with memories of their mis-deeds and wrongs clearly displayed and shared.
That’s my take.
If someone’s led a bad life, then, when they die, they should be called out for what they did wrong.
I don’t want Margaret Thatcher glorified by historians. She should go down in history as a right winger who started a war, who didn’t care about the poor, who was eventually reviled even by her own party.
|The Past Fires Back: Thatcher and Kissinger in the NewsMonday was a big news day marked by the death of Margaret Thatcher and the dumping of Henry Kissinger’s documents by Wkileaks. How were they covered?THATCHER AND KISSINGER UNITED AGAIN IN THE NEWS|
One Died, The Other’s Documents Were Dumped
By Danny Schechter
The past fired back Monday with two barrels.
Margaret Thatcher’s death at age 87 ushered in a non-stop sycophantic display of adulation across all the television networks, who we need to recall used the same playbook when her ideological kith and kin, Ronald Reagan, also suffering from dementia, departed this mortal coil.
Then, there was a six-day televised praise poem between his death and what amounted to a state funeral with an unending orgy of uncritical commentary, as if the media had fallen down the amnesia hole and forgotten that the great communicator was not that good a communicator and often an embarrassment, not to mention a political fraud.
Now it’s Maggie’s turn, with acres of soundbites stressing “we should never forget” how tough the “Iron Lady” was. Baroness “Lady Thatcher” was spoken of reverentially as royalty by the high and mighty as a divine figure.
In life, her role was debated; in death, she was consecrated as a goddess. Such is the power of celebrity. Once you have it, you never lose it.
All of the controversy and the critiques of “detractors” were mostly forgotten or buried.
One by one, the “LEADERS'” of the west including Barack Obama and virtually every head of state gushed at how wonderful she was. Never mind that it was members of her own Party that turned her back on her. She sought to insure that there could be no alternative to her conscience-free “free market” policies that enriched the rich and further impoverished the poor.
There was a sprinkle of soundbites from Irish leaders and union activists trying to tell it like was. Chris Kitchen, a spokesman of the Mineworkers Union said:
“We’ve been waiting for a long time to hear the news of Baroness Thatcher’s demise and I can’t say I’m sorry. I’ve got no sympathy for Margaret Thatcher and I will not be shedding a tear for her. She’s done untold damage to the mining community.
I don’t think Margaret Thatcher had any sympathy for the mining communities she decimated, the people she threw on the dole and the state she left the country in.
I honestly can’t think of anything good I can say about Margaret Thatcher”
Among the great minds that CNN interviewed was its own pundit for all seasons, that profile in courage, Richard Quest, who began speaking first of those who lost their jobs because of her policies but then quickly turned to support her “reforms.”
Newsweek Editor Tina Brown spoke about how great she was as a “trailblazer” for women. She then, like Quest, blasted the unions.
The media myopia was striking. While the TV Networks were hyping it up, the Guardian reported how Margaret Thatcher’s death greeted with street parties in working class neighborhoods in Brixton and Glasgow.
A headline: “Crowds shout ‘Maggie Maggie Maggie, dead dead dead’ during impromptu events”
The article featured a smiling pictures of people gathered around the sign: “The b*tch Is Dead.” Other signs said, “Rejoice, Rejoice!”
“Several hundred people gathered in south London on Monday evening to celebrate Margaret Thatcher ‘s death with cans of beer, pints of milk and an impromptu street disco playing the soundtrack to her years in power.
Young and old descended on Brixton, a suburb that weathered two outbreaks of rioting during the Thatcher years. Many expressed jubilation that the leader they loved to hate was no more; others spoke of frustration that her legacy lived on.
To cheers of “Maggie Maggie Maggie, dead dead dead,” posters of Thatcher were held aloft as reggae basslines pounded.
Clive Barger, a 62-year-old adult education tutor, said he had turned out to mark the passing of “one of the vilest abominations of social and economic history”.
He said: “It is a moment to remember. She embodied everything that was so elitist in terms of repressing people who had nothing. She presided over a class war.”
Back on TV, there was a gusher of predictable puffery from one of her ruling class adoring mates, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Kissinger was also back in the news too but that news was not played as prominently on CNN when I was watching. Earlier In the day there was an announcement by Wikileaks that it had “liberated” more than 1.7 million U.S. diplomatic records from 1973 to 1976, the period during which Henry Kissinger was secretary of State and national-security adviser”
The story read, “Unlike past WikiLeaks dumps, however, most of these were already declassified. WikiLeaks main contribution was putting the trove into a searchable database called the Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy (PlusD). Assange, said the documents hint at the scope of U.S. intelligence activity around the globe at the time.”
Fortunately, Henry and Maggie will not now be able to take their secrets to the grave with them. Mrs. Thatcher had been out of new even as the movie Iron Lady painted a picture of a troubled woman who lived many ghosts and as much to be pitied as admired. Her son Mark was later arrested in Africa in conspiracy to overthrow a head of state.
I had an earlier experience with a Kissinger document.
Back in the days of the Harvard University Strike and occupation of 1969, students rifled through file cabinets in the Dean’s office. They found evidence in documents of Harvard’s assistance to the war in Vietnam and communiques from Kissinger advising that he would be off campus for trips to Vietnam.
We now know how Kissinger advised President Nixon to escalate the war, at a huge cost in civilian and military casualties., both American and Vietnamese.
Years later, when I was the News Dissector at WBN Radio in Boston, I covered Kissinger receiving yet anther Humanitarian award from the World Affairs Council. The press was not allowed to cover it.
I staked out the back door with some colleagues and sure enough Henry The K exited. When I saw saw him, I raised my arms as if I was his best friend, and he came right up to me, thinking he should know me and gave me a bare hug of an embrace.
I asked him he was ready to make confession. He asked about what? Crimes in Vietnam, I replied.
He then realized he was being sandbagged. He didn’t know I was wearing a mike.
His response—offered up as a joke, but like all jokes, concealed some truth–was “that it will take too much time for me to do a full confession.”
I am sure it would.
It is no wonder that he is still a target of protests including one last year when he spoke at the 92 nd Street Y, and then again this coming May when he receives yet another award at a ceremony appropriately enough based on the Intrepid, A World War II aircraft carrier that doubles as pro-military Hudson River showcase of weapons and Air and space museum.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.