READ THIS FIRST. I am new to blogging, so this is a kind of trial project. During the Falklands conflict of 1982 I found myself writing down my thoughts about it from time to time, much as bloggers do now. Recently I found these papers and because it's topical I thought some people might be interested in what was going through the mind of a typical Guardian-reading thirty-something in 1982. It's occasionally quite surprising!
My plan is this: to reproduce the pages facsimile, so readers can see it's genuine; then to transcribe so readers can read it; then to make comments clarifying the text where necessary, explaining things, and giving my opinions (for what they're worth) on what it all means.
I shall try to upload each instalment on the date it was originally written, but 30 years later. There are 21 pages, in six bits, between April 28 and June 12.
Problem about blogs is that they are always backwards, so if you are new to it, for a linear story like this you have to go right to the bottom and work backwards, or use the dated links on the sidebar.
It's lots of text, not very bloggy, but that's its nature. And sorry no pictures!
I'm not expecting many comments for this particular project, but of course they are welcome.

Monday, 4 June 2012


There are only three more entries, and I shall be away for the dates of the last two, ironically perhaps in Greece during the critical elections of 17th June 2012 and witness to events of potentially greater moment than the Falklands war.

 Apparently readers are still finding it difficult to leave comments, but one has discovered a method via the 'about me' section of the blog. My brother thinks the whole Blogger/Blogspot product is a complete lemon, and perhaps he is right. I simply can't tell and haven't got time to get to the bottom of it all. It's not such a big deal, and I might as well get the whole thing pasted up.  So here we go.

2nd June
Left Britain for Ireland on 28 May, no access to newspapers or radio until today. Bought The Irish Press (2 June). Reports of the action seem much as in British papers. But an "assessment" article by one Adrian English is openly critical of Britain & sceptical of MoD announcements.{1}
 "... the magnitude of the British military successes...has undoubtedly been greatly exaggerated by British propaganda..."   "the high degree of professional competence of the [Argentine] Air Force & the heroism of its pilots, both now grudgingly admitted by the British, who have been at pains to deny the Argentines any credit for their military success in this most futile and unnecessary of wars." "[The Argentine] air force still appears to retain sufficient strength to mount air strikes at hourly intervals, as has been admitted in an unguarded moment by one of the reporters with the British force." "The British...would seem to have lost most of their sea harriers, and their aircraft carriers have almost certainly sustained some damage."  
 Good to hear another view, but I certainly wonder what effect ritual anti-British attitudes have on Irish perceptions of the affair.{2}

Another aspect that has 'come to light' -- as reported in the F[inancial]T[imes] of 1st June, which I also saw today, is the ill-treatment of the Islanders by Argentinian forces -- over a hundred being locked up in the community hall for 30 days. {3} This was perhaps just a military precaution to prevent any messages being sent to the British fleet. It is claimed that houses were looted and smashed up. This is hard to judge. Possibly houses have been requisitioned and broken into; perhaps used as shelters against bombardment. Or maybe it's just indiscipline among inexperienced troops under great stress.{4}
Also a report that a clump of napalm bombs had been found, and some had been used to attack troops. If true, it's as nasty as the British used of fragmentation bombs on Port Stanley airport.{5}

FT says Argentines are drawing a parallel between the defence of Port Stanley and the 'resistance of the Spartans against the Persians.' So they do expect to lose?

Once again we have to remember that they think the islands are theirs, and that they are there by right  -- & [we should] interpret their actions in this light. Also consider how they must view our actions. Seems the British government is determined to go for a complete military victory, while many opposition voices are urging it (her?) to seek a conciliatory solution that will not leave an embittered enemy seeking retribution. {6}

{1} It is hard to know how representative this article is, but I recall my general impression that the view of the war was strikingly different in Ireland; that I was slightly surprised; and that I had to remind myself that it was not after all very surprising!  Ireland had opposed EEC sanctions on Argentina.
The author of these comments does seem to have an anti-British take. He confounds the official government view with reportage.  He is entirely wrong about damage to the aircraft carriers (there was none) and loss of Sea Harriers (only six were lost, four to accidents and none to aerial combat; while they shot down 28 Argentine aircraft). But such speculation must have been 'in the air', at least in Ireland, and must have seemed plausible.

{2} It is worth remembering all this occurred during 'the troubles', and naturally most Irish would tend to sympathise with the Nationalists in the North, seeing the UK as artificially maintaining an unnatural status quo,  not entirely unlike the Falklands situation.  Having said this, I vividly recall the warmth and friendliness of the rural Ireland of the early 80s, and encountered no personal animosity at all.

Perhaps the 'notional animosity' is restricted to the political class?  Things seem much friendlier now, perhaps because the 'Celtic Tiger' period gave Ireland a taste of economic superiority that washed away historical resentments. The 'new troubles', such as they are, are clearly not of Britain's making.

{3} This 'incarceration' report is apparently correct, but not as bad as it sounds. There was no ill-treatment. After some initial hiccoughs, it appears that the new Argentine authorities, largely in the hands of Argentinians of British descent, went to some lengths to treat the population as well as possible. However, here you can see the FT giving an anti-Argentine spin

{4} There are often isolated 'atrocities' committed by mostly junior troops in the 'heat of the situation'.  My impression is that there is as much evidence for British as of Argentinian 'minor war crimes', although I don't think there have been any prosecutions. By comparison with parts of the second world war, or with subsequent events in the Balkans, the Falklands War was extremely decorous.

{5} These are cases in point: napalm and cluster-bombs are horrible but not illegal.

{6} By this stage the Argentinian government was back at the UN trying to get a negotiated settlement that it could have achieved much earlier. Probably Britain should have opted for magnanimity , but at this point, going for an outright military victory was probably irresistible.

June 16
Returned to Britain to view the rest of the story. As I write this the Government & by all appearances most people, are celebrating a great victory.

I feel antagonistic now to the whole enterprise, but as before a certain jingoistic part of me is pleased by the success of the armed forces  & the efficiency of "our boys". {1}  The final death toll must approach the number of people on the islands when the fighting began. {2}   Had they known at the beginning, would this have changed the Falklanders' attitudes to a rapprochement with Argentina (i.e. involving them [Argentinians] increasingly in running the place)? {3}

Evidently the blockade was not as effective as we were told. [Argentine] Ships and other air transports were able to get through. Recall reports early in the crisis that Britain had the power to block electronically all radio communications with Argentina.  Bluff? Technological jingoism? Mythmongering? {4}

If the Argentinians had waited for the next labour government, they would probably have got a good foot in the door without very much trouble.{5} Had they accepted any of the various deals on offer during the "buildup" they would be a great deal better off either than they were at the beginning or than they are now. Thus far would "aggression have been rewarded". {6}

Bob Priddy reports having been in favour of sending the Taskforce from the outset.{7} He mentions an article by Naipaul {8}about Argentina (I must have read a report of this) which describes the "Malvinas Myth" of the Argentines. This myth makes the Malvinas much bigger, richer and more wonderful. {9}

{1} I suppose that for the citizen of any nation it gives a feeling of security to think that the armed forces are effective. But probably more significant is 'marketing the national brand'. One gets the impression that military capability is something we do well, like aero-engines, or rowing, or pageantry, or popular music.   One wants to ask, is it worth the money? Does it contribute to the sum-total of human welfare?

{2} About 1000 deaths in the war, compared with about 1800 residents before the war, but evidently most of these were not 'proper' Falklanders, of whom there appear to have been only a few hundred.

{3} This is a good question. I don't recall it was ever asked. Nobody's life was threatened by the possibility of closer ties with Argentina; it was little more than a sense of political discomfort, although perhaps the fact that Argentina at the time was a military dictatorship, would have made a considerable difference to both feelings and political calculations.

{4} I suppose it is a good military trick to exude invincibility, and at the beginning of the conflict I bought into it myself.

I am intrigued by the frequent unreliability of equipment and weapons systems. Comparing with reports of other conflicts, where some stuff just doesn't work, and the combatants don't find out until too late (Pacific naval battle of the Coral Sea comes to mind). Here the Harriers and their armaments were really good, but the sea-to-air missiles were not. The Exocets were incredible, but lots of Argentinian bombs simply didn't go off. Is it invariably hit and miss? The affair was probably much more finely balanced than is commonly believed. If more bombs had gone off, and the Argentines had not run out of Exocets...

{5} Interesting historical what-if. Before the Falklands War, Mrs Thatcher was not popular, but the War brought her back to power with hugely increased confidence and relish for political battle that kept Labour out of power for 18 years. Had the Argentine junta not provoked the war, a return of a Labour government might have happened much sooner. But most governments, even dictatorships, cannot really think in such long-range strategic terms. More exactly in this context, had the Junta waited just a few more months before invading, the southern winter would probably have made a prompt counter-invasion impractical. Very likely it would have been difficult to build the political will for such a Task Force once the initial shock of an affront to British sovereignty had worn off.

{6} Well-timed unilateral action, including armed aggression, can obviously result in permanent advantages. The Israelis famously like to create create 'facts on the ground' that the Palestinians are powerless to resist, and that later become established as bargaining counters.  It was much the same with the state of the western and Soviet troops as they converged in 1945 Germany. Both sides were aware that the actual territory occupied would have a strong bearing on their respective post-war zones of influence. No doubt the Argentinian junta also thought 'possession is nine-tenths of the law' when they invaded the Falklands, and they were unfortunate not to get away with it.

It's probably as well to remark at this point that, as a result of the War, the Junta was forced to resign in disgrace, and democracy returned to Argentina. That is a very good result, although not the prime purpose of the British demarche.

{7} Bob Priddy was a British friend who lived in Norway and had become effectively Norwegian. I think his political attitudes were similar to my own, so it is interesting that he was in some sense 'in favour of the war'.

{8} V.S. Naipaul was a distinguished novelist and critic, a great traveller, noted for his independent and incisive views about all manner of cultural and ethnic issues.

{9} The 'myth of the Malvinas' suggests deliberate cultivation of a particular narrative that is not entirely under the control of the original myth-makers, and develops its own popular momentum. It could be an only-slightly more sophisticated version of the Big Rock Candy Mountain. One imagines incredible tales being wound round the Malvinas for the benefit of children, that persist, at least emotionally, into adulthood.

Of course such ethnic myth-making can have tragic and enduring consequences, as we have remarked before in these comments. But if there can be malign and dysfunctional myths, can there also be benign myths that promote harmony? 

June 22.
Diego Garcia --- 1200 islanders moved compulsorily to Mauritius to make way for a military establishment.  

This is the last entry in the diary. It might be surprising that my former self did not elaborate, since it is the most extraordinary "fact" in the whole document. The entry is slightly misleading because it suggests that the islanders were expelled in June 1982. This is not the case, but nevertheless there are substantial parallels with the Falklands situation.

In the early 60s the UK government came to an agreement with the US government to provide an 'uninhabited island' in the Indian Ocean to serve as a naval and air base.  Aldabra was initially favoured, but was known to be the home of the endemic Aldabra tortoise, so was vetoed on conservation grounds. Diego Garcia in the Chagos island group fitted the bill in terms of location and geography, but unfortunately about 1500 people lived there. Most of these were 'Ilois', speaking a local ('Chagossian') French creole. Like the Falkland islanders they had only been there a hundred years or so, and traced ancestry elsewhere (in Mauritius or the Seychelles). In accordance with the military agreement the inhabitants were compulsorily expelled, principally to Mauritius, between 1968 and 1973. It is interesting that a population of tortoises were enough to prevent the first choice, but a population of humans did not prevent the second.

So the diary entry refers to a fact that had happened some time previously.  There was no referendum, no referral to the UN, and no rights of return. The 'Ilois' were just moved, and given compensation. This happened largely under Labour administrations in Britain. 

The legal and ethical situation was rather complicated. For one thing the British apparently 'bought' the Chagos a short time before, and then declared them independent of Mauritius. Both the UK and US were aware they risked falling foul of various UN resolutions and principles, and across many administrations have continued diplomatic manoeverings to obscure and frustrate any claims or other fuss.

It is striking that the numbers involved in both Falklands and Diego Garcia cases are rather similar. Perhaps the biggest difference is simply that the Chagossians were poor and black.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Falklands Diary continued, for 24th May, 1982 .
Diary in Courier, comments in Times.

24 May. On the whole Guardian editorials have been good. My views must have been influenced by receiving info almost exclusively from Guardian and Radio 4. {1}
Good letter in Guardian (Terry Jones) making the essential point that the dispatching of the task force has reinforced the law of the jungle. It pays to be strong, & next year defence budgets will go up all over the world.{2}

Nott, {3} realising that the British forces are now in a strong position, is talking once again of a total return to British sovereignty. Not UN administration, not shared sovereignty. There is something of a dilemma here. Many Britons will think that since so much has been sacrificed we cannot then give up what has been gained.{4} But "having" the islands is not in Britain's interests {5}. The best way remains to reinforce international law, and to hand the islands over to the UN & be as magnanimous as possible to the Argentinians. Let there be a UN-supervised referendum and a judgment by [the] International Court of Justice.Let Britain recognise that Argentina's claim is not wholly fictitious, and that sooner or later they must be a willing party to any permanent settlement. Tomorrow is the 25 of May. Surely the Argentines cannot allow that to pass without some heroics? {6} Actually the propaganda system is so good, why do they need to fight at all? {7}. But it seems they are losing materiel at a rate too rapid to sustain for long. Will they chance a ship or two?

Comments made 24 May 2012
{1} I believe that at the time both these sources struck me as striving for reasonable balance, and this belief was reinforced by strong criticism on the part of the government and other parts of the media, who viewed the Guardian and the BBC as 'pro-Argentinian'.  However they too had to get most of their information from UK government sources. It seemed to go without saying that Argentinian government sources were entirely unreliable, and perhaps nespapers even more so. But what is the best procedure under these circumstances? Presumably it would have helped to read coverage by other media throughout the world, but what? Le Monde? Asahi Shimbun? Pravda? New York Times? El Pais?

{2} I have been unable to find evidence to support this prediction. Probably it would not make much difference to most nations' ability to project power or defend rights; and increasingly 'soft power' is seen as a more effective way of furthering a nation's overseas interests. Perhaps Britain was just a freak in that it had the remains of an imperial navy and was able to give it a last hurrah.

{3} John Nott was the defence secretary, who I thought acquitted himself rather well. Not many defence secretaries enjoy such a lively period of office. This passage reminds me something I had forgotten, that throughout the pre-shooting negotiations, Britain had been prepared to envisage a range of compromise solutions, as indeed it had been seeking during the pre-Thatcher administration.

{4} This must be a standard process. Once even a few people have got killed there is pressure at all levels to increase the probability that 'they did not die in vain'. This presumably lengthens many conflicts, and increases the sense of bitterness and resentment after a defeat.

{5} In retrospect, this is a much more complicated question. In 'the olden days' Princes felt it was their duty to expand their territory whenever they could. In 'the Age of Empire' European powers famously scrabbled for anything they could get, anywhere. At the very least, each scrap of territory could be a bargaining chip. But during the post-WWII era of decolonisation my impression is that great metropolitan powers found small remote colonies a liability and worked hard to get shot of them in one way or another. 

The Falklands were probably a perfect example, and could have been transferred with huge smiles all round if the Argentinians had played their cards better.

Since that time however we have become much more aware of the potential resources within the relatively shallow territorial waters of a land mass, especially oil and gas, perhaps fish, so suddenly certain remote islands have a different significance. As far as I recall this was never mentioned in 1982, but has risen up the agenda ever since, and presumably hinders a final agreement. One is reminded of the Russians' tongue-in-cheek attempt to claim the North Pole in 2007.

{6} 25 May was the culmination of the liberation struggle against Spain, and is the Argentine National Day.

{7} I'm now a bit puzzled by this remark. It seems to suggest the ultimate conspiracy theory: that if the government has total control of the media it can report anything it likes and there is no need to undertake real costly or risky actions. The subsequent sentence suggests it was just a throwaway line.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Falklands Diary 22 May 1982: The Invasion.
Space lines are in the original, presumably indicating a break in the writing. I cannot now remember, but I have must have kept coming back and adding more thoughts as they occurred to me. It's not particularly coherent, but looks as if it is trying hard to be both frank about feelings and even-handed about the principles.

The invasion. Still fascinated by the military tactics. Argentines said to have damaged 2 ships badly. They have 150 planes, so presumably could have sunk the lot by hit and miss, if they were prepared to lose a lot of planes  ?   Why are they using bombs, not missiles? Do missiles only work at sea where there is a clear radar image? 

British reporter gave a gripping account of the landings and the air attack as they were happening, but omitted to say "Omigod there's another frigate sinking". I presume that once they've built a runway for the RAF planes air superiority will pass decisively to Britain and the show will be more or less over. They never found those other 3 subs tho -- always possible to sink an aircraft carrier or two while the British are busy with landings. {1}

Still every time they sink a boat that's £50M gone. Comparison with tightfistedness in other areas of government spending is now hard to avoid. {2}

The uselessness of the whole exercise as a moral crusade has become very clear to me. That "aggression should not be rewarded" is an excellent principle, but it should always be channelled through the UN. Only when a weaker country attacks a stronger one (militarily speaking) can the lesson be prosecuted unilaterally through military action. Supposing the Falklands had "belonged to" Spain, say, or Denmark....? So the only generalisable way to discourage the settling of disputes by armed force is concerted economic pressure through the UN. This is what Britain should have done.

If Britain regains control of the islands, relations with Argentina will be appalling. The Argentine people will feel outraged that 'their' land has been seized after the triumphant liberation. What can be done to offset this?

The latest UN proposals "are no longer on the table". Presumably Maggie & Co now reckon they can get better terms after a military victory. I must say the British proposals as published seem very reasonable Foolish of the Argentines not to accept, but then if for all historical and psychological reasons they are utterly convinced the islands are theirs, the proposed terms must appear an affront and hard to sell to the military.{3}

A comment of Andrew Leonard. The 'Malvinas' are on all Argentine maps. Everybody knows were they are and something of their history. A British hairdresser in the Falklands (there for a couple of years) had accepted the job from an advertisement and & supposed they were somewhere in the Hebrides. {4} Before the crisis, nobody knew where the islands were or anything about them.  If nobody lived there, the Argentine claim would be very strong indeed. As it is, they seem to have worked themselves into the present state of blind prejudice by systematic suppression of contrary information. In international law the case is at best open. {5}

A whole nation of Julian Amerys, Enoch Powells and Winston Churchill (Jr)s. Be nice to see an intelligent debate between a moderate Briton and an extremely well-informed Argentine without too much of an axe to grind. {6}

{1} Apparently there were three Argentinian submarines 'not accounted for', and in this entry I seem to have the feeling that if a single torpedo can sink the Belgrano, the same might be true of British carriers, although presumably they would have much better submarine detection systems.  At this point in the conflict there was definitely a sense that it could fail.

In situations like this, for obvious reasons, operational and on-the-ground information is poor, leaving scope for endless speculation about what should or should not be done. My own views here were presumably even more worthless than those of retired military officers in the newspapers. 

{2} This remark bears comparison with today's contrast between finding untold billions at the drop of a hat to bail out banks, alongside savage austerity for everybody else. Or perhaps even more precisely, what have been the economic effects of the Afghan and Iraq wars?

{3} Worth remembering the Argentine government at the time was a military dictatorship, although temporarily at least, a popular one.

{4} Andrew Leonard, local farmer and County Councillor, also a neighbour, had worked as a teacher on the Falklands and had many such stories.

{5} Apparently I thought that although psychologically the British did not 'deserve' the islands, the Argentinians themselves had failed to exploit a due process that probably would have served them better.

{6} The names refer to three representatives of the right wing of the Conservative Party at the time, the implication being that the entire Argentinian government was composed of such characters.

Sunday, 20 May 2012


As before, actual entry in Courier, comments in Times Roman, marked by numbers in curly brackets like {this}.

20th May.
Suddenly it all seems grotesque. 'Time is running out' at the UN & all parties seem to have resigned themselves to serious fighting. It now seems very clear to me that since the Argentinians do not appreciate the British case -- and neither do most other 3rd world countries -- the point of standing up against unprovoked aggression/wanton infraction of international law is entirely lost. So it is only demonstrated in abstract to ourselves and our allies. Is this worth killing people for, or sacrificing good relations all over the world? {1}

Anyway, how important is "what it looks like"? Is a nation to follow its own principles irrespective of of how its actions may appear to outsiders? I suppose "the propaganda war" addresses itself to this problem -- it's no good Britain taking a stand against aggression unless we can persuade all the onlookers (& potential aggressors & aggressed & actors against aggression) that that is precisely what is going on. 

From other points of view, it is the Argentines who are taking a stand against aggression....

Heard the emergency debate in the House of Commons. Nothing really new. Maggie gearing everybody up for an assault. Talked to Andrew Leonard, a local farmer who used to teach in the Falklands. He says the Falklands are run by about 8 families who don't really care who is in charge as long as they get their money. Everybody else would be just as happy to live in Scotland or New Zealand. In his view the whole enterprise is loony & the British government should have called on the UN for mandatory sanctions at the outset, and might have got a pretty solid response {2}. He thinks that the Argentinians feel twice as strongly as we do about the legitimacy of their claim. Presumably they regard resolution 502 {3}as simple victimization by a lot of well-heeled nations that do not understand the real issues -- the international 'establishment'.

{1} I think that at the time I had a romantic view of international law, and that the UN was the final arbiter, to which we should defer. A key principle of the modern dispensation is that the recognised borders of member states are inviolable and that 'invasions' of territory recognised as belonging to another state should provoke condemnation, sanctions, or even the involvement of UN troops (recall that the Korean war was prosecuted by notionally UN troops).

I still feel that the UN ought to be supported as the best way to prevent polarisation and to seek reconciliation. For this reason I opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: I thought the UN should be calling the shots, militarily and metaphorically.  Is this a naive view?

{2} This is the same view that I reported for Tom Hopkinson on May 11th. If Andrew Leonard's summary is essentially factual it makes the whole thing seem completely crazy. Surely the UK government must have known all this? Did it expect to gain its results diplomatically because it was backed up by a credible show of force that it never expected to have to use? Was the whole thing just a giant case of panem et circences?

{3} United Nations Resolution 502 called upon all parties to cease fire and withdraw troops. Since this would have restored the status quo ante the Argentinian government understandably did not comply. Its main significance was that if Argentina did not withdraw its troops, it allowed the UK to invoke the 'right of self-defence'.

One wonders about the views of 'Third World Countries'. Presumably they had political and emotional reasons to oppose the colonial tradition: European powers controlling odd bits of territory all over the globe. Because the international 'establishment' set both national borders and the rules of the UN it unavoidably tends to freeze in place past arbitrary power. Is the UN widely regarded as a club of the rich and powerful?

Saturday, 19 May 2012

FALKLANDS 1982 DIARY continued.

Oops I'm a day late. The next entry is for 18th May. It's only one page, so I'll reproduce the original. It is graced with a small doodle, and the last sentence runs up the side of the page I will carry on transcribing the manuscript in Courier and make comments in Times Roman after each paragraph as before.

18 May

Begins to look as if there will be a counter-invasion by the task force in the next few days. I can't deny I'm fascinated by the prospect of an all-out fight, and have to keep reminding myself that people are going to get killed {1}. Well, yes.  If the Argentinians have more than 200 military aeroplanes, and the fleet has got to get within range in order to invade the Falklands, you can't shoot all of them down, or keep all the missiles at bay. If it only takes one missile to sink a ship.... and of course dozens of planes would be shot down. Then once the troops were ashore, they could be bombed & strafed from the air. It will be a horrible business. {2}

{1} 1982 was before the era of computerised shoot-em-up video games, although perhaps there were clunky games-parlour versions. 'War romanticism' was embodied partly in books and comic books, but probably more in movies. It's a common grumble today that screen violence and video-games promote real violence, or at least tolerance of it, but 'war porn' is probably endemic and always had the effect of masking the real nastiness, especially in advance of a conflict, and then long afterwards when the war is part of history and heritage. It is a powerful drug, and obviously I was vulnerable to it, and probably still am.

One wonders how much this war romanticism affected professional members of the armed services. Presumably most of them had never actually been involved in real conflict before. And perhaps most relished the prospect of real fighting because it would enhance their standing and justify their training. And they expected to win. Presumably too the Top Brass like a real fight as being so much better than mere exercises in terms of testing men and equipment, and military strategy. 

So it's worth asking, if the armed forces were up for it, who was I really whingeing about?

{2} This is just a reminder that on the date of the entry we really didn't know what was going to happen. Anybody reading today knows the outcome, but on May 18th 1982 this was completely open and a genuine cause for speculation and anxiety.

I seem to have lost sight of the principles involved. Sarajevo seems easier to understand now {3}. But how could either side have pulled out, given the constituencies to which they bow at home? {4} James Cameron as usual has been shrewd and witty. Pity I missed the Panorama programme that Sally Oppenheim called 'an odious and subversive travesty'. Must have been a very model of objectivity. {5}

{3} 'Sarajevo' has changed its meaning. Now it makes us think of the recent Balkans conflicts, but in 1982 it meant 'the trigger for the first world war' in the assassination of Archduke Rudolf in Sarajevo in 1914. Evidently what I meant was that the first world war appeared to have been caused by the accident of various military and diplomatic alliances colliding, rather than any profound difference of interests. It is often glossed as the first of many pointless stupidities of that War, and I obviously shared that view prior to the Falklands Conflict.

{4} See {6} below.

{5} James Cameron is mentioned previously in the post of 28th April. Sally Oppenheim (now Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes) was a Conservative MP. My sarcastic comment shows what side of that particular debate I was on. Broadly, I bought the 'Guardian/BBC' line.

Recall that, early on, a majority of people in one poll reckoned the issue was not worth the loss of a single British life. What's happened to that sentiment? The logic of events.... {6}

{6} See also {4}: There is a kind of polarisation process in which populations become committed to conflict. Here it seemed to have an irreversible quality, more like 'curdling'. This partly drives policy {4} but is also partly created by the government itself. Today we are more uncomfortably aware how easy it is to create polarisation (think militant Islamism, Israel/Palestine, wind farms, GM foods, nuclear power) and how difficult to foster reconciliation. Committed 'polarisers' rarely miss an opportunity to create more curdling. Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is a hard row to hoe.

Must find a source for the Argentinians' claim, giving a clearer idea of why they feel so strongly about it. It seems that 'defeat' would be much harder for them to swallow than for us. It would certainly seem "unfair" -- the more so since they presumably don't understand the British point of view.{7}

{7} This seems a bit strange, because previous entries suggest I had discovered quite a lot about the history and the grounds for Argentina's claim to the islands. However none of these were strictly Argentinian sources, and this remark suggests I had suddenly come across some, and that had impressed me that they, the Argentinians, 'cared' in a way that we didn't.

How is this to be factored into negotiations for a 'just' result? On the British side, we were operating ostensibly on the basis of upholding international law and the rights of individuals (hardly  a real polity) to self-determination. In practice of course there were dozens of other pressures, now including 'backing our team' soccer-style partisanship, but these should not weigh heavily in the moral balance

On the Argentinian side, it must be assumed, there had been a hundred years of state propaganda, stories, textbooks, to the effect that 'foreign occupation' would be experienced as a continual affront to national integrity.  So this is how it now looks: that finally, with the invasion, justice is served and the historic balance restored. What balm to the national soul!  OK so there are international niceties to be ironed out, but surely Britain cannot possibly care that much about remote islands with a few hundred people? What on earth is all this fuss about? Look, the good guys have won!

I am not sure about historic parallels. Geographically, the Channel Islands should 'belong' to France, but there are never any political pressures in that direction. It's too long ago? Yes, but the Serbs have still not forgotten Kosovo. They constantly feed it.  And there are far more recent 'manufactured' ethnicities with even higher voltage, notably Israel and Palestine.

In contrast, you can starve these claims to death. I recall travelling in West Germany in the sixties, and seeing  government posters saying 'Drei Partieren? -- Niemals!' (Three parts? Never!). This referred not only to the existence of East Germany, but to the formerly German territory ceded to Poland as part of the post-War settlement. Meanwhile Poland 'lost' large parts of its east to the Soviet Union, later Belarus. There was massive ethnic cleansing, maybe 14m Germans having to up sticks and move (apparently insisted on by one W.S. Churchill). But now, two, three generations on, who cares? Is this the proper way to do it? You either negotiate or have a war. You lose the war, shrug your shoulders and move on. It's refusing to move on that is the toxic element.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Licensed to Think: A Falklands Diary from 1982


This time I'll try a slightly different format, giving comments in Times Roman after each diary paragraph in courier, indicated by {curly brackets}. Again I skip the facsimile manuscript.

May 11
Starting to feel that "I've been against it all along." Have I? Not sure now.

Still fascinated by news of military action. News jags. If it's just a shift in the negotiations it seems a bit flat. I Read all the detailed military accounts of exocets, sea wolves {1}

[Comment {1}:  Sea Wolf was the anti-missile system supposed to make the fleet invulnerable to missile attack. It might well have worked sometimes but was very far from 100% effective, and Sheffield had shown that a single Exocet could sink a ship.  It is slightly embarrassing to see my younger self beguiled by "Boy's Own" geekery and fascination with the minutiae of weapons systems. I cannot remember it recurring in any subsequent conflict involving the UK:  Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, but it's obviously there just below the surface!.]

Talked to Tom H about it all {2}. He reckons at most 3-400 real Falklanders on the islands. The rest short-stay people running the services. Most Falklanders seem to live in Hampshire. T. is convinced they could all have been persuaded to leave, given a suitable golden handshake {3}.

{2} This refers to Tom Hopkinson, an well-read older friend, a specialist in historical maps with a keen appreciation of the political sensitivities entailed in making maps and conflicting territorial claims.
{3} At last here is a real number, admittedly based on Tom's general knowledge.  This gives a better perspective on the wider political and ethical questions. We are talking about only a few hundred people. Now if they are all native residents with deep roots going back many generations, that might count for something. But if they actually have roots in the south of England, and by implication 'second homes' (or even 'first homes') there, it is very hard to make the case that 'the people must decide their political preferences'. This is definitely the tail wagging the dog, and suggesting of course that 'the rights of the islanders' is just political cover for other purposes to the exercise.

Been trying to ascertain the actual history of the islands, to see what merit there is in the rival claims to sovereignty. Hard to work out really. Obviously the Argentines have some case, perhaps as strong as China's claim to Taiwan or Tibet.{4} Other cases? Goa? (5}. I read out some passages to Gill {6} who was firmly convinced of the rightness of Britain's claim. Seems that Britain discovered them, but did not name or claim them.  Then the French visited them and named them. Then the British claimed them and set up a colony. Then the Spanish took over and Britain protested but acquiesced. [The]Islands passed to the proto-Argentinian state after the war of independence. Britain re-asserted sovereignty by force in 1830 or thereabouts, & [re?]established a colony. The ur-Argentine protested but was unable to repudiate [Britain's]claim effectively.(7} Argentina has maintained its claim ever since. This seems reasonable. It seems [however?] that popular beliefs about the islands in Argentina are distorted to give the claim overwhelming apparent legitimacy. They must feel they are fighting for a noble and entirely just cause. Britain must come over as extremely belligerent. {8}

{4} Taiwan and Tibet are slightly different cases. Although there are non-Han ethnic Taiwanese, nobody ever seems to feel they have any say in the matter at all as they have always been dominated by a large Han majority. Perhaps it is somewhat similar to situation of the Ainu in Hokkaido, who gave in without much fuss to an overwhelmingly powerful and sophisticated invading culture. Leaving the Taiwanese themselves on one side, until recently all Chinese believed Taiwan and the mainlands to be one country; the only question was who should run it, the Communist Party or the Kuomindang.  When the  permanent UN seat was transferred to the People's Republic and the US recognised the PRC, then the Taiwanese government changed tack, for obvious reasons. Is there a right answer here? There are certain parallels with cold war East and West Germany, North and South Vietnam, and with North and South Korea, perhaps even northern and southern Ireland. One has the feeling these situations are intrinsically unstable and bound to snap back to a 'natural' ethno-lingusitic boundary eventually. Having said this, Taiwan is a perfectly functional state, much as Hong Kong was, and it is only some kind of Chinese amour propre that causes them to make such a fuss. But in the Falklands context, Britain too made a tremendous fuss about far less. I sometimes think about Northern Ireland in this respect. Wouldn't we mainland British just love to hand it over the the Republic and have done with the whole issue?  I'm sure most of us would, but because there's a majority in Ulster against it, we have to go along with the status quo. Same argument applies in Gibraltar, but...the Falklands? Then there was Hong Kong always in the background, due in 1997.

Re Tibet, any non-Chinese who has argued with an ethnic Chinese of any generation or political leaning will have experienced an inexplicable torrent of utter certainty regarding China's claim to Tibet. To outsiders this is genuinely baffling, because until 1950 Tibet was in some sense a functioning state, and although China has occupied bits of it, and made claims from time to time, on the same basis France could claim Canada, Britain France, Poland parts of Belarus, Germany parts of Poland, Hungary much of Rumania, Serbia Kosovo etc etc. But since that time China has created 'facts on he ground' like the Russian population in the Baltic states, or Israeli settlements on the West bank or Poles in Western Poland, Albanians in Kosovo.  Eventually we are supposed to accept that the situation has changed and not hark back to some imaginary dreamland of the past. Are the Serbs crazy to still hanker after Kosovo? Are Gazans crazy to still keep the keys of their old houses in Haifa and demand the right of return? Are the Argentines crazy to still claim the Falklands after 150 years of their occupation by a friendly foreign power? The manufacture of ethnic identities and their maintenance over centuries is a remarkable phenomenon; as is the manufactured connection between ethnicity and bits of territory.

{5} Goa was a small Portuguese enclave in Western India, with a distinctive local culture. It was peremptorily annexed by India in the 1960s, and this is a very close parallel to the Falklands situation, that is a foreign-controlled territory within or 'within the sphere of influence' of another country geographically distant from the controlling power. In this case India knew it could 'get away with it' politically and diplomatically because international sentiment was clearly against the 'Portuguese Empire', then controlled by a dictatorship; and militarily because Portugal could never muster the resources for an effective response. Had Goa been British the final result would probably have been the same but diplomatically messier. A forcible military takeover of Hong Kong by China is perhaps a close theoretical parallel to Goa, but obviously the Chinese knew they only had to wait. Gibraltar is another interesting case, but forcible military takeover is unthinkable. Note that Spain has similar territories on the Moroccan coast.

{6} Gill was one of the fellow occupants of a large Welsh farmhouse in which I lived  at the time. I cannot now remember any of the views of my house-mates, but this remark suggests they might well have followed the UK government's line, as most people did.

{7} At one level, this just reflects the realities of physical power alluded to in Note {5}. But does a diplomatic protest make a difference? The UN is now the principal court of appeal in such cases, but did not exist in 1830. Can an ancient claim now be lodged with the UN for adjudication? Presumably.

{8} Evidently the Argentinian government thought the 'Goa precedent' would work, and did not expect such an apparently disproportionate response.

Thatcher, Pym and various Tory MPs have criticised the press and BBC for "too even-handed" coverage. This seems to me a remarkable compliment. It is not the job of the BBC, surely,to egg the government on in its ventures, no matter how popular they may be. Heard Hugh Green defending the BBC and having a traditional lunge at long-suffering Tony Benn. {9}

{9} Francis Pym was the new Foreign Secretary, replacing Lord Carrington. Hugh Green was the Director-General of the BBC. I cannot now remember Hugh Green's remarks, but it looks as if he was having a go at Tony Benn (a vociferous opponent of the war) just to show that the BBC was not partisan and was capable of criticising all sides of opinion. My use of the phrase 'long-suffering' suggests that Benn was widely castigated for his opposition to the war. One wonders what was the experience of the now-forgotten lone Tory opponent of the war, Sir Anthony Meyer.

I do believe the defence ministry reports. Am I right to do so? Could they be hiding serious military reverses? The Argentinian news services seem to be simply propaganda agencies. According to Guardian reporter in [Buenos Aires] people believe that Hermes is sunk, Invincible badly damaged, Woodward has committed suicide{10}, 13 Harriers have been shot down, and that Prince Andrew has been taken prisoner {11}. This is not the story we hear from the MoD. {12}.

{10} HMSS Hermes and Invincible were the two aircraft carriers at the core of the Task Force. Then -Rear Admiral 'Sandy' Woodward was in command of the Task Force.

{11} Prince Andrew (Duke of York and second son of the Queen) was a RN helicopter pilot based on Invincible.  It is said that the government would have preferred him to stay in Britain, but the Queen and Prince Philip insisted on his active participation in military operations. All part of the theatre, and we still have royal helicopter pilots.

{12} The Argentinian 'reports' were clearly ridiculous, but who reported them? MoD reports presumably were doctored to some extent, but the whole operation was stuffed with British journalists and nothing could have been hidden for very long. So I took all official pronouncements as at least factually accurate.

Evidently the blockade is not totally effective. Planes do get through and drop stuff, or maybe even land on temporary runways.{13} Speculation abounds about an imminent landing. Half of me wants them to go in and get it over with: it would make a good war movie. At the same time UN negotiators seem to be making progress. Britain has relaxed its demands, and Argentina has to find a way of withdrawing without having sovereignty guaranteed in advance. {14}

{13} This is part of my (then) sense of the balance of forces. At the beginning I assumed that overwhelming sea and air power would isolate the occupying garrison and completely exclude dangerous attacks. Having established the conditions for an inevitable victory, Britain could negotiate from a position of strength, with no need for actual fighting. At this stage of the conflict, this seemed to me the most likely outcome.

{14} This is a reminder that of course, at this stage no landing had taken place. The Task Force was just sitting there, prepared for a landing but presumably believing it to be unlikely. At this stage surely a diplomatic solution could have been reached? On the other hand things had become so polarised it must have been very difficult to find a solution that could be presented as honourable on both sides. The next paragraphs sums up my thoughts.

Seems if Britain could give Argentina the wink that transfer of sovereignty would take place pretty soon, but keep quiet about it, they ought to accept because that's what they want. But they need it to be public for it to be acceptable domestically. But if it were public, could the British government avoid charges of a sell-out? Tricky one.{15}

What is the basic principle? Are we "deterring an aggressor"? Does it make any difference if it is clear that the "aggressor" believes it is acting, not only within its rights, but nobly against an unscrupulous and aggressive enemy? How does the world see it? What is the point of "deterring aggression" if nobody else sees it that way?

Sir Anthony Parsons seems to be doing a fine job.{16} 

{15} It is worth recalling that under the previous (Labour) government, the FCO appeared to be slowly preparing for some kind of de facto transfer of sovereignty, largely on the grounds that the islands were an economic and political liability.  That was probably still its preference under Lord Carrington until the Argentinian provocations. If only they'd sat tight and waited, it would probably all have worked out better.

{16} The British Ambassador to the UN. Good speeches as I recall. Calm urbanity.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

This is a new post of May 5th, as promised.
I can't say this 'Falklands Diary' project working very well, in terms of eliciting comments! Plenty of people seem to be reading it, but many report problems leaving comments. Are Blogger and Blogspot defective tools? I am such a tyro I can't tell. Perhaps as a second line of communication, anyone who wants to communicate with me directly can do so on

Oh well, I must get on. For the original entry I posted a facsimile of the original diary, mainly to show it was genuine and that I was transcribing faithfully. I assume readers did not bother reading this, but went straight to my transcript. Perhaps the facsimiles are not really necessary, so this time I will simply present the transcript, in italics, followed by notes composed 30 years later, indicated in {curly brackets} as before. [Square brackets] are used for clarifications in the text. The next entry in my occasional 1982 diary is May 5th.

Perhaps I should make a remark before it begins. It is widely noted that the sinking of the Argentinian Cruiser General Belgrano marked a change in pretty everyone's perception of the conflict. This entry records my own reactions to that event, reported in the UK media on 3rd May 1982, and then somewhat different reactions to the sinking of HMS Sheffield, the first British ship to be lost, reported on 4th May. It's as if there are two separate diary entries, but they all occur under May 5, 1982.

May 5 -- comments on the Falklands Crisis (sinking of cruiser Belgrano & HMS Sheffield just reported). {1}

In the few days before the Belgrano was sunk I continued to be very fascinated by the affair. It continued to seem like an elaborate war game. The British use of "minimum force" seemed to be working extremely well. There was a sense of surgical efficiency, scrupulous legality, and that peculiar air of invincibility that the Israelis seemed to have before the canal crossing of 1973 {2}. It seemed that the Argentines were avoiding the TEZ {3} both by sea and air, and that little action could be expected after the bombing of the runways on the Falklands {4}. I remember faint stirrings of, if not exactly patriotism, then at least quiet pride at the professionalism and scrupulousness of "our boys".

The Belgrano changed all that. Since it was sunk outside the TEZ it struck me as wantonly bellicose. Surely a proper declaration of war is required before attacking a ship in international waters? As of today it looks as if several hundred sailors have died, & that is already far too high a price to pay for the administrative status of the Falkland Islanders. And for the various principles? What is an appropriate price for them?

This incident changed my attitude to the government's policy, & I started to have grave reservations about the task force operation. Can it be justified to continue[,] with the amount of killing this presages?  An image of the all-powerful British Navy against an outdated scratch fleet, manned by dedicated but ill-trained and ill-equipped sailors, haunted my mind. That somehow it just wasn't fair. {5}

At this point Britain had not lost a single man, while Argentina had lost a submarine, a cruiser, a naval tugboat, two Daggers (a Canberra?){6} & an unknown number of Pucaras {7} and other grounded aircraft during the bombing raids -- not to mention the frigate and helicopter damaged during the original invasion of the Falklands and South Georgia.

But now a [British] destroyer has been sunk {8} and a Harrier {9} shot down. The image of invincibility crumbles. Curiously, the attack on the Belgrano looks suddenly justified. The Argentines start to look dangerous -- 'worthy opponents' {10}. Arrogance -- never far below the surface in the press and parliament -- looks out of place (recall the Sun joke about the marine and the Argentine soldiers){11}.
(The Sheffield sinking is reminiscent of the Hood -- a single lucky shot getting to a vulnerable part {12}. I wonder if this really was the case) {13}[brackets in original MS]
-------------------- {14}
Good article by Peter Jenkins in the Guardian May 5 -- seems to have similar attitudes to mine. However I must say that I still have a great interest in the football-match-type aspects of physical fighting. I expect an eventual (re)invasion and a part of me looks forward to it. But inevitably more people are going to get killed than the total number of islanders, who in any case were in no physical danger from Argentine rule (quite the contrary -- the British in Argentina, part of the ruling elite, do very well thank you under a right-wing regime). We might easily displace 1800 people from their homes in the course of building a motorway. But this is considered entirely justified for the greater public good. Hmmm.... {15}

NOTES ADDED 5/05/2012
{1} The General Belgrano was formerly a US Navy warship that had seen service in the Pacific in WWII, sold to the Argentinian government in 1951. HMS Sheffield was one of a newish class of Type 42 Destroyers, designed I understand, principally for anti-submarine warfare. Many of this class were involved in the Task Force. The news of the Belgrano's sinking was delayed for a day, from 2nd till 3rd May, perhaps for political reasons, while the loss of the Sheffield was announced fairly promptly, as I recall, on 4th.

{2} This refers to the 'Yom Kippur' War of 1973. The Israelis had occupied the entire Siniai peninsula since the devastatingly effective '6 Day' campaign of 1967, having completely routed the armed forces of all neighbouring Arab states. There was definitely a sense of Israeli 'invincibility' on both sides. However in 1973 for once the Israelis were caught unprepared by a well-planned and executed crossing of the Suez canal by the Egyptian army. Although they quickly recovered and would have 'won' a continued war (international pressure forced a ceasefire) the Israelis reputation for invincibility had been lost. Probably the 'cred' and pride generated allowed Egypt to conclude a peace treaty with Israel a few years later.

{3} TEZ stands for Total Exclusion Zone. This was a circular area 200 miles around the Falklands, declared to be off-limits to Argentinian military activity. This was an important part of the diplomatic game. There was never any declaration of war, presumably because both sides wanted to emphasise their ownership of the Islands, and were merely 'asserting their rights'. The TEZ was a way of setting up Rules of Engagement that could limit casualties, prevent Argentine reinforcements of the occupying forces, and allow Britain to maintain its fa├žade of effortless hands-off power. Having nuclear-powered submarines that could stay on patrol (or even submerged) a long time meant that any naval intrusion into the TEZ would be extremely risky, and presumably the British counted on this factor to keep the zone clear of Argentine ships, while the RAF could prevent aerial intrusions.

{4} One of the first military actions once the Task Force approached the Falklands, was to bomb the  airfields. I personally recall Brian Hanrahan reporting of the bombing harriers 'I counted them all out, and I counted them back', one of the most famous sound-bites of the entire war. That was a mark of the early, smug, invincibility phase of the war, when it was thought possible that Britain would gain the day with no losses whatever.

{5} The Belgrano was clearly outside the exclusion zone, though not by much. In fact it was probably cruising about, only a few tens of miles outside the TEZ. Presumably it was assumed the British would stick to their own rules, so it was an awful shock to everyone when the ship was torpedoed. It didn't really stand much chance. Most of the sailors got off in time and were rescued; about 350 died as a result of the attack itself. This event resulted in another famous sound-bite from an Argentinian diplomat, that 'Brittania may no longer rule the waves, but she certainly waives the rules'. Pretty clever eh?

The sinking of the Belgrano remains the most controversial aspect of the Falklands Affair, and much has been said about it. At the moment it was reported it obviously seemed to my 'diary self' to be unnecessary and 'unfair', but perhaps this only indicates that I had bought in to the British government's  image of effortless surgical power. At a stroke this illusion was destroyed, but we have to note that as a military tactic this action was extremely effective, because it kept the entire Argentine navy bottled up in port for the rest of the war.

{6,7} Daggers, Pucaras, Canberra, various types of Argentinian military aircraft.

{8} The Sheffield was hit by a single French-made Exocet air-to-surface missile, sustained enormous damage, lost 20 men to burns and blast injuries, caught fire and had to be abandoned, later sinking. This was another pivotal moment, immediately following the Belgrano. It was really shocking to see how vulnerable a modern ship could be to a single missile. It gave the impression that the modern Royal Navy made its ships out of plastic. Perhaps even worse, the incident showed that the much-vaunted anti-missile-missile defences had failed. If they failed here, was any part of the fleet safe? Was all this fantastic new military hardware just spin?

{9} The Harrier 'jump jets' were another part of the 'proud to be British' weapons systems, assumed to be superior in every way to the second-hand Argentinian kit. One did not expect to lose any at all, certainly not so early.

{10} This expression shows the fluid emotional narratives going on in my mind. Are wars really like football matches? When the England soccer team plays Argentina away it expects to lose. They are worthy opponents. When England play Leichtenstein there is a tendency to root for the underdog: it's 'not fair'. You can see my mind switching between these points of view.

{11} I cannot remember this joke, but of course there were lots, denigrating the Argentine troops and talking up the Tommies; no doubt in Argentina the same jokes were told the other way round.

{12} Famously, HMS Hood, pride of the Royal Navy, was sunk by the Bismarck in 1941, apparently by one lucky shell penetrating the main magazine and blowing up the whole ship.

{13} See remarks at 8 above. It was so difficult to believe that a whole ship could be sunk by one missile that I was asking myself could it have been just a single lucky shot (like the Hood), or were all the destroyers equally vulnerable? Later events showed it was not merely a lucky shot.

{14} In the original MS there are a couple of paragraph lines, as if I went away for a while and finished later. Yet I am quoting from a newspaper of 5th May, so presumably it was written on the same day.

{15} This is a theme I keep returning to in the diaries: how should we evaluate the interests of the Falkland Islanders? What should they be compared with?  In the UK people are forcibly removed from places where they have no formal permission to live, or through compulsory purchase in the case of major infrastructure projects. Or whole communities are forced to move because local livelihoods (like mines) are summarily closed. Is it a question of interests, or principles? Which principles?