Remembering the awful things someone did whilst alive is not the same as gloating ghoulishly about their death

Let’s be very clear about this.

When a public figure dies, someone who has caused significant change to the lives of many people, it is important to discuss their legacy – and not just if you’re a supporter.

Those who are grateful for what that person did, will certainly put the most positive case for the person who has died. If they have large soapboxes, these hagiographers will have significant influence on the way history views that person. And this matters when the ideas and actions of that person continue to have advocates who would like to see them repeated.

So it is critical that if the person who has died actually caused damage to the world, and hurt people, that the negative consequences of their actions be discussed just as loudly as the claimed positives.

It’s not rude. It’s not inappropriate. People don’t become saints when they die, and their bad ideas are still bad ideas that need to be called what they are, lest people hear the hagiography, forget that they’re bad ideas and think about trying them again.

But please don’t go gloating about people dying. It’s a dick move, whoever they are. It’s a dick move if it’s Chavez. It’s a dick move if it’s Thatcher. It’s a dick move if it’s a hideous dictator. It’s also silly, because it’s hardly a victory that they died – they were always going to. It hardly undoes the damage they did while alive.

For example, Thatcher was a terrible PM who did great damage to the UK. Her policies caused real harm to people in Britain, and have led to many of the problems the country faces today. Anyone trying to promote her legacy is either unaware of what she did to the poor and vulnerable, or doesn’t care. Here’s hoping history remembers her more accurately than the hagiographers would like.

Just don’t be popping champagne corks because some sick old woman has died, okay?

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50 responses to “Remembering the awful things someone did whilst alive is not the same as gloating ghoulishly about their death

  1. narcoticmusing

    I dunno, there were many who were pretty happy to cheer when Hussein went…

  2. That’s an excellent parallel.

  3. Lefty – if you don’t already you should really really start reading Glenn Greenwald. He has a post at the Guardian today making almost exactly the same point as you (minus the stuff about gloating).

    Re the gloating stuff, I’m torn – perhaps there’s a line past which it becomes acceptable. I mean Saddam gassed thousands of men women and children and brutally suppressed millions of others for decades, so a bit of gloating upon his death was probably justified. Osama was a clear mass-murderer and, while I will continue to deplore his extrajudicial execution by the US military, a bit of rejoicing upon his death was probably warranted too.

    Thatcher, for all her faults, surely can’t be validly put in the same category. She was a democratically elected representative of the people.

    Greenwald raises the more appropriate comparison of Hugo Chavez – which I think gets a bit closer to the ‘line’ I’ve referred to above. I don’t recall any street parties celebrating his death (but then I don’t recall anyone condemning those who used his death to highlight criticisms of his policies either).

  4. Wisdom Like Silence

    Soft-Serve Icecream, that is all.

  5. Tell that to the mindless sheep at Melbourne Uni Student’s Union. What a bunch of nongs…

  6. “But please don’t go gloating about people dying. It’s a dick move, whoever they are. It’s a dick move if it’s Chavez. It’s a dick move if it’s Thatcher. It’s a dick move if it’s a hideous dictator. It’s also silly, because it’s hardly a victory that they died – they were always going to. It hardly undoes the damage they did while alive.”

    I wouldn’t do it but I’m picking that the response is indicative of the generational damage caused by Thatcherism in certain areas of the UK. The Thatcher supporters claim she fixed the country, well look at the UK today, it’s economy is an utter basket case. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the societal problems the UK now faces are the result of the seeds sown by Thatcherism.

    As per Mondo, check the Guardian article:

    “Thatcher, for all her faults, surely can’t be validly put in the same category”

    Maybe not as bad but she championed Pinochet, branded Mandela a terrorist and opposed sanctions on S. Africa. When Saddam was gassing people she was on his side. And did you see what Bob Carr reckons she said to him re Asian immigration? (she was wrong about that too).

  7. narcoticmusing

    Mondo, perhaps not. But that might be underplaying the generational impacts of economic ‘reforms’. These two can kill, they just do it silently through things like mental illness, starvation, etc. Embracing the Chicago school of economics while allowing the big profiting powers to have monopolies combined with deregulation (and thus undermines all of Friedman’s free market principles) leads to severe ends.

    Like Kennet in Victoria (or perhaps a more apt comparison in Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Qld) she was loved and credited with saving the world and hated and credited with ruining it.

  8. Splatterbottom

    Quite right, Jeremy. The Ding Dong The Bitch Is Dead slogan was quite tasteless, and I assume that there will be less said about misogynist incivility being the preserve of conservatives in future.

    Thatcher gets a lot of criticism, but surely some of that should be shared with her main antagonist, Arthur Scargill. Thatcher was necessary and won three elections precisely because the Brits realised that the time had come to cure what was known as the “British Disease”. Scargill was a hideous commo, a fan of Marx, Lenin and Stalin (he would probably be a Green politician in today’s Australia, like Lee Rhiannon) and must take his share of responsibility for the bitter and protracted struggle over the coal mines.

    In Australia similar reforms were needed, but Hawke negotiated the accord with the unions and a lot of the bitterness was avoided. That option was not open to Thatcher given that Scargill was president of the NUM.

    Also, the union movement in the UK had inflicted more damage than in Australia, and more had to be done to reverse the situation. If not for the type of reforms introduced by Thatcher, the UK would probably be in a worse situation than Greece now.

  9. Nice post. When heaps of people turn out to “dance on her grave” and next to nobody turns out to protest about the current government, we will know that most of the “dancers” just turned up to have a drink.

    Stewart M – late of Somerset, Tyne and Wear and Yorkshire.

  10. re: Iraq.

    Thatcher was enthusiastically pushing weapons and ‘non-lethal’ equipment sales to Iraq (and the ME in general), right up to the Kuwait invasion.
    In the aftermath of Halabja, the British govt was moving to loosen restrictions on sales to Iraq.
    Sales to Iraq under Thatcher included nerve gas precursors and equipment for uranium enrichment.

    To her credit, she was one the first leaders publicly recognise AGW as a pressing issue. But she was old-school conservative – fully aware of the power of scientific progress and its vital role in the modern world. Unlike the contemporary radical-right which has elevated ignorance and anti-science hostility to be badges of honour.

  11. oh, and then there was the Falklands fiasco……

  12. bobbyboyakarobj:

    […] she championed Pinochet, branded Mandela a terrorist and opposed sanctions on S. Africa. When Saddam was gassing people she was on his side.

    And sent the SAS to Thailand in the early 80s to train the Khmer Rouge.

    The gloating is pretty bent, but the whitewashing of her “controversial” deeds is just wrong.

  13. Agree absolutely, 100% with this Jeremy. Have been having the same argument with friends on Facebook.

    Criticise: Yes. Absolutely. Heaven knows people are heaping praise on her, its completely justified to talk about everything messed up she was responsible for, too.

    Celebrate: Nope. Celebrating the death of a human being is…. distasteful, at the very least.

    My own feelings on Thatcher are (slightly) mixed. SB’s point about the state of Britain when she came in has merit: they had inflation that reached 27%(!) and when a Labour government decided to cap public sector pay rises at 5% – that’s annually – to help control the problem, there was absolute industrial chaos, including strikes that disrupted essential services. The economy was rampantly protectionist, and many things that clearly shouldn’t have been government owned and run, were.

    Thatcher, of course, represented the absolute polar extreme reaction to that. Any level of unemployment is acceptable to end inflation, and if people suffer, tough. We will remove all protectionism instantaneously, and the people harmed by this…. oh yeah, already covered that – tough. If privatising one sector is good, privatising everything must be better, right? (I believe they have private water utilities in the UK now. Seriously….)

    And of course the solution to Industrial Relations problems are maybe some rejigging of rules concerning ballots for strikes to make them less easy, and then negotiations and accords, right? Oh no, its to send the fracking army against striking workers. I mean, just…. wow. Words can not express how twisted a government has to deploy troops against its own citizens short of an open, armed rebellion (and, even then….)

    Truly she was a double amputation to cure a head-cold kind of phenomenon, and she wrecked a lot of British lives as a result.

    On Foreign Policy, I’m not sure how anyone could defend even one iota who she chose to be friends with, particularly re. South Africa. And she was an absolute beast to the Catholics of Northern Ireland.

    Although, to be perfectly honest, I can’t criticise her over the Falklands. Argentina – as governed by an authoritarian military junta – invaded; Britain were in no way the aggressors. If it were a speck of uninhabited rock ala the South China Sea islands, sure, you might say its nowhere near Britain and more properly belongs to Argentina. But, uh, a bunch of people live there, and they consistently say (and for that matter vote) that they prefer being governed by Britain, by overwhelming majorities. If Burma were to invade Christmas Island tomorrow, I’d expect the Australian government to defend it militarily – if not, why even bother having a defence force? And I consider the Falklands war pretty analogous to that scenario.

  14. Splatterbottom

    “oh, and then there was the Falklands fiasco……”

    That wasn’t a fiasco, although a lot of garbage is put about:

    Paul Bongiorno tweets:
    WHEN in strife invade the Falklands. Maybe Gillard could look for a target before September.

    JC tweets:
    YOU illiterate moron, Argentina invaded the Islands, not the UK. Christ, you’re a nitwit. No wonder Channel 10 is broke.

    The Falklands was invaded by the vile murderous Argentinian junta. Thatcher liberated it in accordance with the wishes of the vast majority of the residents. The morally retarded elements on the left apparently would prefer that the Falkland islanders had be subject to rule by the fascist military junta. In particular it was the Argentinian navy that was most deeply involved in torturing and murdering the “disappeared” (and raping their family members in front of them) and it was the same navy that led the Falklands invasion. But, sadly, some cannot find in all of that any good reason to protect the Falkland Islanders. For those braying ignoramuses it is just another reason to curse Thatcher.

  15. Wisdom Like Silence

    Surely soft serve icecream off sets most of that?

  16. Wisdom Like Silence

    I think in that particular circumstance, SB, moral retardation is non-partisan.

  17. Splatterbottom

    Yes. No doubt some conservatives also opposed Britain intervening on behalf if the Islanders.

  18. “That wasn’t a fiasco,…” – SB

    Silly even.

    The Falkland islands (and it’s inhabitants) were so important to the Brits, that they never even bothered to make them British citizens….well, at least until after the little dust-up was over, and that little fact was a bit of an embarrassment.

  19. narcoticmusing

    nawagadj -would that not make the falklands similar to East Timor then? Not citizens but still a people oppressed/invaded needing military aid? Either way, it is difficult to judge war with the harsh glasses of hind sight and say x shouldn’t have done y.

    Her privitisation of essential services was done in a way that by any account was criminal conduct – multitudes died. Even the coroner cited that horror when recounting the hundreds that died in the heat waves in Victoria a couple years back (just before Black Saturday, which killed less people but was more exciting because, well, FIRE).

  20. Splatterbottom

    Yes, nawagadj, but do you have any logical arguments to support your case? I suppose downgrading from ‘fiasco’ to ‘a bit of an embarrassment’ is a step in the right direction.

  21. SB,

    You misunderstand.

    It was a fiasco, or a farce, if you prefer.

    The embarrassment came from their previous disregard for the Islands inhabitants. Having suddenly put such high a price on their well-being, leaving them as non-citizens would have been a bit awkward.

  22. I think the fact that Thatcher (no doubt) gained politically from the war, and also encouraged jingoism etc has coloured a lot of views on the conflict. Not to mention the hatred she engenders for a whole bunch of unrelated reasons.

    Of course it shouldn’t be so hard to distinguish between “Thatcher had the moral and legal right to order the use of military force to defend the Falklands from invasion”, compared to “Thatcher made the decision to do so for only the right reasons” and “all of Thatcher’s conduct regarding the war was exemplary”.

    But like most issues it seems easier for most people to reduce it to a single question of For or Against.

  23. Narco,

    The only way to judge a war is in hind-sight.

    I don’t think there is much of a comparison with ET – there was a genuine movement for national independance in ET, one that the outgoing colonial power was accepting of. Indonesia had no historical ties or claims to ET in any form, only that of geographical contiguity.

    FI had no interest in independance, only that their colonial link with GB continue. That wasn’t reciprocated. GB did not give them citizenship. Almost all commerical and institutional ties were with Argentina by 1982 – air link was to Argentina. Power supplies provided by Argentina. Postal, health services – Argentina.
    GB was in fact trying to gently prise the FI away – suggesting to them that there future lay more with Argentina than with GB.

    I imagine it was this combination of facts that made the Argentine junta think that there would be no response from GB to their little flag-raising ceremony.

  24. narcoticmusing

    I dare say my views on Thatcher and the response to her death are contradictory. On the whole, I thought Thatcher caused more harm than good, but I do acknowledge the situation she inherited and that dramatic change was needed (that many people would not like) lest the UK have devolved into the current situation we see in Greece (or worse). I disagree with many of the decisions/policies she implemented to achieve these changes, particularly her lack of correction when these policies were going horribly wrong eg. multitudes dying of hypothermia due to unregulated privitised electricity/gas utilties disconnecting people on mass after upping their bill beyond any reasonable margin (where reasonable is defined as the amount needed to profit, they used a formula that would allow them to profit if only the richest 50% kept the lights on).

    The example above and many like it are why I understand the reason many celebrate her death. I do not personally, but that is more likely the separataion of not being personally impacted by the events. Australia in general does not seem to fully understand a) how bad things were in the 70s/80s in the UK/US and b) how harsh the impact of the Thatcher/Reagan polices were (whereby the left has since demonised Chicago school economics, Thatcher and Reagan ever since despite not seeming to realise that Thatcher/Reagan undermined chicago economic theories). So I get hating her to the point you’d celebrate her death despite it being a bit pointless (she was hardly defeated, she died of natural causes at a ripe old age).

    Finally, it some balance should be brought to the many on the left (yes i’m generalising), that may wish to celebrate her death or at least bring balance to the praise being heaped upon her (as if she did no harm and only good which is just rubbish). Yesterday, an article that she wasn’t a feminist because she wasn’t socialist enough – rubbish. Feminism is about equality, not about being soft or caring or nurturing. Feminism is not owned by left wing agendas. I disagree with Thatcher’s policies and actions, but she still created a great example that a woman can be a leader of one of the world’s superpowers and be her own person. Further, the ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ comments, as SB pointed out, should be taken with the same offence as the signs held beind Abbott (notwithstanding that some of the signs had far worse connotations, but I do not doubt worse exist re Thatcher.)

    So all that may sound contradictory, but perhaps that is why her death has poloarised so many.

  25. Splatterbottom

    ‘Gadj: “It was a fiasco, or a farce, if you prefer.”

    In fact it was was one of those rare moments where the Brits did the right thing by their Colonials.

    Judging matters in hindsight, the Falkland Islanders were liberated from the military junta which invaded them, they continued under British rule which is what they wanted and the murderous military junta (which had hoped to use the invasion to bolster their failing regime) lost power in the following year, in part because of the failure of the invasion. What is not to like about that? That is no fiasco. It was not a farce, more a tragedy brought about by the aggression of the Argentinian despots. There is nothing for Britain to be embarrassed about at all. In particular, I don’t get your point about full British Citizenship. How is it embarrassing for a country to defend one of its overseas territories?

    “GB was in fact trying to gently prise the FI away – suggesting to them that there future lay more with Argentina than with GB.”

    Really? It doesn’t sound right, but if true, it makes the UK decision to assist the Islanders even more meritorious as the UK could not be accused of acting in self interest in that case.

  26. This whole episode reminds me yet again that consistency is one of the only true ideological virtues, but also one of the rarest.

    Thatcher’s death has seen the Right issuing edicts about respecting the dead that they would never subscribe to if the deceased was one of their hated figures – while it’s seen the Left defending vile abuse that they would deplore if aimed at someone within their own ranks.

    Once again the only consistent position to take is one defending freedom: we should be free to slag off the dead and the living in equal measure. To call things as we see them, no matter who we give offense to or who we upset.

  27. Splatterbottom

    “we should be free to slag off the dead and the living in equal measure. To call things as we see them, no matter who we give offense to or who we upset.”

    Exactly. And people should be free to judge us by what we say and how and when we say it. Jeremy’s appeal was for civility and good manners. Nothing wrong with that. Nor is there anything wrong with forming a view about the people dancing on the grave of an elderly woman.

  28. Wisdom Like Silence

    And the inventor of soft-serve icecream.

  29. Splatterbottom

    Maybe she should be remembered as Mrs Whippy.

  30. “….What is not to like about that?” – SB

    The thousand dead??

    Just a thought…….

    “There is nothing for Britain to be embarrassed about at all. In particular, I don’t get your point about full British Citizenship. How is it embarrassing for a country to defend one of its overseas territories? ” – SB

    They had never previously been important enough to even warrant being treated as British. That GB moved to change that in the war’s aftermath indicates they were well aware of the great disparity between how the FI were regarded before the war, compared to the extraordinary effort undertaken to fight Argentina over them.

    “Really? It doesn’t sound right, but if true, it makes the UK decision to assist the Islanders even more meritorious as the UK could not be accused of acting in self interest in that case.” – SB
    Yes, it’s true.

    Well, you could argue for pure altruism with the Islanders as the primary concern. I think that would be regarded as being supremely generous.
    The Tories were facing re-election in 1983, and thing weren’t looking so great for them. Reform fatigue had well and truly set in. Standing up to an external enemy tends to play well to (as long as you win!), or distract, the electorate, no?
    Post-war, Thatcher remarked how the war had been good for “British self-confidence”.

    While Maggie was giving a glowing assessment of Britain’s mental health, others weren’t fairing so well; it’s believed that more British serviceman died post-war (suicide) than were killed in the conflict.

  31. Wisdom Like Silence

    Softee The Iron Lady

  32. Did anybody hear Amanda Vanstone’s counter intuitive comment last week?

  33. Wisdom Like Silence

    That’s fairly vague Phil. Everything she says is counter intuitive.

  34. The only good thing about that old dead shithead was the music she inspired.

  35. Wisdom is the only one making sense here.

  36. Wisdom Like Silence

    That’s pretty scary in and of itself.

  37. narcoticmusing

    Wis is totally our back up plan for an apocalypse – he knows what the important issues are so that when it all goes to hell, the key services continue.

  38. Wisdom Like Silence

    All over it narc, writing a script right now about it actually…

  39. Wisdom Like Silence

    Newstart and softserve for everyone. A more deliciously cognitive dissonance couldn’t be real.

  40. To all those who saw the Argentinians as aggressors and the British as happy and glorious, two words: “Gotcha” and “Belgrano”.

  41. Its not about “happy” or “glorious.”

    And the fact that the Sun were (and are) a bloodthirsty, disgraceful excuse of a publication not fit to wrap fish and chips with doesn’t change the facts of who invaded whom.

  42. SB’s own “Gotcha” moment, it seems … 😉

  43. Important to remember, though, that many of the Argentinian soldiers were boys barely out of school, had been lied to about the nature of the combat they were entering, and were given weapons that didn’t work.

    Visit the memorial to the boys who were killed in Buenos Aires and it gives you a different perspective to the conflict. By contrast, Galtieri and Videla (who is still alive) lived to an old age.

  44. Important to remember, though, that many of the Argentinian soldiers were boys barely out of school, had been lied to about the nature of the combat they were entering, and were given weapons that didn’t work.

    Which is to say, they died due to the incompetence and perfidy of their own government.

    To terminate the thread via Godwins: Lots of German soldiers died in part for the sake of lies Goebbels told them; its a bit rich to hold Churchill the main party morally responsible for the waste of human life.

  45. Amanda Vanstone said something to the effect of “If she (Thatcher) supported apartheid it doesn’t mean she was a bad person”. Counter-intuitive to most people I think!

  46. … and a bit rich to gloat “Gotcha” as those boys drown. I was at school during this conflict and remember the reporting of it. It was heavily one-sided, and wasn’t until I visited South America that I realised there was a whole other side to the story. It’s the one-sidedness of the whole thing that I disagree with – I don’t disagree that Argentina was wrong.

  47. Wisdom Like Silence

    … She’s a special character, how the fuck do we elect people like that?

  48. “It’s the one-sidedness of the whole thing that I disagree with – I don’t disagree that Argentina was wrong.”

    Then I don’t think we disagree about anything. “Gotcha” and other similar elements of the reaction to Belgrano – including by Thatcher’s government – were awful and gross, as I said (won’t presume to speak for SB) from the start.

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