The War of Thatcher's Face

I’ve never understood the credit Margaret Thatcher was given for sending British troops to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982.

The decision to send the Task Force was certainly a gamble but it was by no means brave. Had it failed she would have been gone as Prime Minister: no doubt.

But it was a gamble she simply had to take. Had the troops not been sent her position would have been equally precarious. She could not have sat back and allowed Argentina to keep the Falklands (the Malvinas as we would now know them) by force majeure. She would have been gone within months if not weeks. A British Prime Minister not able to defend British sovereign territory? The Tory party never would take kindly to that.

This was what I like to call the War of Thatcher’s Face. She had to send the troops, had to win, to save face, to preserve her position. Such a decision is the opposite of brave. It isn’t a decision at all. It was almost – but not quite – what in chess is called zugzwang (forced to move) except in Thatcher’s case there was the faint possibility of success.

That the Argentines would turn out to be pretty duff at fusing their bombs correctly and also at enthusing and supporting their soldiers in the field was by no means apparent when the decision had to be made.

It was gamble or die (politically die.) Without that choice she would have been nothing but an ignominious footnote in British History; as opposed to one of the most contentious PMs of recent times.

Nor did I understand the ecstatic reception she was afforded by the islanders themselves when she visited later that year.

If I had been a Falkland Islander I’d have been berating her for allowing the Argentine invasion to occur in the first place – even for encouraging it.

In the end she had no other decision to make – if only because the situation had arisen because she allowed it to.

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