Island of No Return – Revisited?
“Digging all day, digging all night,
To keep my foxhole out of site…”
In a month that I suppose we shall be naming “Maggie Memorial January”, it is perhaps sadly fitting that Argentinas claim to The Falklands is back in the news. Unfortunately, almost thirty years to the day since the invasion a Mr Cameron, who does Prime Minister impressions, has decided to rattle his trusty, rusty sabre at Mrs Kirchner, his counterpart in Buenos Aires. (Rumours that Madonna is already angling for the Film rights would be anyones guess…)
Well, we can only hope that cool heads will prevail, and while all this may blow over, it will probably not disappear for ever. It may be all good nostalgic fun for some, but history reminds us just how deadly these games can be.
“Pick up your feet, fall in, move out,
We’re going to a party way down South…”
The Falklands War is a huge part of the Thatcher Myth – itself the cornerstone of modern Conservative identity & thought. Just for the hell of it, lets take a look at some of the myths that The Immaculate Mis-Conception was built upon…
Myth One : Only Mrs Thatcher and her Tories were patriotic and brave enough to take on Galtieri and take back the Islands.
A downright lie. During the emergency debate in the Commons on 2nd April 1982, Michael Foot said:
“The people of the Falklands have an absolute right to look at us at this moment of their desperate plight… They are faced with an act of naked,unqualified aggression, carried out in the most shameful & disreputable circumstances. Any guarantee from this invading force is utterly worthless.”
He was praised by Tories for having “spoken for the nation” (Hansard).
It was an alliance of Labour, Liberal and backbench Tory MPs that had prevented a 1981 Govt. measure to “lease back” The Falklands to Argentina, against the wishes of the Islanders themselves.
It was in effect two Tory measures that encouraged the Fascist junta in its belief that Britain would not fight. The 1981 Immigration Act took away full British Citizenship from all inhabitants of all UK Dependencies ( this measure was aimed at preventing mass immigration from Hong Kong before the Chinese takeover), and then there was what the ever amusing Alan Clarke described as “that fucking idiot John Nott and his spastic “Command Paper” which is effectively running down the entire Royal Navy to keep the soldiers in Rhine Army happy.”
“…I never thought that I would be
Fighting Fascists in the Southern Sea…”
Myth Two: The Argentine invasion was a completely unexpected bolt from the blue.
Bilge. In 1977, Labour PM James Callaghan sent two Frigates and a Nuclear Sub to the South Atlantic with the minimum of fuss, to deter Argentina from invading. No war in 1977, but when intelligence sources repeated similar warnings in early 1982, they were ignored . this came out in the post War inquiry.
Far more worrying were the attempts by the Tory Govt and some of its MPs to sell arms and Naval ships to a military dictatorship which whom we had a long-standing territorial dispute. Around a year before the invasion, one junior Minister described the Argentina of torture, rape and “disappearances”, of baby snatching and electrodes, as ” allies in our common struggle against Communism” (by the by, Niall Ferguson stated on channel 4’s “Ascent of money” that these deaths were “worth it”)
“…Saw one today, and in his hands
Was a weapon that was made in Birmingham…”
Myth Three: Maggie (& Britain) stood alone, although Reagan supported us from a distance.
In fact, the first nation to wholeheartedly give their support was France, then run by Socialist President Mitterand. French help was vital – they supplied us with technical data and purchased numbers of both Super Etendard fighters and Exocet Missiles sold to Argentina, and, with co-operation between MI6 and their French opposites, they managed to prevent any spares for these reaching Argentina until well into 1983.
Despite the Maggie/Ronnie romance, the USA vacillated – after all, they did not want war between two of their favourite allies. Eventually, they came down on our side, but it was a close run thing.
Within the Cabinet, there were initially deep divisions as to whether we should go to war at all. It took The First Sea Lord barging in uninvited (in Full dress Uniform, no less) to finally swing the decision to liberate the Falklands. Up to this point, all that had been decided was to telephone the Americans.
“I wish Kipling & The Captain were here,
To record our pursuits for posterity…”
Myth Four: Margaret Thatcher won The Falklands War.
No, it was won by the Servicemen and Merchant Seamen who fought, bled burned and died down in The South Atlantic.
This maybe just history, but with the next round of Defence cuts touted as reducing the Army by anything up to 8 Battalions, to no fixed-wing Aircraft Carrier until at least 2015, & further cuts to come, no wonder that the C-in-C of the 1982 Task Force, Admiral Woodward has said that “practically nothing” could be done to retake the Falklands today.
Argentina is designing and building new Amphibious ships, and upgrading its war fighting capability, given the parlous state of our defences, and the prospect of oil, Gas and Mineral deposits, maybe Cameron should be doing everything in his power to avoid his own “Falklands moment”.
After all, it would be tragic indeed if the Tories managed to lose the Falklands twice…
(Song lyrics by former Private Billy Bragg)