“The Falklands thing was a fight between two bald men over a comb”. These were the famous words Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges used to describe the 1982 Anglo-Argentine Falklands/Malvinas Conflict over the sovereignty of islands in the South Atlantic, known to Britons as ‘the Falklands’ and to Argentines as ‘las Malvinas’. The seventy-four day event which Buenos Aires classed as ‘a war’ and London classed as ‘a conflict’, began on 2nd April 1982. This was when, from the British perspective, Argentine forces invaded the Falklands, provoking British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s response to send a Task Force of over one-hundred ships to recapture the Islands over eight-thousand miles away. This was to prove that ‘naked armed aggression’, according to Thatcher, must not pay. For Argentines, 2nd April 1982 marked Argentina’s recuperation of a piece of Argentine territory, ‘stolen’ by ‘English pirates’ in 1833.
The sovereignty dispute over this South Atlantic archipelago had been a thorn in the side of Anglo-Argentine diplomacy for over a century-and-a-half, resulting in attempts by several British governments to ‘rid Britain of the Falkland Islands’. However, in Britain there was the Falkland Islands Lobby which, albeit small, had thwarted many of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s attempts at a leaseback deal with Argentina as recently as 1980. This was despite the fact that few Britons had even heard of the Falklands before April 1982. Many of whom, when hearing of Argentina’s action on 2nd April 1982, assumed the Islands were ‘either somewhere off the coast of Scotland’ or ‘somewhere in the Azores’.
For Argentines, ‘la recuperación de las islas Malvinas’ (‘the recuperation of the Falkland Islands’) remains (now part of Argentina’s 1994 constitution) a national cause, taught to Argentines from school age and known as ‘la causa Malvinas’. British control of the Islands since 1833, was recognised by Argentines until today, as an act of ‘piracy’ and ‘colonialism from an imperial era’.
Not only does this archipelago still remain a contentious issue in Anglo-Argentine politics and international affairs, but the 1982 war itself, and the way in which it is remembered and commemorated, marks an important point in not only British and Argentine history, but the Falklanders’ history.
After almost 40 years, the war and the resultant British victory is most commonly remembered by commentators as being the spark which led to Margaret Thatcher’s election victory in 1983. Conversely, the British victory has been credited with paving the way for democracy in Argentina, as it led to the fall of Argentina’s ruling military junta. US support for Britain in the conflict meant that Argentines viewed the war as another act of Anglo-US collision to uphold colonialism in the modern era, whilst subjugating Latin Americans. For the Falklanders, the conflict’s outcome meant that the British Government’s 1981 Nationality Bill which removed the right of abode in the UK for 600-700 Islanders was overturned. In its place came the 1983 British Nationality (Falklands Islands) Act, conferring full British citizenship on the residents, which provoked the notorious mantra about the Falklanders, who regularly fly Union flags, as being ‘more British than the British’.
However, most crucially, the Falklands/Malvinas War incurred the tragic loss of over a thousand lives. This loss, which included the deaths of three Falklanders, is remembered and commemorated every year by Falklanders. On 14th June- Liberation Day has now largely become seen as the Falklands’ national day, marking the Argentine surrender. Coupled to this day of commemoration and remembrance is Margaret Thatcher Day on 10th January. The Islanders’ appreciation of the late PM is demonstrated through not only ‘Thatcher Drive’, but also a bust, sitting yards from the Falklands Memorial in the Islands’ capital. The latter forms a focal point on Remembrance Sunday when Islanders pay their respects to the fallen British forces.
Unlike the Falklands, Britain has no specific national holiday to celebrate British victory. To many of the younger generation, the war and its significance is not instilled in the national consciousness as it is in the youth of the Falklanders. The Falklands War has only recently begun to creep into the UK school History curriculum, but only in relation to Thatcher’s 1983 election victory. However, members of the South Atlantic Medal Association meet regularly to commemorate the 1982 conflict. Moreover, as in the Falklands, Britons who fell in the 1982 War are remembered every year on Remembrance Sunday and there have been commemoration events held for the 10th, 25th and 30th anniversaries of the conflict.
In Argentina, las Malvinas still remain a focal point, and are seen as being ‘part of Latin America,’ something the Argentine nation is incomplete without. For years after the 1982 war ended, there was a process of demalvinisation, turning the conflict into a taboo subject. This was not because ‘la causa Malvinas’ was an unjust cause for Argentines, but because of its association with the failed military junta. However, in the year 2000, the Argentine Government proclaimed 2nd April ‘Día del Veterano y de los Caídos en la Guerra de las Malvinas’ (‘Day of the veterans and the fallen in the Malvinas War’). This provides Argentines with an opportunity to remember those who died in the 1982 war and commemorate the conflict publicly. The 1982 conflict is unique in that both sides commemorate it, but the sovereignty issue still lies open at the UN, with calls for Britain to negotiate with Argentina.