Today is the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands Islands (or Malvinas, as the Argentineans call them) from military occupation by Argentina. It’s the kind of day when one should refrain from political point scoring; rather, it’s a day for reflection and sorrow at the loss of so many young lives.
This morning, there has been a remembrance service at the Falklands War memorial church somewhere in Berkshire, England. This was attended by the Queen and Prince Philip, by the now Baroness Thatcher (the British prime minister at the time of the war, of course), and by Tony and Cherie Blair.
In order to truly do justice to the memory of those who lost their lives, an effort has to be made to understand the reasons and purpose of the conflict. Clearly, those who lost loved-ones wish to be proud of them, and so they should be: there is every honour in having the courage to risk and lose one’s life for the sake of a cause that one believes to be noble.
But on these occasions, there is a tendency for speakers to overstate the righteousness of the British cause in question. The preacher at this morning’s service, for instance, made the almost obligatory comparisons between those soldiers’ ‘sacrifice’ and that of Christ on the cross. But Christ did not carry weapons, nor did he go to war against the Roman occupiers of his homeland. That would have made him more like the Jewish Messiah that people were expecting at the time.
Lady Thatcher, in a speech to the islanders broadcast on radio yesterday, praised the way British soldiers have always been prepared to pay the ultimate price in the fight against ‘evil’, and stated that the current generation of British boys engaged in perhaps even more complex and dangerous struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan could take inspiration from the actions and victory of their predecessors in the Falklands – a victory over which, she asserted, everyone in Britain had rejoiced.
But can the Argentineans in the Falklands War be unambiguously identified with ‘evil’ in this way? Conflict is rarely that simple, and there is often a balance of right and wrong on both sides. The Argentinean soldiers in the Falklands War were mostly ill-trained conscripts: young lads who’d been whipped up since early childhood into patriotic indignation at the supposed ‘occupation’ by the British of territory that was ‘rightfully Argentinean’, and were effectively sent in by an incompetent military junta seeking to divert attention from troubles at home – lambs to the slaughter, indeed, against the professional British Army.
Historically and legally, Argentina probably has a reasonably valid claim to the islands, which were in fact taken by force by the British in 1833. However, clearly, the islands’ inhabitants are all of British descent and nationality, and wish to remain so; and trying to resolve the issue by force in their turn was obviously not a smart or justifiable move on the Argentineans’ part. It was almost inevitable that the British would send in a rescue force across the seas; that same Britain in whose heart still resonates the refrain:
‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves,
Britons never never never shall be slaves!’
But does that make it a just war? It’s hard to argue against it, especially on a day like this. But, also especially on a day like this, we should remember all those Argentinean mothers whose boys were gunned down by the British in a war for which their leaders had ill equipped them. Or those lads who were on the Belgrano: the Argentinean ship that was heading out of the British-imposed ‘exclusion zone’ around the islands when it was sunk on Margaret Thatcher’s orders.
Heroic things and evil things are done in war in the name of justice. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell them apart. So we should pray for all responsible: the Argentinean conscripts and the British professional warriors; the military dictators in Argentina and the Thatcher government, both of which made political capital out of the conflict. Christ died for them all.