As Argentina illegally ratchets up the pressure on our fellow UK citizens via blockades and laughable rhetoric, thirty years on it is worth looking at why we had to fight this war at all…
“Razors Edge: The War in the Falklands”, by Hugo Bicheno
Hugo Bicheno is a polemicist historian and his work should always be viewed in this context. He is Right Wing and unashamed of it, and has an enthusiastic hatred of the EU, Trade Unions and the BBC, amongst other things, and such prejudices pervade his work making it somehow all the more entertaining.
He describes the BBC coverage of the War as “Fifth Columnist”, and one particular item filed as “pure treachery”, and for some strange reason he informs us that a certain section of the Paras “are enthusiastic homosexuals”. All very bizarre.
Nevertheless this is a cracking, stimulating and thought provoking read written in an easy style, but meticulously researched, especially in the second section which deals in minute detail with the tactics and conduct of the War.
His conclusions are hardly startling; that we won in no small part to luck and a badly organised enemy, and right up until the last day of the conflict we were one minor Argentine success away from total humiliation.
The stories that come out of the latest theatres in which the MOD are involved, that of shoddy equipment in short supply, would all ring true to Falklands veterans, as it really does seem that we make it up we go along, no matter what lessons could and should have been learnt from this squalid and base conflict, replete with fixed bayonets and hand to hand fighting.
As a fourteen year old it seemed eminently right that we fought this War, a view I hold today despite having gone through all the arguments advanced by certain sections of the Left and the anti war movement.
The parallels that the likes of Nick Cohen and the Euston Group draw with Iraq, that it is a war of Liberation against Fascism, simply don’t add up as the aftermath has shown as Saddam was ejected from power and nine years on the volume of spilt blood shows no sign of abating.
Back then British Citizens were invaded and subjugated by a nation that had no right to be there.
The Falklands were uninhabited and occupied by European settlers, as was the rest of the American Continent. Argentina, as a nation derived from European Imperialism, has no more rights over the Islands than we do so their so called “claim” is based on nothing much.
“I will never hand over our people to a bunch of fucking Fascists”. Not Thatcher, but her predecessor Jim Callaghan speaking in 1978 when noises were emanating from Buenos Aries regarding sovereignty over the Islands. He sent a Nuclear Sub down there, the Junta realised he meant business and backed off.
Come the Thatcher era she saw no problems in doing business with said Fascists who profited from lucrative deals with British companies, who like their PM had no qualms about the Dirty War which Galtieri was waging against his own people resulting in thousands of souls just disappearing into thin air.
They perceived Thatcher, and the UK, which was in meltdown as a whole, as weak and seized their chance.
What the Argentines failed to grasp was the British sense of Fair Play. What the Junta had done was seen by even an old Pacifist such as Michael Foot as just out and out wrong. Bullying of the worst kind from a gangster regime.
Bicheno goes through the War cock up by cock up, and isn’t afraid to point the finger of blame, indeed Col. H Jones is not immune, nor are the Officers who allowed prisoner execution and the keeping of sick trophies (ear lobes in one case).
It seems amazing, but in order to effect the disastrous landing at Bluff Cove, a senior Officer PHONED UP a farmer in the vicinity to see if the Argentine troops had pulled back. This had no affect on the tragedy that followed but it certainly is a marker of what total chaos reigned amongst acts of individual fortitude and bravery.
The old Lions Led by Donkeys epitaph springs to mind.
Interestingly Thatcher is barely mentioned and I get the distinct impression that the War was won despite, not because of her incessant meddling with Operational matters, the only time it WAS necessary was when she rightly ordered the destruction of the Belgrano, though why she lied about it afterwards I have no idea.
War is war after all, so stupid distinctions and arbitrary Exclusion Zones have always seemed to me to smack of faux morality. Our ships were exposed in the Bomb Alley of the Falkland Sound, and yet we could not bomb the airfields on the mainland from whence the planes came? Bizarre.
The author was born and raised in South America and the UK, thus we get more of a balanced approach as he can read the documents and interview the protagonists in their native tongues, although if I have one criticism it is the lack of interview transcripts and direct quotes.
If you want to understand this conflict 30 years on, then this book fulfils the task. It does people on the Left good to read things from a different angle. You never know, we could even learn summat.