The International Writers Magazine:The Writer

James Skinner

pril 2nd, 2007 will mark the 25th anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Argentine armed forces that led, eventually to the infamous Falklands War between Great Britain and Argentina. Half way through the first decade of the XXI century, this obscure and almost forgotten war will hardly be remembered.

The bellicose actions over the past 25 years, from Kosovo to Rwanda, from Dafur to Lebanon, from Iraq to Palestine whereby millions of people have died, will dull the minds of most of today’s generations on the events in the South Atlantic in 1982. But those of us who were directly or indirectly involved at the time still vividly remember the 4 months or so of purgatory suffered by two nations that had been friends for years, suddenly embarking on a military rampage that could only be described as ridiculous and bizarre. But then aren’t all wars the same?

The Falkland Islands’ history is brief and uneventful. Far from the rich and bustling accounts from most other parts of the world, this forgotten piece of land only came into the limelight because of the constant claim by Argentina as forming part of their territory. To a certain extent, they are right. The constant struggle by Britain to maintain the argument that the ‘right and will of the people (the local inhabitants) to decide their future’, is paramount in the British government’s decisions of sovereignty versus those territorial claims due to historical rights by a neighbouring country (the example of Spain’s claim over Gibraltar is identical) is at the heart of the matter in many disputes around the world in which the remnants of British colonial territories are at stake. But the original Falkland islanders were British implants anyway! The historical events that lead to this eternal impasse between Argentina and Britain were quite daft!

The islands were first discovered by a Captain John Strong in 1690 who stumbled upon them as he travelled back from Chile en route to the Cape. Many others from France, Britain and Spain continued to visit them until finally an agreement was reached known as the infamous Treaty of Utrecht, signed in 1713 that gave Spain control over the islands as part of their colonies of the South American continent. Nobody however bothered to settle there, that is until a French nobleman; Antoine de Bougainville claimed the islands in the name of Louis XV. What happened over the next few decades is more like a script out of a Gilbert & Sullivan opera. Although theoretically Spanish, the British sent a ‘gun-boat’ captained by John Byron to evict the French and build a fort. The Spaniards reacted waving their treaty at both governments. It took another two years before they did something about it by sending in the ‘troops’ and kicking the Brits out. Yet they came to a ridiculous agreement that allowed the Brits to return and use the fort they had originally built. This weird co-habitation lasted for three years. An agreement was finally signed in 1790 whereby Britain renounced all colonial ambitions in South America, including the Falkland Islands. Spain remained in possession until Argentina and other South American nations were granted independence.

Thus, by 1820 the Falkland Islands were theoretically Argentine and the government sent a frigate to take possession of their new born sovereign territory. By 1823 Puerto Soledad the capital, as Port Stanley was named received its first Argentine governor, Don Luis Vernet. All would’ve been dandy had he not made one mistake. In 1929 he imposed fishing rights around the islands and arrested an American vessel, the Harriet for poaching and slaughtering a bunch of seals. Fortuitously the Americans were brought into the act.

Enter the ‘Pirates of Penzance’ and their joint captains. Woodbine Parrish, the British consul in Buenos Aires seized on the opportunity and in connivance with his American colleague immediately sent the USS Lexington that was in the vicinity to sort the matter out. Not only did the seaborne 7th Cavalry lead by Captain Silas Duncan free the seal poachers. He blew up the Argentine settlement, arrested the inhabitants and more or less left the islands up for grabs for whoever wished to claim them. Back in London the British Admiralty, true off the mark sent two warships, the Tyne and the Clio under Captain James Onslow to ‘take and hold the islands’ for Britain. Up until the invasion in 1982, the islands had remained ‘British’.

Thus is the brief but significant history of how the whole conflict came about.

I was in Washington D.C. when Port Stanley was invaded. I remember quite vividly the headlines and articles in the ‘Post’ that spoke of nothing else as Margaret Thatcher began to rally her troops to send them off to the rescue. At first, it all appeared as one big joke. The Americans were taking it quite light-heartedly whilst Alexander Hague, the then US Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan flew backwards and forwards between Buenos Aires and London and tried desperately to reach a settlement. As an Anglo-Argentine, I felt quite differently. ‘Why the hell is this all happening? How is it going to affect my family?’
My son was around 19 at the time and studying in Spain. Had he been in Argentina he was of the ripe old age to do military service and would undoubtedly have been called up to fight the Brits. What was even more frightening was my cousins’ situation. One was an officer in the Argentine army and the other, about my age was in Washington with a son who was an officer in the US Navy. The USA eventually sided with Britain in the war by giving the Royal Navy all the Argentine naval movements captured by satellite and other secret information. Two brothers in confrontation!

Another frightening thought was the hundreds of thousands of ‘Anglos’ out in Argentina. Maggie Thatcher had sent a warning out to the British Embassy in Buenos Aires that all British citizens should, for their own safety leave Argentina immediately. ‘But my grandmother is 92 and lived here all her life!’ said one Anglo to the press, ‘where the hell is she going to go?’ The President of the Anglo-Argentine society pleaded over a radio broadcast to the British people in the UK to stop the onslaught by the Task Force now under way towards the South Atlantic and to find another peaceful solution. It was aired over one of the BBC channels at 08:00 in the morning!

These are the minute details of war that unfortunately affect humanity. It happened in the USA after the Pearl Harbour attack by Japan in 1942. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans living in the USA were caught unaware and unable to react. Other humongous wars such as WWII, not to mention the horrors of civil wars like the Spanish one between 1936 and 1939 whereby brothers and sister were caught slaughtering each other remain in the anonymous annals of history as politicians and other ignoramuses continue to indulge in bellicose activities. Why?

What about the rabble rousers, especially the press? Coming back to the Falklands conflict, whilst all the Latin American press was condemning Britain’s actions against the Argentine, the British press lambasted Argentina’s generals with all kinds of headlines such As ‘CARRY ON ARGIE BASHING’ or ‘GO FOR BROKE, GUYS!’ Thousands of journalists at the time, from all parts of the globe were pouring gallons of ink dissecting the conflict. Hell, man! It all boils down to the same. War is war. It’s brutal, it’s stupid and there should be no reason for it. ‘Happy New Year 2007!’ and what have we got to offer? More of the same old crap all over the globe.

I’ve written a historical novel about Argentina and the internal political conflicts that lead to the Falklands War. It’s called ‘The Goa File’ and should be on sale through just before Christmas. It has taken me 5 years to piece the story together and during my research I began to realise how stupid as well as vicious unscrupulous human beings can be when they are in power. Throughout history, villains and heroes have walked side by side but the end result has always been the same: conflict! The historical facts in my novel should, I hope highlight this issue as do so many other novels, plays and films whereby good is confronted with evil and the fight begins.
Unfortunately, in true life, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between who is right and who is wrong.’

© James Skinner. December 2006.

You can soon buy James Book here The Goa File

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