On the 30th Anniversary of the conflict and with Thatcher and The Falklands in the news again, it’s time to explode the myth that the 1982 Falklands War was fought to bolster Thatcher’s popularity.
Margaret Thatcher will die soon and when she does, one of the tired old clichés that will be trotted out by all that dislike her (of which I am one) will be that in 1982 she somehow engineered and fought an avoidable war in the South Atlantic to boost her electability and support at home. I see it written down so often, it’s almost become left-wing gospel; it is however, ridiculous fantasy. The fact is that despite our tenuous sovereignty claims on those islands, the Thatcher Government had little choice in 1982 other than go to war or face abject humiliation and the subjugation of British citizens to an aggressive, invading force. The 1982 conflict over the Islands was the most justifiable war fought by this nation since World War Two, eclipsing in validity anything she, Blair, Brown and Cameron have since done in Africa, The Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.
One by-product of the war was, unfortunately for many (including my friends and family) Thatcher’s re-election. However, this must be balanced against the greater good. The huge bonus of the war’s outcome included the toppling of the repulsive military Junta of Galteiri and the eventual freedom of the people of that noble country from the tyranny of dark oppression. Not forgetting of course, the freeing of British Citizens, the Falkland Islanders, from living under that same regime.
The fact is that despite our tenuous sovereignty claims on those islands, the Thatcher Government had little choice in 1982 other than go to war or face abject humiliation and the subjugation of British citizens to an aggressive, invading force
It was also a bloody nose for the US, who were uncomfortably forced to choose sides over this conflict, compromising forever their creepy special relationships with other suspect South American regimes. The undying support of the US Government, the laughable UK/US “Special Relationship” was a myth in this conflict. It’s certainly true that the US Government got behind the UK the minute the tide was turning (around the time of Goose Green) but before they knew which way the wind was blowing, at best they hedged their bets.
The Galteiri Junta was a favourite of the Reagan administration of the time, the US Neocons describing him in 1981 as a “Majestic General” presumably because his Death Squads would help covertly block any form of democratically elected government that did not suit the US political agenda in South America (like the socialist government inconveniently elected in Chile).
During the rule of this “Majestic General” anyone who fitted the bill as a “subversive” loosely including Union Members, Left Wingers, Students, Intellectuals and Journalists simply “disappeared”. The most terrible totalitarian regimes often make their people disappear. For example, anyone who threatened the security of the Nazi regime was subject to Nacht Und Nebel (night and fog) where people were also “disappeared”, this being psychologically much more effective as a warning to others than simply throwing them in prison:
“Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal”
She took the gamble of sending troops 12,000 miles, against unbelievable odds, to fight and win this war because she had no choice
Giving the Argentinean victims the name “the disappeared “or as they are referred to in Argentina “los desparecidos” somehow dilutes what happened to them and almost cheapens their fate. The reality is that most were horrifically tortured, then murdered. Between 1976 and 1983 it is estimated that up to 30,000 people were subjected to this fate by the Military Junta. These were people like you and I.
The lucky ones might be heavily drugged and flown high out over the South Atlantic, where they were thrown alive into the Ocean thousands of feet below. The unlucky ones might find themselves in the torture centre of the Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics:
“Many governments employ torture but this was the first time that the element of Saturnalia and pornography in the process had been made so clear to me. If you care to imagine what any inadequate or cruel man might do, given unlimited power over a woman, then anything that you can bring yourself to suspect was what became routine in ESMA, the Navy Mechanics School that became the headquarters of the business. I talked to Dr. Emilio Mignone, a distinguished physician whose daughter Monica had disappeared into the precincts of that hellish place. What do you find to say to a doctor and a humanitarian who has been gutted by the image of a starving rat being introduced to his daughter’s genitalia”?
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22
This is the reality of a regime that the people of the Falkland Islands woke up to one morning in May 1982. The idea that we could stand by and let this assault happen and later explore diplomatic channels is ridiculous. You do not start negotiations by machine gunning the Governor’s house and making a terrified tiny population of farmers live under a curfew.
Hate Thatcher for anything you like (there is not exactly a shortage of things here), but saying she fought the Falklands War of 1982 to bolster her popularity or chance of re-election, no matter how much it may have helped, is just lazy and inaccurate. She took the gamble of sending troops 12,000 miles, against unbelievable odds, to fight and win this war because she had no choice. And like Hitchens, Galloway and a whole host of many improbable others, I’m glad she did.
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