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Fight for the Falklands: Twenty years on
Introduction
My war story
Guide to the conflict

'I saw Sir Galahad burn'
Falklands map
The first day

The Argentine military's lost cause
My war story


Sir John Nott
Carlos Escude
Mark Shurben-Browne
Ruben Rada
Sir Rex Hunt
General Menendez
Jose Luis Ferreira
Bob Mullen
Augusto Bedacarratz
A few days before Argentina invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982, its military government had been in power for five years. Hours earlier the invasion, the historic Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires had been occupied by protests against the regime. The same square would later fill with thousands celebrating the recovery of the islands. Agentinian historian Carlos Escude recalls the days.

In March 1976 there had been a coup in Argentina which paved the way for the most repressive dictatorship of the century in our country: a total of 10,000 disappeared, and that's a conservative estimate - it may have been about 30,000. This coup, like all the others in our country, at first had the support of the conservative classes. But that began to wane as the military government failed in everything and as the human rights abuses came to light.

To try and save face, they did something which they thought would generate popular support - they invaded the Falklands, islands usurped by Great Britain in 1833, long before Mexico lost Texas, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona, to the US. To try and recover territory which had been lost for 149 years is extremely difficult. And the military government went ahead, instantly generating support from a population that only a day before had detested them.

Jokes

Argentina is far away from the rest of the world. We are closer to the South Pole than to any important centre. Until very recently, school textbooks told us that we Argentines were the salt of the earth. That's why there are so many stereotypical jokes about us in the rest of Latin America.

I spent many years studying the nationalistic content of educational textbooks and the doctrines which generated those texts. And it's very clear from those texts how we got the idea of the sovereignty of Argentina over the Falklands. The notion that right was on our side was absolutely irrefutable and nobody could reasonably doubt it, nobody could doubt the idea that the United States had to be on our side and that we would defeat Great Britain if the US didn't back her. Such naivety.

Out of practice

All the Argentine officers who fought in the Falklands told when they returned of the differences between the two armed forces with regard to arms and logistics. The Argentina armed forces had not fought a war since the Paraguayan conflict in 1865. The art of war is a profession like any other, and if you are out of practice, you are bad at it. The British had taken part in practically all the major conflicts of the 20th Century, and the Argentines in none

Another example of naivety on the part of Argentina was to think that the British would not react, that they would let Argentina take the Falklands, which would be like a smack in the face for NATO. That was another error of judgment. There were many totally ridiculous and reactionary jokes around at the time, like for example, that the British military were all homosexual and therefore could never win any fight. Even General Menendez used to say: 'Let the little prince [Prince Andrew] come." This naivety led to the making of a catastrophic decision which could only result in the way it did.

It is very easy to understand how an indoctrinated population can believe that the highest form of patriotism is to invade those islands, even though those who invade them are the perpetrators of inhuman crimes against their own countrymen. The military junta would never have done what it did if it had not counted on the fact that this was going to generate popularity for the dictatorship. And that is precisely why, for decades, the possibility of invading the Falklands has been on the agenda of different Argentinian governments. They contemplated the idea and rejected it many times until 1982. Then they contemplated it and went ahead.

Anti-British discourse

Anglo-Argentine relations are long and interesting - more interesting than those of Great Britain and other Latin American countries, because the links between the two countries were very close after 1870. After studying the history of the Argentine claims on the islands, I would say they were absolutely without foundation - it's more of a habit than anything else - while the economic links between Argentina and Great Britain were very strong. But after the Second World War, economic inter-dependency began to wane...the British-owned companies were nationalised under Peron. From that moment onwards there was a great revival of anti-British discourse and for the recovery of the Falklands.

As to the future, I believe the relationship between Argentina and Great Britain will depend largely on the solution of the current crisis in Argentina, like everything else. I think we can say that since relations were re-established between the two nations at the beginning of the 90s, they have continued to improve.

And what of the future of the Falklands? It's blindingly obvious to me that if Argentina had any chance at all of recovering the islands diplomatically before 1982, then after the invasion, the chances practically disappeared. And militarily speaking, it's even more impossible now.