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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.

Falklands Invasion Shock

I’ve been hearing all day on the news about Margaret Thatcher’s “shock” on being told of the intelligence about the imminent Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

Why is this being presented/spun as being to her credit? She is said not to have believed that the Argentines would invade. Yet this is despite the fact that she must have had advisers who had warned her of the possibility.

It was only some months after the war, during the Franks inquiry, that she said the things being quoted. She certainly professes shock. But then she had to. She also told the inquiry that immediately after the invasion no-one knew whether Britain could retake the islands. “We did not know – we did not know,” she said.

May I provide a translation? “I’m afraid for my job here. If I don’t wriggle out of this I’ll have to resign.”

Never forget that it was her Government’s decision, for reasons of economy, to withdraw prematurely the Antarctic Survey ship HMS Endurance that sent the signal to the Argentines that Britain was no longer interested in its southern domains and gave them cause to believe the Falklands were theirs for the taking (and keeping.)

Many people at the time (some, like the good lady, still to this day) saw this as Thatcher engineering the conflict. If she is innocent of this charge and that act was simple incompetence then she was – and is – still culpable. I well remember David Owen, Foreign Secretary in the previous Labour Government, saying in a television interview that they had at one time despatched a nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic to warn the Argentines off – a fact which must have been in the minds of Civil Servants in Thatcher’s time.

I also remember Mrs Thatcher quoting the Franks Report in her contribution to the Parliamentary debate following its publication that, “No-one could have foreseen that the Argentines would attack at that time and on that day.”

As I said at the time to whoever would listen: I cannot foresee the exact time and day that it will rain again; but I do know that it will.

Interesting Times

Sometimes I feel that we live in a Chinese curse.

Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and now Libya. Where will it end?

Of course I thought the world had gone to hell in a handcart when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas if you prefer.) In my whole memory up to then the British Army had not been involved in a full blown shooting war. (Now it seems they’ll never be out of one.)

Then there was the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that followed.

I remember once seeing Enoch Powell on Parkinson and laughing at the old codger when he referred to the “Dutch East Indies.”

Now it’s me who is a bit of an old codger. I still think of St Petersburg as Leningrad as that was its name when I visited on a school cruise in the 1970s.

I have to scoff though when Mr Irresponsible and his sidekick William Hague stand up for the rights of street protestors.

That’ll be fine except when it occurs in the UK then, eh?

OK, arrest people who break the law by smashing windows or throw stuff and the like, but what is kettling and thumps on the head or back with a truncheon if not repression?

And kettles boil, do they not? Or is that the object of the exercise?

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