In Defence of the Falklands Campaign (1982), by Sean Gabb
In Defence of the Falklands Campaign
(Published by the University of York Conservative Association in May 1982)
by Sean Gabb
Well, it has its problems. But the Russians can do it. So can the Red Chinese. There's no greater reason why the Socialist Students Association (S.S.A.) shouldn't. I must say, though, I'm disappointed. Hypocrisy apart, taking sides with a Jew‑hating fascist tyranny is hardly very original. At the very least, I'd expected a rehash of the old one about a civil war within capitalist imperialism. After all, it was objectively true till the 22nd June 1941; and could be declared so again. Better still, one could claim the existence of a Galtieri‑Thatcher plots to divert notice from brutal repression at home while killing off a few thousand of the unemployed into the bargain. To be fair, the S.S.A. leaflet does almost touch on theses but the rest is little more than a defence of Argentine aggression, coupled with the usual denunciation of 'tory warmongering'.
Let's look at the nature of Argentina's claim to the Falklands. It divides under four headings: Geographic Contiguity; Economic Dependence; Anti‑Colonialism; Historic Right.
- If the doctrine of Geographic Contiguity has any relevance, certainly, Argentina has a better claim to the islands than the United kingdom, being only 400 miles distant, as opposed to 8,0O0. What's more, a few minutes with an atlas will prove equally conclusively that Italy has a better claim to Corsica than France, and Tunisia a better claim to Sardinia than Italy. Then there's our 'claim' to the Faroe Isles. No self‑determination here: just continental shelf.
- As to their economic dependence on Argentina, so what? Great chunks of the western world are economically dependant on the United States as, indeed, are certain countries upon South Africa. Possibly dependence is an excellent reason for claiming sovereignty. But, if it is, we should at least apply it consistently.
- The present status of the Falkland Islands is that of a British Crown Colony. Renamed the 'Malvinas', they would doubtless become as integral a part of Argentina as is Easter Island of Chile. And what is so very bad about British imperialism? For myself, if I were black, I'd far rather be sneered at by some chinless wonder from the Home Counties than murdered by left‑wing thugs of my own colour. Besides, in this case, the people we're said to be oppressing were from this country in the first place, and seem rather proud of being oppressed.
- That they were claimed for the Crown about fifty years before Argentina began to exist and any other such scraps of information hardly rate mentioning. The thing that matters is that the islands have been settled and governed from this country from 1833 till last month. A prescriptive right from long possession is good enough for the lawyers; and that's quite good enough for me. Concepts of inherited sovereignty are fine things to play with in an idle moment. But, if they're to be used as a crutch for Argentina's claim, they will be found to hold up much else besides. I doubt anyone would want to have Turkish troops stationed in York to compel obedience to Ankara. Yet Britain did form a province of the Roman Empire into the fifth century, and of an undivided Empire till AD 395. Who can deny that the Turkish colonels are just as much the political 'heirs' of Theodosius I as is General Galtieri of King Ferdinand VII? The same principle applies to both.
Not, to tell the truth, that the Falklands really bother me. I can think of better ways of wasting lives and public money than going to war with a crummy banana republic ‑ especially over a couple of guano‑spattered rocks stuck out in the middle of nowhere. They have no apparent military value; and, as for any supposed 'ties of affection', I for one wasn't even quite sure where to find them till the papers told me. In fact, I wish the government had sold or ceded them to Argentina years ago, then given the inhabitants vast sums of money to go away and live somewhere else. I'm not a jingo‑nationalist; that sort of thing I'll gladly leave to mental defectives, 'the Argentine People as a whole' and readers of the Sun. But then we aren't fighting over the colour of the flag that should fly above Port Stanley ‑ or whatever the S.S.A. think the place ought now to be called. We're aren't even fighting to gain Mrs Thatcher 'untold numbers of votes' (the electors be fickle; they're not stupid). We're fighting most reluctantly, I might add ‑ for the principle of international law and for the credibility of our own institutions.
Sure, there's diplomacy and the United Nations; and who was more perfectly 'diplomatic' than Lord Carrington? Again, remember Haile Selassi? His case was even better than ours. He tried diplomacy and the League, and look what happened to Abyssinia: while he and the French sat around in Geneva, making sotto voce tutting noises, the Italians conquered the place with machine guns and poison gas. Reasoning with people is better than shooting at them, but some people don't always want to listen ‑ do they?
I won't say that losing the Falklands would end with General Galtieri riding in triumph through the Streets of Buenos Aires, with H.M. the Queen and Mrs Thatcher led captive in chains behind him. I doubt in the short run it would do more than bring down the Government ‑ to some people perhaps no great loss. But what would the rest of the world think of a system of government unable to defend its own territory or its citizens and their property? The Argentine claim may be absurd, but other countries with other claims would be delighted that there is what remains a great power that prefers to decide such encroachments not worth resisting. It wouldn't bode well for international law. It wouldn't be much of an advertisement for liberal democracy.
But then the S.S.A. has never thought much of either: the former it regards as a cover for Western imperialism; the latter as a bourgeois myth. And it seems especially to hate this country and its institutions. Of course, no nation is perfect, and ours does have some pretty shocking faults that are growing worse with time; but I've yet to be convinced that one can be wholly rotten and worthless whose public broadcasters aren't afraid to try ‑ however unsuccessfully ‑ to report a de facto war as impartially as they would a domestic football match. It's better than some I could name. It's certainly better than what given the chance, the S.S.A. would put in its place.
Perhaps the semi‑literate drivellings of a few 'radical' hacks aren't worth the trouble of a reply. But what does need pointing out is the nauseous hypocrisy of these people. Territorial claims based on nothing but the pride of a foreign despotism ‑ a despotism backed until a fortnight ago (and, for all I know backed still) by the Americans ‑ are declared legitimate without a single qualm. The only thing that seems to matter is the bringing down of a constitutional government: 'The real enemy is at home'. What more should we expect, though? The left in this country was perfectly happy to lick Hitler's boots so long as he was friends with Comrade Stalin. And, while he continues to annoy and embarrass Mrs Thatcher ‑ the 'warmonger' who very nearly sold off the fleet to save public money ‑ it will abase itself before General Galtieri.