The thread below about the death of Augusto Pinochet has predictably enough prompted liberal, humane and generally lovely responses such as “Good riddance. I am going to toast his death”. Margaret Thatcher’s support of the former Chilean dictator has similarly prompted such liberal and well-meaning sentiments about the event of her own death as “I was only 2 when Thatcher was given the boot by her own party and not even born when the miners strike was lost. Yet I’ll still celebrate”. I should make it clear that I’m not aware of any redeeming features of Pinochet’s rule over Chile, and that in my opinion Margaret Thatcher’s support of him was without any ethical, moral or political merit, and was to her immense discredit.
But I find myself entirely unable to whoop with glee at the idea of their deaths. Perhaps there’s a gene I’m missing, or perhaps I’m not nice enough, but I genuinely can’t recall a single death whose announcement has made me shout “whoopee!”, and leap or dance for joy. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a nice person, I’m not anti-death or anything like that. There was an article in the Times today about Zimbabwe that said that while it had the world’s highest inflation and lowest life expectancy, the National Security Minister Didymus Mutasa has suggested that Robert Mugabe should “remain the presidential candidate until Amen”. Bob’s immediate demise – tonight, ideally – would clearly be of immense benefit to the people of Zimbabwe. But Mugabe is President of Zimbabwe. He is responsible for the disastrous conditions Zimbabweans have to live in, and his death would actually make a difference.
But when it comes to former dictators, former Prime Ministers, or anyone whose grip on power is over and has been for a decade and a half, and whose death would therefore change nothing other than, in Thatcher’s case, to deprive a family of a mother and grandmother, and whose only effect would be personal and have no beneficial effect on public policy, then I find it difficult to understand how or why this might prompt an outbreak of glee and celebration. It was 16 years ago when Margeret Thatcher ceased to be Prime Minister. There may be perfectly good reasons to carry a grudge for 16 years, and to nurse and sustain that grudge and to keep it alive until she dies, but I’m sure I will feel no happier or sadder when I hear that she’s dead.
Montag, in the Pinochet thread, wrote “I could quite understand how people could feel this way if they had personally suffered under, or lost relatives to, the old tyrant. But nobody here has”. I haven’t, and the bottle of Banrock Station sparkling Shiraz I bought earlier wasn’t to toast an old man’s death; it was because I fancied a bottle of Banrock Station sparkling Shiraz.