Thatcher and Reagan

Secret Recording: Reagan’s Awkward Grenada Apology To Thatcher

A secret recording published on the New York Post reveals an incredibly awkward apology from President Ronald Reagan to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. At the time, the U.K. was angry with the U.S. over the invasion of the Grenada islands, part of the British commonwealth, a military action that caught British officials by surprise. Not only does the secret audio recording capture Reagan’s anxious, stammering condition, it proves that his folksy sayings were part of his everyday speech.

A little historical context.

Grenada is a small Caribbean island about 100 miles north of Venezuela. It was one of the few remnants left of the far-spanning British Empire, until 1974, when the island was granted independence under the leadership of Eric Gairy. Unfortunately for Gairy, members of the leftist New Jewel Movement staged a coup and kicked him out of power in 1979.

From 1979 to 1983, the government was run as a communist dictatorship. Although the government had some notable successes combating gender discrimination and other social issues, the leadership began to collapse due to internal fighting. According to the New York Times, the U.S. was already worried about the government moving towards the Soviet Union. When the dictator Maurice Bishop was murdered, the U.S. decided it was time to invade, which it did in secret.

Just one problem though, the Americans didn’t tell the British ahead of time about their plans, a move that reportedly infuriated Margaret Thatcher.

The released recording, which was made in secret by Reagan himself, shows his awkward attempt to patch up the relationship. In the secret recordings, he starts off the conversation with some classic folksiness.

If I were there, Margaret, I’d throw my hat in the door before I came in.”

If you don’t know that expression, you’re not alone. The BBC explained that in the recording Reagan was referring to a civil war practice where a potentially unwelcome guest would throw his hat into a room before entering. If it was unsafe for the visitor to enter, the hat might be thrown back out, or shot at.

Whether or not he was welcome at that moment, Reagan immediately apologized saying, “I’m sorry for any embarrassment we caused you.” From there the president’s secret recording gets interesting.

He goes on to tell Thatcher that they were hurried, waking up in the middle of the night to plan the assault. They were also worried about a leaker, one who might tip off the Cubans, giving them a chance to intervene. The administration was so careful to keep their plans secret, they didn’t even inform the Organization of Eastern Carribbean States, which initially asked for U.S. support in dealing with Grenada.

Whether or not the apology worked isn’t clear from the recordings. Nevertheless, the secret phone call is an interesting piece of history.

[Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons]