dreams of post-punk empire

8 04 2007

I was watching some of Sky News’ coverage of the Anniversary of the Falklands conflict, and was quite startled to see one of the talking heads remark that it was “the woman inside Margaret Thatcher that won the war”.

Odd, I thought it was the man inside each Para, Marine, Gurkha, and Guardsman, each soldier and sailor.

Now I’m not much for jingoism (wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along?) but like Samuel Johnston said “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.”

Although I’ve pretty much grown out of that since I stopped reading the Eagle and started watching the news.

I did start thinking though that the Falklands was the perfect war for Thatcher’s Britain. With the strikes, unemployment and general gloom of post-punk Albion, and a crisis of British identity, a good old-fashioned colonial beano was just what we needed.

The Falklands conflict had all the right echoes of empire. It was far away enough away that we could cheer the boys on over breakfast without having to scurry into the bomb shelters after dinner, or worry about nukes getting lobbed about. But despite the distance involved, the people we were liberating were just like us, and of course, we was provoked.

In military terms the whole affair was informed by all the classic imperial myth of British military might: a tinpot local ethnic chiefy (or in this case, three chiefys, the Junta) gets a bit above himself and plants his flag on British soil. There’s more Johnny Foreigners than there are Tommies but of course that never mattered: the fuzzy-wuzzys and dagoes no match for the superior kit, training and honest-to-goodness British pluck of the British soldier (except when they were.)

The contrast with Iraq couldn’t be more marked. If the Falklands made Thatcher unassailably popular, Tony Blair may have wanted the same from Iraq.
If this kind of national fillip was what Tony wanted he couldn’t have been more off the mark. Perhaps he’s ruing the lucky break that the Junta chose to set about the Falklands on Thatcher’s watch as much as her opponents have ever since.

Unlike this second Iraq expedition, and Afghanistan, the assault on the Falklands had a clear goal: send Johnny Foreigner packing. So it was short. Casualties didn’t mount by the day. The soldiers soldiered. They fought proper battles, marched to the next battle, won that one and went home. They didn’t hang around trying to be friends with unfriendly locals and worrying they could get blown up every time they got out of bed.

The go-to attitude that got the Task Force out there and back with three points on the league table affirmed our place in the international First Division, but didn’t wind up half the world’s fans and start them chucking fireworks round on our terraces.

After the Falklands, we got to feel triumphant; not shifty, unsettled, unsure why we’re still there. Sometimes when I’m watching the news I wish I’d never stopped reading the Eagle.

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