The Falklands War – 30 Years later
Thirty years ago, on 2 April 1982, Argentinian troops invaded the Falklands/Malvinas. Within days, a British task force set sail for the South Atlantic. What resulted was ostensibly a military defeat for Argentina, but in reality a political defeat for Britain. Had General Galtieri not invaded in 1982 setting off that near-forgotten war, Margaret Thatcher — in deep trouble because of the 1982 recession — would almost certainly have lost the 1983 election.
In contrast, Argentina’s military loss turned into a political victory. Galtieri and his gang of thugs were discredited by the loss. Not only had the generals presided over a wave of terror in Argentina but, together with the CIA, helped train the murderous contra in Central America. Within months, Argentinian democracy began to be restored.
The fighting was quite senseless: historians generally viewed the Argentinians as having a genuine legal claim dating back to well before the British occupation in 1833 (and brief occupation in the 18th century), while the Foreign Office had signalled its willingness to negotiate the status of the islands well before the invasion. Indeed, in the week it took the task force to reach the islands, US President Reagan appeared to believe a negotiated settlement was likely. Deaths on both sides numbered just under a thousand and although the number seems small, it is larger than combined deaths suffered by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Falklands War was a Political Defeat for the Left
The cost of the war was estimated at £2.8bn, or £1.4mn per head of Falkland island population; as was said at the time, there is little doubt that had those Falkland islanders unwilling to live under an Argentine flag been given a choice, they would have gladly taken the money. The notion that the war was fought for the ‘freedom and self-determination’ of the populace can be dismissed as jingoistic propaganda, particularly when it is recalled that the inhabitants of another remote island under British dominion, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, were summarily removed by Britain after 1965 so that a US military base could be built.
Thatcher’s military victory — celebrated by the Sun’s infamous ‘Gotcha’ headline following the sinking of the Belgrano — proved to be in essence a political defeat for the British left, laying the ground not only for her 1986 victory over the miners, but for Major’s continuity and for the Blairite decade which followed. In reality, British soldiers died so that Thatcher’s neo-liberal revolution could thrive—hardly a cause worth celebrating.