1982, the south Atlantic, a small group of islands are in contention. The Argentine population had been taught for years that the Falkland Islands belonged to them. A partition of South America had been drawn up hundreds of years earlier by religious authorities, giving Brazil to Portugal and the rest of South America to Spain. The Falklands fell into Spanish territory.
The islands were further linked to Argentina because a mountain range in that nation ran to the coast, disappeared under the south Atlantic Ocean, and cropped up again as the Falkland Islands. A few Argentines occupied the barren and windswept place until forced out by British colonialism sometime in 1833. Since then, for almost 150 years, the Falklands Islands have been British in thought, word, and deed. The population was small, limited to a few sheepherders, and largely ignored.
But to Argentina, their claim was still legitimate. They've always called the islands the Malvinas and they still teach that name to school children, according to a friend of mine in Buenos Aires. They had never formally ceded the islands to the British. It's worth nothing that historical claims can be tricky propositions. After the Mexican-American War, the United States was ceded control over what is now California -- but never over the Channel Islands like Catalina, which are still formally part of Mexico. How far back into history do we want to go in making territorial claims? The American Indians once "owned" all of the Western hemisphere and had done so for some 35,000 years before Europeans began taking over without any concessions from the Indians.
During a terrible period of Argentine history, when it was ruled by a ruthless military junta that was loathed by its citizens, the government launched an invasion of the Falklands and occupied it with thousands of troops. If the intent was to deflect attention from civil unrest, it worked perfectly. The streets were filled with citizens cheering the invasion. The occupation was initially benign. No rapes, no crimes, no mistreatment of the Brits or their handful of captured British marines. Then small changes were introduced. Argentine stamps on letters, not English stamps. Drivers must change the side of the road they drive on.
In London, the government of Margaret Thatcher was in no mood for negotiations, despite the efforts of American diplomats to find a solution short of war. A flotilla of British ships was launched accordingly, to the tune of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina."
The film's treatment of the war itself sometimes seems perfunctory. Nothing about British strategy -- the more remote regions first, then assaults on larger communities on the way to the capital. We learn practically nothing about the weapons platforms -- the Argentine fighter-bombers, the British Harriers, the Exocet missiles. No mention of the long flight of obsolete Vulcans that cratered the runways with conventional bombs, precluding landings of more troops and supplies from Argentina. No mention that the cruiser Belgrano was torpedoed and sunk by a British submarine although it was still outside the area that had been quarantined by London. In the film the ship, formerly the USS Phoenix, was simply sunk. Many of the survivors froze to death and we see the reactions of their relatives, still grieving. In fact, about as much time is given to participants as to the combat itself. There was a good deal of suffering (and pride) on both sides. Argentina was a country of polo players and racing car drivers and their pilots were skilled and courageous, causing damage to many of the British ships.
The main impression left by this documentary, at least for me, is the mutual respect held by both Brits and Argentine military personnel, especially the pilots of both nations. None of the interviewees was gripped by a passionate hate of the enemy. Of course the British "won" but only after an appalling amount of bloodshed and material waste prompted by a desperate, failing political system.
The enemy's response was misjudged by both sides. The Argentines believed that the British would only shrug and accept the occupation as a fait a compli; the British believed that a show of force by a world power would induce the Argentines to withdraw back to the mainland. But, once begun, the war became a matter of national honor and the Falkland Islands became only a symbol. What foolishness.
It's a decent documentary but there are others (and several books) that are more detailed and more perceptive.
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