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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 March 2007, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
The Falkland Islands way
By Brian Hanrahan
BBC News, Stanley

Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands 25 years ago, triggering a brief, but bitter war in which 655 Argentines and 255 British servicemen lost their lives. The BBC correspondent who famously said in 1982: "I counted them all out and I counted them all back," has been back to report on life there now.

Sheep in a pen
Fishing and sheep farming are the main economic activities

There is one question that Falkland islanders always get asked: "Why do you live here?"

It is not so much the weather or the landscape, bleak though both can be. It is the isolation.

The population is a whisker under 3,000 and they have none of the distractions most of the world takes for granted... no cinema and hardly any shops. They can watch the TV channel fed to the British base but have no station of their own.

It is a world where everyone knows everyone and the only social distractions are other people's lives.

Shades of green

Living in this social goldfish bowl, however, is not to everyone's taste.

I was being driven out of Stanley one morning which showed the islands at their best.

On one side the rock tumbles of the mountains slithering down from the clouds, on the other a sparkling ocean under a sky of purest, unpolluted blue.

View of Stanley from Mount Longdon
We can now see more clearly what it was Britain went to war to preserve

In between was a rainbow of greens. It seemed impossible that there could be so many shades, so many hues of such different intensity and they could all be the same colour.

Amid the small talk about the scenery, the young man who was driving suddenly told me how much he disliked the place - nothing to do, nowhere to go, nobody to meet - and that everybody knew too much about him.

He was off to England and could not wait to get out.

But my guess is he will be back.

Most young people leave the islands at 16 to finish their education but nearly all of them return once they have had a taste of the outside world.

Tourist trail

The lifestyle of the islands is distinctive and it is theirs. And however much it puzzles visitors, they want to keep it.

Map of the Falkland Islands

Take Debbie Summers who has come back to the islands with a degree in business studies.

On the jetty she meets tourists off the cruise ships wearing a brightly coloured knitted hat with woollen antlers bouncing up and down.

Debbie is an impressive businesswoman creating a new industry.

Cruise ships like to stop in at the Falklands.

She organises their day trips to see penguins, or sheep shearing, or war cemeteries, or just the neat rows of white-washed cottages straight out of an earlier age.

There were 6,000 trippers one day and it takes a lot of ingenuity to entertain them among just 3,000 islanders.

And it is bringing money into the islands.

'Easy bond'

Debbie's family left after the war.

She says then the Falklands were a very sombre place but once she had finished her education she could not wait to come back.

Major General Sir Jeremy Moore
Major General Sir Jeremy Moore was the commander of the British Land Forces during the Falklands conflict

"People died for our system," she says.

They talk easily of the war here and their gratitude. This is no forgotten episode.

But it is not just the many memorials, or streets named after military leaders like Colonel H Jones or Major General Jeremy Moore. There is a very easy bond between the veterans who visit and the islanders.

Both share vivid memories and there is not anywhere else that British troops go back to old battlefields and find they are on home turf, being thanked for what they did by their own people.

And that brings me to the question that I am always asked: " Was it worth it?", as if somehow the accident of observing a war gave me a right to judge it.

But this trip has helped me put some things into perspective.

After the war the islanders were, understandably, gloomy.

They were grateful but also disgruntled about the way their lives had been messed up.

But now the pain caused by the fighting has passed and it is much easier to see what sort of society Britain went to war to protect.

Isolation once served as a shield to keep the world at bay but now it is more like a badge which shows the distinctiveness of life here and outsiders are welcome to share it, if it is to their taste.

That has encouraged an entrepreneurial spirit and set off a search for new businesses like tourism and mineral exploration.

It leaves a community which is happy, prosperous and part of the wider world but at the same time, keeping some distance from it.

The war was fought for political, not economic reasons, to protect a community whose origins, attitudes and aspirations are all British.

On the other side of the equation, after Iraq (twice), Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, we as a country, have more experience of what it costs to use military force.

So was it worth it?

I suppose the answer depends on whether, knowing what we know now, we would do it again.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 31 March, 2007 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Falklands War veterans talk to Timewatch in Remember the Galahad at 2100BST on Monday 2 April on BBC Two.


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