Monday 8 April 2013

Maggie's War

I do not have a strong opinion one way or the other on Margaret Thatcher or her legacy. You probably know as much or more about her than I do, especially if you've seen the movie.

If I were playing word association, the first thing that would come to my mind when you say "Margaret Thatcher" is "Falkland Islands". I remember nothing of how Thatcher governed her nation but the Falklands War made a big impression on me.

It was the first war I remember, and it was very exciting. Every evening Knowlton Nash would host a special edition of The National on CBC and give an update on the progress of the war, with maps and footage and stats. I was allowed to stay up and watch this because, I guess, it was a unique opportunity.

It ended up being more unique than one might have predicted at the time. I cannot think of a war since that was fought with the same honour, if you will, or gamesmanship. Every war since, that I recall at least, has involved dirty tactics or massive civilian casualties -- snipers shooting people in the streets, terrorists planting mines and IEDs, car bombs, unmanned drones, mortars fired recklessly into a city or neighboring country, combatants disguised as civilians, genocidal slaughters, etc.

War is always a terrible thing, but modern war is absolutely appalling

I guess this is why I look back almost fondly at the Falklands war. I don't wish to glamourize it or romanticize it, but it was a classic war. A traditional battle between two countries duking it out over a hunk of land. No other countries got involved. Nobody else got hurt. There was Country A (Argentina) claiming a group of islands as its own, and Country B (the UK) defending it's claim of those islands. And ... there was a clear winner.

Britain, with its sizable navy, had a smaller but crafty opponent to contend with. Argentina had fighters armed with French-made Exocet missiles that, when dropped from a jet, would race just above the surface of the water and blast a hole in the hull of the ship, if the ship's defenses failed to blow it out of the air first. The Brits lost the HMS Sheffield in this way. I can't imagine the stress of being on a ship with one of those missiles heading towards me.

In all there were 907 casualties, of which only 3 were civilian. That is 3 too many, but that ratio beats the hell out of any recent war you've seen or read about.

Watching the war on TV, I was certainly aware that people were dying and understood what that meant, but the sacrifice and suffering didn't really register. That's certainly part of it too. For me it was more like a game or my evening entertainment. I am now much more cognizant of the impacts that war can have because I'm older, I know people who have been there, but also because technology has brought the impacts in front of my face in high definition. Any given day you can turn on BBC or Al Jezeera or even The National and see video of dead bodies and devastated families in Syria or elsewhere.

Margaret Thatcher spoke later of the wrenching decision to go to war with Argentina. It was a difficult decision for her, but if you're unwilling to defend your land, even small islands populated mostly by sheep, then you've lost much of your legitimacy as a nation. It's as good a reason to go to war as I can think.

But the world has changed and I don't think we'll see another war like that again. There will be plenty of wars .. just none as simple and noble. Unless .. perhaps .. Denmark decides to lay claim to Hans Island.


Anonymous said...

The issue of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is still unresolved, Argentina still claims the islands.

cherenkov said...

Argentina may still believe they have a claim to the islands, but for all intents and purposes the issue is resolved until such time as Argentina attempts to retake them.

Anonymous said...

Falkland a war, you got to be kidding me, as for mags, well she did say the biggest problem ith socialist countries was that they always run out of money, alllllllrighty then, there,s the hole, drop her in and fill it up.

Anonymous said...

If you talk to residents from the Falklands they clearly identify as British. The have a long memories and they recall Argentina trying to invade their islands and holding them captive (literally). Should Argentina ever be successful in reclaiming the islands, it will displace the 5,000 inhabitants as they would never be okay with being Argentinian. Shouldn't the people who reside on the land have the ability to democratically decide which country to be a part of?

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