“When we were called to fight, we were defending the flag. For us, it isn’t an island; it’s like another province.” Carlos P.
“For me, the Malvinas didn’t even exist before the war. They were something remote, distant. They weren’t even mentioned at school. They were like Antarctica.” Darío M.
Today your chino is closed (metaphorically) in remembrance of the veterans and the fallen of the Malvinas War, which began on April 2, 1982.
To say the very least, the whole thing—the war, the centuries-long territorial dispute, the nomenclature—is one big, tender lump best left to the career demagogues, “credentialed” war historians, and one very dedicated Twitter troll. Here’s my take: Whether you call the islands “Malvinas” or not, the war was, for many, just a way to die. I beg you keep them in mind today.
On March 19, 1982, a group of Argentine scrap-metal merchants, infiltrated by marines posing as civilian scientists, raised the Argentine flag on the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia—about 1400 kilometers from the islands they call Las Malvinas. For good measure, they vandalized a few signs, too. It was the beginning of the end for Argentina’s last military dictatorship. (Knock wood.)
Two weeks later on April 2, the junta, which since 1976 had waged war against its own people while presiding over an economy in decline, gambled everything on military action against Argentina’s oldest foe, Great Britain. (After all, what good is a military dictatorship if it doesn’t militarily dictate?)
Argentine troops waded ashore and forced the surrender of British governor Rex Hunt and a small garrison of Royal Marines. By invading the islands, a British crown colony since 1841 but still (to this day) claimed by Argentina, “President” Leopoldo Galtieri hoped to shore up his embattled regime by giving the people something to cheer about.
And cheer they did, at first. When word reached Buenos Aires that Argentine forces had taken control of the islands, stupendous crowds of jubilant porteños jammed the streets and plazas to celebrate what they viewed as a righteous victory more than 140 years in the making.
Even some outspoken critics of the regime, like author Ernesto Sabato, were dazzled by the adventure: “Don’t be mistaken, those in Europe; it is not a dictatorship who is fighting for the Malvinas, it is the whole Nation. Opponents of the military dictatorship, like me, are fighting to extirpate the last trace of colonialism.”
The mood might have been different had it been known that, thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, the British were mobilizing for war. That was never part of the plan. “The British won’t fight,” pronounced Galtieri. Not even Admiral Jorge Anaya, “mastermind” and principal agitator behind the invasion, had expected the British to respond militarily—and plenty of the British didn’t want to.
Who would want to send their sons and husbands to die—not just on, but for—some cold, scrubby islands? If you can answer that question, you win Malvinas Day. The islands are yours. Call them whatever you like.
Margaret Thatcher at least made a show of ambivalence in her private conversations. She told Alexander Haig, then US Secretary of State, as the Royal Navy steamed across the equator: “I don’t want to fight any wars. If you can get them off before we get there, you do it. But off they go.”
Off they went. 74 days later, on June 14, Argentina surrendered the islands. Thatcher’s approval ratings soared, and Galtieri’s junta slid nearer to collapse. All along, there had been so much more at stake than the sovereignty of a craggy, windswept archipelago with more sheep than people. War is a complicated business if you’re fighting for anything more abstract than your own life.
Speaking of which, by the time the flags were back to normal, 907 people were dead—forever—including three citizens of the islands, who were killed by their queen’s artillery shells. Nearly 2,500 more were wounded, many of them sailors who were burned so badly their own mothers literally didn’t recognize them.
Spare a thought today for the dead and living alike who were there. Let’s never go back.