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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Falklands: Was the UK right to go to war?
It is 20 years ago since Argentine troops invaded the Falkland Islands, provoking Britain's biggest military deployment since World War II.
On 2 April 1982, soldiers from Argentina's elite Buzo Tactico unit backed by a landing party of conventional soldiers captured the remote British colony, prompting former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to send a task force 8,000 miles south to recapture the islands.
The conflict cost the lives of 655 Argentinean and 255 British servicemen.
Images of the war, including the sinking of the cruiser Belgrano, explosion on board the HMS Antelope, bombing of the landing ship HMS Sir Galahad and the battles at Goose Green and Wireless Ridge, remain vivid in many Britons' memories.
But 20 years on the mood between those who fought in the conflict is much more one of reconciliation.
What is your opinion of the Falklands war 20 years on? Was Britain right to go to war? What are your memories of the conflict?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
It should be up to the inhabitants of the Falklands to choose to which country they want to belong. As far as I know all people living on the islands are of British descent and have never wished to be transferred to Argentina. Therefore it was completely justified for Britain to defend its subjects overseas from foreign invasion. The fact that the war helped to topple the fascist dictatorship in Argentina is an added bonus for that country.
I find some comments baffling. We live in a democratic society were the will of the majority rules. The majority of people in the Falklands and Gibraltar want to stay part of the UK. What is some people's problem?
The war is right? No arguments matter - a war is never right. Loss of life is never right, and pain is never right .
John Morales, USA
The Falklands is an occupied territory along with Northern Ireland. Come on guys where is your empathy for the oppressed now? (Oh I get it - its different when you are the oppressors)!
If the Americans on here (Dave and Khan) feel so strongly about Imperialism why don't they ask their country to return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, pay Spain Reparations for the Guam, Puerto Rican, and the Philippine Wars, and return huge tracts of the Prairies to their rightful owners, the Plains Indians?
And I'm not going to even mention the $3 billion dollars they give to Israel every year.
Over the last few days there are on BBC and other channels debates and stories of the British war in the Falkland Islands which is thousands of miles away from England. However, when Israel stands up to aggression and murder of its people, children and women on its high holidays by Palestinian murderers the entire world is upset. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the Palestinians should agree to its existence.
Yes we were right to go to war. What would it have said to other countries if we let the Argentineans walk all over us. We had a big empire once, we've got to fight for what we had left. We would have looked like a push over, then where would we be now. British Army 1976-1985.
To the UK posters who want the US government to return land to the Native Americans, you too have forgotten your history. The land grab/theft was begun by the British, French and Spanish - America didn't exist then, we were a variety of colonies suffering under your imperialism. I have to wonder if these sarcastic comments are simple, cowardly anti-Americanism or if you also advocate that the Canadian government return its land to their native people's? I thought not!
We did have the right because we have the right to defend the Falklands against the Argentineans because if we didn't defend the Falklands then that might have given the Spanish a hint that we might not be bothered to defend Gibraltar.
Graham, Glasgow, UK
When the war first broke out I was all for Argentina taking the Islands. As time has gone by and I have had a chance to reflect on this event, I have come to the conclusion that England had every right to take them back by force. In my own view, the Generals who conducted this war were cowardly and inept. Sending young inexperienced 17 year old conscripts to fight against a professional force of impeccable quality. I am surprised about how well the Argentine forces accounted themselves. It is a sorry part of Argentine history which could not have been avoided because those in charge were just too stupid to realise that they were slapping England in the face. How the hell was England supposed to act?
We have rights to neither Gibraltar nor the Falklands and the sooner we release these territories to the rightful owners the better.
While I of course never approve of British Imperialism and think that those of you who speak with relish or pride over it are silly, I think the war was justified. I mean, when you reach a certain point, you have to look at reality and not theoretical nonsense. The Falklands were clearly a British possession and Argentina had no right to them, and certainly no right to try to take them by force. Just as all modern learned nations, we all must regret past actions by our imperialistic forefathers, but that doesn't mean we give up common sense and start signing over territory to every dictator who claims to represent and impressed people.
War is never a good solution to any problem. Having said that, Britain had a right to protect its citizens no matter where on the map they are located. Just because Argentina is within spitting distance of the Falklands, does not mean it has a legitimate claim on them. There are two small islands off the east coast of Canada called St. Pierre and Miquelon. These islands and its residents are French and have been since colonial times. It has just remained a fact of history which remains uncontested. The residents' wishes should always be taken into consideration, rather than be pawns of countries settling old scores.
Once the Falklands had been invaded then of course we had no option but to reclaim them by force. The things that ought to be questioned are the reasons it was allowed to ever reach that point, surely our intelligence had an inkling of the events that were unfolding. Also the "Belgrano" was sunk under extremely dubious circumstances. I would never ever criticise armed forces of any nation for their participation in these wars, they are only doing what their political masters ask them to do. Finally from reading most of these forums on a daily basis, do they teach history in the schools of our former colony across the Atlantic?
Khan Kabir, USA is comparing apples to oranges. Hong Kong was a rented property. It was returned at the end of the lease period as agreed.
Why should you British apologize or even think you need to when a nation directly challenged your territorial rights, not through negotiations, but through direct military assault? There is no need to even talk like this. It dishonours those who died in this war and defended the rights of your nation. Aggression against your authority over your territory, and your checking it should never be apologized for. A question like this, encourages further aggression, because it shows weakness of will. Thank God you had Lady Thatcher during those days and not whoever is asking this question.
No one argues that Margaret Thatcher didn't derive huge electoral benefit from the successful outcome to the Falklands conflict but what choice did she have? Had she thrown in the towel at the outset she would doubtless have been forced from office. The successful outcome to the conflict provoked ugly jingoism in some sections of the UK but overall it shocked the Government into a reappraisal of its previously complacent attitude towards defence and foreign policy. Britain may not have an empire but it still has global responsibilities.
I must apologize to your readers for the outburst by "DAVE, USA." One can no more judge the present generation by the deeds of the past in England any more than we, in the US, should be vilified for slavery 150 years ago. The Falkland's war was unfortunate for both sides, but was necessary lest any nation with an old grievance decides to take part of another's land without asking. I am proud that the US was able to assist Great Britain in the endeavour. Dave has the perfect right to have his opinion voiced - we just don't have to agree with him. Hmmmm, perhaps Argentina would grant him political asylum?
Dave: If the Brits are such a terrible lot, why are you logging on to the BBC site? Stick with your own home-grown propaganda news networks which portray brave kindly Americans saving weak pathetic nations from evil cowardly people. Right or wrong, at least the British government didn't sell the war as a crusade against human rights abusers, as America does every time it pursues a war of national self interest.
In response to Paul Yeomans, Australia in exactly which war did the USA make money? Did we make enough to even begin to reimburse us for, say, the Marshall Plan (which, since you manifestly have no knowledge of history, in today's dollars poured hundreds of billions of dollars into rebuilding Europe)? While I can certainly understand an Anglophile's statement that the USA was Britain's only serious failure(!) I think it would behove you to read the history of India, Pakistan, Ireland, and, by gosh, the Middle East to get a more clear picture of the "greatness" of the British Empire.
Paul Yeomans of Australia should understand that Australia was "Americanised" so quickly because it has no culture or identity of its own. It's just a backwater pseudo-British colony. Don't they still have the Queen of England on their Australian "dollar"?
Dave from the USA. What can I say, Australia was a British Colony and is a fantastic country, free and generally happy, its only in the past 10-15 years since we've become more Americanised that Australias lifestyle, society, etc has deteriorated. I suppose its OK for the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, etc to help the USA invade Afganistan, Korea, and Vietnam (except for the Brits in Vietnam) The USA (so I believe) is the only country to have made money from war. The British are stoic and loyal, not foccused on profit. The USA is Britains only serious failure, and unfortunately the whole world has to pay for it. Cheers Dave.
Well 'Dave, USA' I don't think you've made any friends here. The USA has much to thank the British Empire for, it laid alot of the foundations for English and later American culture all over the world. Lets not forget it was the largest Empire any country has ever been in control of ever. Quite a feat I think you will admit for such a small country. You only have to see the respect for Great Britain and the lack of respect for the USA across the world to realise one of us is doing something right. On the subject of the Falklands, it is British soil and was invaded by another country, enough said.
I would like to respond to Dave from the US - the Falkland Islands have been occupied by British inhabitants for almost as long as the US has existed. We therefore had every right to protect our territories and our people where ever they may be. Following on from his views of British occupation over history, does he think then that the US should return Alaska to Russia, give up Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, etc and return the US to the native Indians?
Yes it was right. Regardless of who has sovereign rights over the land you cannot allow countries to invade lands and get away with it. If Dave from the USA actually bothered to read the history of the islands he would note that the islands were first settled by the French in 1764 although the first recorded landing was by the British in 1690. So where was Argentina then (actually as a country they didn't exist until around 1816). So if his views are to be followed throughout the world should his land be returned to the native Indians (somehow I don't think he will agree).
Dave from the USA may wish to check his facts. The Falklands were previously ruled by France and Spain - never Argentina; so they couldn't have been 'returned' to the Argentineans. Also, it was under local pressure due to religious differences that India was split - not due to an autocratic regime. On the subject of autocratic regimes... how can the USA justify funding and supporting a country (Israel) that has been breaking UN resolutions far longer than Iraq?
However, there is an argument of whether or not is was worth the lives of the soldiers that died in the conflict.
Paul Sutton: not another rabid, unthinking, hyper-critical, myopic America-basher, are we? Take a good look at your own country's record, instead of just giving it lip service before running through yet another litany of America's faults (both real and imagined).
Dave from USA: Not a rabid Anglophobe Irish-American by any chance are we? Sure, Britain has things to be ashamed of, but take a good look at your own country's record. You could start with genocide of the native Americans after independence. And then maintaining slavery for decades after the British abolished it. Then there's uncritical support for Israel in its occupation and humiliation of the Palestinian people. And sponsoring genocide in Central America. And we've not even mentioned Vietnam!
We were absolutely right to fight for the Falkland Islands. As for Dave's comments from the USA, what wars have they ever won on their own? What about America's underhand work in the Middle East?
Dave in the USA really should get his facts right. We did not "divide and separate India" as he suggests. It was partitioned during independence and before that was ruled by numerous warring Maharajas who had kept the area in distress for centuries. It is also hard to return the Falklands to Argentina when they never owned them in the first place and the people there wanted to be British. Perhaps we should return the USA to the Native Americans and let the poor downtrodden Americans live under what would be to them, a foreign rule.
I totally support the stance Britain took during the Falklands and salute the bravery of the men and women who were there.
James Tumbridge, UK/Canada
A failing dictatorship sort to re-establish its popularity by 'winning back' a lost piece of land. Unfortunately they had not counted on the opposition, Thatcher, who at the time represented another failing leadership who also saw a perfect opportunity to become popular again. As a result nearly a thousand men died over a piece of baron rock with more sheep than people and an average temperature that rarely gets over 10 degrees centigrade. What was the point?
I agree with Nigel Barker - his assessment of the background to the invasion is absolutely accurate, even though most commentators seem to have chosen to conveniently ignore the facts that he points out.
Of course Mrs. Thatcher was right to attempt to re-take the Falklands: it was, after all, her own lack of foresight in running down the Navy and retiring the ice-breaker "Endurance", that encouraged the Argentines to invade in the first place.
And let us hear no more of this ignorant ranting about returning the islands to Argentina: they have never been part of Argentina and so cannot be returned!
Argentina, at the time, was ruled by a military dictatorship, with opponents and critics simply "vanishing". Think what you like, but the Falkland Island penguins deserve better. The problem is, war should never have occurred at all. Where was British Intelligence? Invasions don't just spring up out of nothing. What did No. 10 know, and when did they know it?
I'm saddened when people say that it was right to "protect our citizens", "putting the Great back in Britain" etc. Talk is cheap. Those inhabitants were never in mortal danger and therefore it was immoral to sacrifice the lives of young men on both sides, just to assert a doubtful sovereignty. Negotiation was under way and there was no real urgency, but Maggie couldn't wait to stir up some jingoistic feeling and secure the next election. Ten out of ten for tactics, nought out of ten for morality. The loss of 900 lives, plus countless injured, to assert the sovereignty of a population of 2500 just does not add up. They should have been repatriated to a remote part of the British Isles.
Why didn't Britain 'fight' for Hong Kong, a much more valuable country, but fight for a piece of rock-Falklands? Because they simply won't win against the overwhelming Chinese military. Yes, to this day, all the trouble spots in the world are the creations of the British subjugative imperialism of yesteryear. Africa, India, Ireland, and the Mid East to name a few.
Christopher Healy, UK
I think it's a worthwhile piece of rock to protect. It has British citizens there and gives us a clumsy claim to parts of the Antarctic as well as the oil in the area.
How can a whole country like Argentina founded on colonialism claim more justly than us, a couple of little islands?
Of course we were right to retake the Falklands by military means. If for no other reason, the way the Argentine Junta's treat their own people, did not bode well for the Islanders. However, lets not forget that the decision by Thatcher to invade was taken with own political future in mind. Had she not retaken the Falklands, then her career was up the spout!
She was repeatedly warned about Argentina's intentions, not least by the captain of the Endurance. She ignored him as the Endurance was being de-commissioned and she felt he was trying to prolong the ship's life. It was the brilliant organising skills of our Civil Service and our magnificent servicemen and women who were the heroes. It sickens me that Thatcher claims so much credit, when her terrible decisions led to the appalling loss of life.
I do think our troops did a tactically impressive and brave job in the battle for the islands, but it is time for us to grow up, stop waving our flag over pieces of rock thousands of miles away and accept what the long-term future holds for the Falklands Islands.
I can't believe the comments of Jan. Obviously a person without a patriotic bone in their body. What about the rights of those living in the Falklands who have a right to live under the British flag? If the French invaded the Isle of White would we not do the same thing?
It is a great shame we no longer have the backbone within the government nor the armed forces to stand up for our own people. Indeed we don't even defend our own island from the invaders by stealth that come in through the tunnel and via our airports. A sad indication of our declining standing in the world.
Yes, it was right to go to war for the Falkland Islands. If Argentina had a legitimate claim they should have gone through International courts, not just invaded. They did so to try to whip up their own jingoistic support for the junta that ruled their country at that time.
It is not like Hong Kong where there was always a time-limit on the treaty, and the plain fact is that the Islanders then and now wished to remain under British control. If the UK cannot or will not protect her citizens then she is failing them. More recognition should be given to the service personnel who gave their lives, their health and their sanity to that conflict, however. More support should be available to our forces during and after such conflicts to help people through PTSD etc.
It is hard to say definitively whether it was right or wrong. I think that the principle of defending innocent people from an outside aggressor is a morally correct one. The problem I have is that the Thatcher government used the conflict for party political ends, using it to cover up domestic ineptitude, and also foreign policy mistakes, which, don't forget, led to the resignation of Lord Carrington, the Foreign Secretary. The War also made Britain an uncomfortable place to live, with jingoism and xenophobia commonplace. In short, I have very mixed feelings about that particular conflict
Yes, Britain was right to go to war to defend it's citizens on the Falkland Islands. It's just a little ironic, that twenty years after the event, Tony Blair is willing to hand Gibraltar over to Spain without a shot being fired.
Jon Cooper, UK
Yes, Britain was right to got to war. The Argentines invaded part of the UK, so what else could we do? Roll over and say: "Have the islands." Our fellow countrymen and women live and work there, and have just as many rights as us living on the mainland. We spend so much money on the military and defence - what for? To defend our country - whether it be the mainland or outlying areas.
The question is whether we are willing to protect our citizens against an invading country. If we failed to act in the Falklands it could only have sent a clear message to any potential aggressors that we would allow them to trample over any peaceful group of British people who are unable to defend themselves. The only reason for not becoming involved would have been if the vast majority of the inhabitants actually wanted to become part of Argentina. This was quite clearly not the case.
My enduring memory is of a jingoistic Thatcher claiming that British sovereignty in The Falklands "has never been in doubt", when in fact, up to that moment, the history books show that it had always been a highly contentious issue. That said, I think Britain was right to throw out an invading army which had been instructed to resolve this long running debate by brute force. The fact that resolving the immediate problem cost 255 British lives, plus many more injured mentally and physically, was effectively the tragic price of making a point to any future would-be invaders of British ruled territories and protectorates. Incidentally, it is hardly surprising, that the Falkland Islanders have refused to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the start of the conflict - after all, there can't be many instances of a people choosing to celebrate the day when they were invaded.
The comments made by the likes of Mr. Barnett for me equate to the type of jingoistic rubbish that was peddled to the British public by the Thatcher government through iron-fisted media controls at this time. I wonder if the like of Mr. Barnett had even heard of the Falklands Islands before the conflict. One look at the world map shows that if anyone has claim to the Islands it is the Argentines and not the British. The unfortunate thing about debate on subjects like this is that some people seem to think that the United Kingdom is still an imperial superpower.
It is right that we went to war. If we had sold out on the Falklands, within a matter of months we would have found ourselves selling out to the Spanish over Gibraltar.
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18 Mar 02 | UK Politics
The Falklands: 20 years on
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