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The Falklands again


Falkland Islands, a Territory of the United Kingdom

Last week, when I read that demonstrators in Argentina were protesting food shortages and inflation due to socialist (fascist) policies and that oil companies were about to drill for vast reserves of oil found near the Falklands, I wondered how long it would take Argentina to claim the Falkland Islands again. Yesterday, on the 26th anniversary of the Argentine invasion, the President of Argentina did so.

The people of the islands continue to resolutely and democratically insist that they wish to remain a self-governing Territory of the United Kingdom. Whether they will remain free is an open question.

A brief history of the 1982 Falklands War, including Caspar Weinberger's indispensable role, for which he was knighted by The Queen, follows.

On April 2, 1982, the military dictator of Argentina ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands, a self-governing Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The Falkland Islanders wanted to remain British. At the same time, Argentines were engaging in large-scale civil unrest against the repressive military junta. As the junta hoped, the invasion distracted them.

Britain was taken by surprise by the attack, but launched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force, and retake the islands by amphibious assault if necessary. During the time British ships streamed across the Atlantic, the Argentine government refused to withdraw, as requested by the UN. It refused to respect the Islanders right to self-determination. After combat resulting in 258 British and 649 Argentine deaths, the British prevailed. Happily, the Argentine defeat inspired even greater popular protests against the military junta, which accelerated its downfall.

Prime Minister Thatcher's resolute defence of the Falkland Islands against Argentine aggression won her national and international support. "It was," writes Luigi Barzini, "a highly pragmatic operation undertaken in defense of international law and morality and surely not for gain."

The qualities displayed by British forces in the campaign were exemplary. The islands were restored "to the government desired by their inhabitants". Following the war, Britain's presence increased with the construction of RAF Mount Pleasant and a larger military garrison.

Caspar Weinberger, who was President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Defense, made British requests for military assistance the highest and most immediate priority - they were answered within 24 hours. US assistance was significant, and included Harriers. To his surprise, Weinberger received a knighthood, and was thanked by The Queen.