Why are the Argentines so obsessed?
This was a dismal week thirty years ago.
A very nasty military junta, which had already killed over 20,000 of its own people – many thrown out of helicopters over the open ocean – had seized a far away British territory and made it its own. We were in shock.
And so the Falkland Islands burst upon the world scene and became a cause celebre – at least for the British nation.
Of all the many campaigns our assertive little country has ever fought, this had to be the bravest of them all… some said almost suicidally so; certainly foolhardy in the extreme, said others.
Our connections with the south polar regions have always been very great. Cook sailed into them in his search for the great ‘southern continent’ before he became almost ice locked and was forced to turn tail. The intrepid Ernest Shackleton almost made it to the pole and our very own Plymouth hero Captain Scott was mourned again this very week on the 100th anniversary of his poignant and tragic death.
It has always been a very great puzzle to me as to why Argentina obsesses, as it does, about the Falkland Islands and why it believes it has a better legal claim to them than we do.
It was, after all, the English navigator John Davis who first discovered them in 1592. And the British first established a permanent settlement as long ago as 1765 – over seventy years before Argentina came into existence.
In today’s world, the United Nations makes the wishes of the inhabitants of a disputed territory the deciding factor. Does anybody doubt for a second what those wishes would be?
Iceland is not a great deal more distant from Britain than are the Falklands from Argentina. What would the world say were we to state that Iceland should rightfully belong to us?
And what about the Channel Islands, only 10 miles from France and 90 miles from us? I don’t hear the French playing up about them.
My thoughts on the Falklands are simple: history is on our side, as well as that little matter of possession being nine-tenths of the law. What’s more, we’ve paid in blood to overturn Argentine aggression.
They stay ours until the inhabitants decide otherwise.
While blood can never be redeemed, expenses can; and to secure them against future aggression, they have been huge. So get up that oil and quickly!
Our balance of payments deficit can be mightily relieved by a bonanza hugely greater than the north sea.
Should Argentina be so foolish as to try to intimidate the oil companies already operating there then the British Government should state unequivocally to underwrite any risks that such silly threats are thought to pose to those operations.
Long ago – thirty years in fact – I made an attempt to summarise that heroic conflict in verse. This might seem a good moment to share the thoughts I had at that time with my readers.
The last of the colonial wars
Was strangely in a noble cause:
A far off people, few but strong,
Knew in their hearts where they belonged;
Their island home to most unknown
Would tug at Albion like a bone:
Assaulted for its wind-lashed bogs,
Its distant owners viewed as dogs;
Sad days for Argentina, these:
How could its despots seek to please
A tortured land in Fascist claws?
But rouse them in a long-lost cause,
The British state seemed not to care:
Its woes so great its chest would bare;
Now was the time to strike and win,
And quell its people’s clamorous din!
The world awoke that April day
To find that Spain’s child now held sway;
A stunned and humbled Britain gasped:
Depression reigned but would not last;
A steely thought ran through the land
That such an outrage must not stand;
The empire’s day it knew was done,
But never did its soldiers run;
The islanders sought firm redress;
Their injured pleas brought dire distress:
They were not Latin folk in chains,
But free-born Brits they stoutly claimed;
At any other time but this,
The men in London would resist
A rescue from across the world;
But now was firm defiance hurled:
A Boudicca was come to power,
Though some around would only cower;
At lightning speed her ships set forth,
To 50 South from 50 North;
Long years of cringing fell away
As Britons cheered them on their way;
Then silence fell as weeks progressed,
With fearful thoughts and risks assessed;
Its one-time child, the USA,
Could only look on in dismay:
A war between its two allies
Could rupture one of these two ties;
How hard she tried to arbitrate,
Then left the despots to their fate;
For Latin pride stood in the way
And now was come the time to pay!
Ships at length reached southern waters:
Skull and Crossbones meant no quarter;
The pride of Argentina’s fleet
Went plunging to the icy deep;
Now did the blood begin to flow
As combat raged with woe on woe;
For freedom comes at heavy price:
The toll is death when fools play dice;
Malvinas?… now read Falkland Isles:
The settlers there could once more smile;
In Latin parts more despots fell:
Their foul regimes consigned to hell.