The Falklands War was a perilous moment in British history

News Letter editorial on Monday January 10 2021:

Monday, 10th January 2022, 2:19 am
Updated Monday, 10th January 2022, 2:22 am
News Letter editorial

The Falklands War had an almost unreal quality, both at the time and in hindsight.

A nation, the United Kingdom, that only decades before had been a global superpower, sent a huge naval taskforce halfway across the world to regain possession of tiny islands, off South America, that had been seized by a fascist military junta that ruled a country, Argentina, which at the time still harboured many ex Nazis.

The prelude to the invasion was the arrival of a group of scrap metal workers on the island of South Georgia, hundreds of miles away, who hoisted an Argentine flag on the British territory. The whole affair almost sounded like a TV satirist’s parody of a fishing dispute that gets out of hand.

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In fact there was nothing at all funny about the conflict.

It was a very serious global challenge to the authority of a Britain that had become economically weakened as its empire had fizzled out in the postwar years.

If nothing had been done to restore sovereignty in the Falklands, it would not only have been a national humiliation but a disastrous signal to the world that the UK was so diminished it would not even defend British overseas territory.

But fighting to regain the islands was also fraught with risk, given the great distances involved and the vulnerability of Royal Navy vessels to French-supplied Exocet missiles.

The support of America for the UK retrieval operation was by no means guaranteed, given the sympathies towards right wing South American regimes held by many influential people in Washington, and the coolness towards Britain among other establishment figures in the US. The UK did in the end prevail, albeit at the cost of hundreds of service men’s lives.

Tomorrow is Margaret Thatcher Day in the Falklands, marking her 1983 visit on that date. In weeks it will be the 40 years since Argentine arrival, then repulsion, on the islands.

The prime minister Margaret Thatcher was mocked for saying ‘Rejoice’ at the retaking of the islands. But that victory was indeed a vital moment in modern British history and the coming anniversary will be a time to reflect on that.

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