07 May 2007

Falklands Memories - Introduction

I was going to write a short note about the loss of HMS Sheffield on the 25th anniversary, but the more I poked and prodded with the text, the more I realized that it wouldn't do the subject of the Falklands justice. This little war of 1982 was the subject of a page-long review article in The Guardian this weekend. Of the four books reviewed, I have encountered three of the authors in my time in publishing. I've also met a couple of other people with links to the conflict, one as a direct participant, the other someone who had just left the service when the war came.

I wanted to call this post "The Comic Book War", but I thought it would be misunderstood. No war is a comical affair. My point was that the war played a role on the Home Front equivalent to those comic books such as the Commando series. The "Argies" were the bad guys, although perceived more like Second World War Italians than Nazis. We tuned into the TV each night to see retired officers discuss various options over a sand table, with a man named Snow. Naturally, since civilians tend to overlook logistics, and retired offices play their roles in disinformation campaigns, most of the speculations were very wrong-headed.

But what stands out most for me about the Falklands War was that it was the only truly popular war I've ever experienced in my lifetime. People of a certain age who had been through the Second World War, those who at the time of the Falklands were just under 60, couldn't see the point of the conflict. Everybody else in Britain seemed to determined to see this thing through, even welcomed it. Compare that with the Vietnam War, which divided my school and my family; the Gulf War of 1991, which I demonstrated against; the Yugoslav War of 1999, which most people I met thought a waste of money and effort; and the ongoing Iraq War, before which my wife and children took part in the March of a Million through London, and you'll see what I mean.

However, having said that, I must recount my favorite story related to the Falklands. Just after word of the Argentine invasion reached us, the man in whose house I was living came back from work. He had been expressing his unhappiness with the potential loss of many young men's lives for some scraps of turf in the South Atlantic with work colleagues. One of them, a youngish office junior who frequently featured in his stories from work, protested: "I don't see what business they have up there anyway." Puzzled, because he would have expected the circumlocution to be "down there", not up, the much older man probed further into this young lady's notions. It quickly became apparent that this young lady thought the Falklands Islands were somewhere in the vicinity of the Faeroes.

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