As a seventeen year old kid living in Barranquilla, Colombia, in 1982, I frequently walked to different locations when I needed to get somewhere. In Barranquilla, you often have eating establishments lining the streets where people get together to share food and drink, to have fun and socialize.
During that era, I remember walking along the sidewalks and being able to see the many sporting events that most men watched, along with other news and entertainment shows that were popular along the Atlantic coast in those days. One of the major events of that era was the War of the Malvinas, otherwise known as the Falklands War to some.
As an innocent young man, I had no idea what the people of the Republic of Argentina were going through, no idea that the country was living under the control of a ruthless dictatorship supported by my government. I was naively convinced, as were most of my fellow countrymen and women, my government was the greatest purveyor of freedom and democracy the world had ever known and had never been given any reason to believe otherwise.
Just a few years earlier, I had watched on at my grandmother’s home in Barranquilla as the Argentine national selection won its first World Cup in soccer and would have been shocked to find out that a country living under the control of a brutal military dictatorship was even capable of accomplishing such a feat.
I was even less aware of the fact that about a mile away from Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires, at the time, innocent Argentine citizens were being tortured and executed for their political beliefs, in part, under the auspices of my government. Blind to reality and completely oblivious to the truth, no one was more patriotic than I was.
However, it did occur to me at the time that there was something odd and strangely peculiar about a nation that would gather its strength and resources to send a fleet of warships, a small army more than eight thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean to attack a much weaker nation supposedly to exercise its control over some remote islands that were sparsely populated. I had no idea at the time that my suspicions were, in fact, warranted, although I wouldn’t find out why until some three decades later.
So often, we sleep our way through life, not knowing the real meaning behind what's taking place all around us. Unfortunately, life is like a dream that most of us will never awaken from. And, so, it was for me that my grand awakening didn’t take place until I was more than four decades into my life on this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam we call Earth.
After investigating the real reasons behind the Falklands War, known commonly as the Guerra de las Malvinas throughout most of Latin American, it became readily apparent that Britain’s “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher, had sent soldiers to die because she needed to give her people a reason to re-elect her in the upcoming elections of 1983 and, in effect, save her political career.
Indeed, her success in waging war against a U.S.-backed Argentine military junta propelled her to political victory and managed to turn around her waning career. Thatcherism, unheard of at the time, would go on to become a leading ideology in Britain and a highly destructive force that Britain is still dealing with today.
It’s a known fact that the popularity of political leaders usually spikes during times of war. Thatcher, who had been becoming increasingly unpopular as her first term in office progressed due to rising inflation and unemployment, was clever, astute and sinister enough to gamble on the credulity of the British people and won. The biggest gamble, however, was not political but military. Facing humiliation and possible resignation, the Argentine military junta’s invasion of the Malvinas sent her springing into action.
Her willingness to send young Britons to die in order to serve her own selfish political ambitions was partially responsible for resurrecting her political career. Her popularity jumped 10 points in the polls as she was re-elected to a second term and went on to do unimaginable harm to her country and the people who, against their own best interests, naively voted her into office as British Prime Minister three times.
All in all, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and 3 Falkland Islanders would die in the conflict, including 323 aboard the Argentine Navy’s Brooklyn-class light cruiser, the ARA General Belgrano, previously named the USS Phoenix, which saw action in the Pacific theatre of World War II before being sold to Argentina in 1951.
The vessel was the second to have been named after the Argentine founding father Manuel Belgrano (1770–1820). Losses from the General Belgrano totaled slightly under half of Argentine deaths in the war.
As Simon Jenkins of The Guardian pointed out, “The US opposed the war. President Reagan had backed the Buenos Aires junta and it was only Thatcher's close relations with him that secured vital logistical support of fuel and weapons as the taskforce moved south from Ascension Island. As it approached the islands and ships began to be sunk, the US even put an aircraft carrier on standby should the venture face disaster.”
(Simon Jenkins | The Guardian | How Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands Gamble Paid Off)
And, thus, we’ll never know whether or not a sitting U.S. president would have actually engaged U.S. military forces in active combat against an Argentine military junta that it was, simultaneously, backing secretly with hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars annually.
On April 2nd, 2015, current Argentine President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, invoked the Argentine people not to take responsibility for a war that was initiated through the actions of an Argentine military junta, a brutal dictatorship that relied on the secret backing of the United States government for support (my words, not hers). Among other things, she admonished them to support those who served, to remember the fallen, and to honor their supreme sacrifice.
"¡Qué no nos hagan cargo tampoco porque ellos se callaron la boca cuando se rompió el orden constitucional el 24 de marzo de 1976. No escuché a ninguna de las grandes potencias reclamar por la libertad y la democracia cuando se exterminaba, torturaba y desaparecía a miles de argentinos."
"Qué no nos vengan a hacer cargo de una guerra que no fue la nuestra!"
"De lo único que nos hacemos cargo en esa guerra, es de la sangre de nuestros combatientes, nos hacemos cargo de los pibes que fueron a morir por su bandera. De eso sí nos hacemos cargo y haremos cargo siempre porque somos un pueblo soberano, orgulloso y que va siempre a recordar y a homenajear a sus muertos y a su bandera."
--Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
The boasting of Britain's "Iron Lady" about her role in bringing democracy to a “lesser state,” despite the fact that Britain herself bears little resemblance to an actual democracy today, thanks to her, in no small part, is worthy of our collective indignation. Neither the United States nor Great Britain can legitimately lay claim to the kind of vibrant democracy that our neighbors to the south are able to lay claim to today.
All of that hardship and pain is now paying dividends for the Argentine people who can rightfully take their place among the world’s most democratic nations with a crucial role to play in the creation of a better world for all of man and womankind. Indeed, democracy and the force of human reason are thriving in that country today thanks, perhaps, in no small part to the arrogance of one Iron Lady and the ultimate sacrifice of 649 Argentine military personnel who gave their lives in a conflict whose true origins they probably knew very little or nothing about.
“La historia del mundo, al revés.”
History, it turns out, has made an adjustment on this occasion to accommodate the truth. From the ashes of her painful and humiliating defeat in 1982, the phoenix bird rose once more over Argentina in 1983 (the year I left Colombia), and despite having to overcome many obstacles since that defeat, she has never looked back.
(Margaret Thatcher Upset During an Interview When Questioned About the Sinking of the Argentinian Belgrano)
(“Coal Not Dole” | Sean Taylor)
(“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” | Gordon Lightfoot)