Mr Mitterrand — who once described Mrs Thatcher as "the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe" — went on: "One cannot win against the insular syndrome of an unbridled Englishwoman. Provoke a nuclear war for a few islands inhabited by three sheep as hairy as they are freezing! But it's a good job I gave way. Otherwise, I assure you, the lady's metallic finger would have hit the button."Then again, would Britain have been able to launch a nuclear strike without US approval back then? These days, the British nuclear arsenal is operated under contract by a US defense firm, whose technicians apparently have instructions to require confirmation from the Pentagon before launching missiles. Then again, it is not entirely clear how difficult it would be for a determined Britain to get around these restrictions, or indeed that Reagan (who, famously, once went on air and announced, in jest, that the US was launching a massive nuclear strike against the "Evil Empire") would have vetoed a strike on Argentina.
Meanwhile, Mitterrand got his own back with the Eurotunnel, triumphing where Napoleon had failed, at least in his own mind:
France, he said, would have the last word. "I'll build a tunnel under the Channel. I'll succeed where Napoleon III failed. And do you know why she'll accept my tunnel? I'll flatter her shopkeeper's spirit. I'll tell her it won't cost the Crown a penny."
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