The strength of Thatcher

December 29th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

She called it, simply, the worst moment of her life.

It came in March 1982 during the days before the Falklands War, after Argentina established an unauthorised presence on Britain’s South Georgia island amid talk of a possible invasion of the Falklands, long held by Britain.

Prime Minister realised there was little that Britain could do immediately to establish firm control of the contested islands, and feared Britain would be seen as a paper tiger that could no longer defend even its diminished empire.

She was told that Britain might not be able to take the islands back, even if she took the risky decision to send a substantial armada to the frigid South Atlantic.

“You can imagine that turned a knife in my heart,” Thatcher told an inquiry board in postwar testimony that has been kept secret until its release by the National Archives on Friday, 30 years after the events it chronicles.

“No one could tell me whether we could re-take the Falklands – no one,” she told the inquiry board. “We did not know – we did not know.”

But she had faith that they could.

The papers detail how Thatcher urgently sought US President ’s support when Argentina’s intentions became clear, and reveal Thatcher’s exasperation with Reagan when he suggested that Britain negotiate rather than demand total Argentinian withdrawal.

The documents describe an unusual late night phone call from Reagan to Thatcher on May 31, 1982 – while British forces were beginning the battle for control of the Falklands capital – in which the president pressed the prime minister to consider putting the islands in the hands of international peacekeepers rather than press for a total Argentinian surrender.

A rare failure of judgement from Reagan, where he went with the State Department view rather than supporting what was right – the democratic human right of self-determination.

Thatcher, in full “Iron Lady” mode, told the president she was sure he would take the same dim view of international mediation if Alaska had been taken by a foe.

Heh, wonderful.

Thatcher had huge respect for Reagan and the US. But what I loved about her is that she was no poodle. She did what she felt was right – even against the wishes of her closest ally.

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55 Responses to “The strength of Thatcher”

  1. Redbaiter (6,464 comments) says:

    “She did what she felt was right”

    Of course, and she didn’t sacrifice that admirable ethic to the great god of popularity, as so many politicians nowadays so frequently do.

    Not mentioning any names.

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  2. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    Has anyone here ever read ‘Exocet’ by Jack Higgins? Shades of this story are in that novel.

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  3. Matt (221 comments) says:

    DPF: not a lapse by Regan, he was just following the Monroe doctrine. Which makes Thatcher’s decision to ignore his advice all the more meritorious

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  4. Azeraph (597 comments) says:

    Tough old cow.

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  5. SPC (4,630 comments) says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/dec/28/margaret-thatcher-role-plan-to-dismantle-welfare-state-revealed

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  6. kowtow (6,690 comments) says:

    Reagan and the special relationship? There seems to be alot more to this than meets the eye. Reagan’s White House was a bit of a mess.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9769558/Ronald-Reagan-ignored-Queens-Windsor-Castle-invitation.html

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  7. Yoza (1,348 comments) says:

    I recall reading somewhere it would have been cheaper to pay each of the Falkland islanders a million pounds each and resettling them elsewhere than it cost to retake the Falklands by force. The Brits had no problem giving up Diego Garcia and transporting the population there into misery when the US demanded the use of that island for a military transit point, …although the population of that island weren’t white.

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  8. grumpyoldhori (2,410 comments) says:

    It was not Thatcher who put backbone into the Brit Govt but the chief of naval staff, all Thatcher did was say rejoice after 500 Argentinian sailors were drowned when the Belgrano was sunk.
    Oh, yes and at the thanks giving service she made sure she would not have to look at badly burned men by having them hid in a corner.

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  9. flipper (3,268 comments) says:

    Slightly off topic, but the same sort of back-bone stuff.

    At the height of de Gaulle’s nationalism and the new-found French independent foreign policy, he pressed the US government of the day for the early withdrawal of US troops from France.

    Rumsfeld tells the delightful story relating to him briefing LBJ on de Gaulle’s request.

    After a few moments contemplation, Johnson, the ever laconic Texan, told Rumsfeld to: “Ask fucking de Gaulle when he would like the US to withdraw the graves of US servicemen lost in re-taking fucking France friom Hitler.”

    No US President could “cuss” like LBJ.

    de Gaulle, according to Rumsfeld, bit his tounge and backed off. :)

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  10. PaulL (5,774 comments) says:

    Yoza: giving in to bullies is always more costly in the long run. The citizens of those islands voted to remain British, that status should not be changed by force. Appeasement is never the long-run cheapest option, as many have learned through a couple of major world wars.

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  11. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    Razor’s Edge, by Hugh Bichino, is a very good read about this war, and the reasons for it.

    I am often amused by those who loftily declare that the war was stupid and the islands not worth fighting for. If the Argentinian Marines had marched up the main street of Dover or Ramsgate the British people would have demanded they be ejected. So the Falklanders, whom the British Govt (especially in the Foreign and Commonweath Office) had been trying to ‘un-British’ and palm off to the Argentinians.

    It was Admiral Sir Terence Lewin, as First Sea Lord, who gave Margaret Thatcher the confidence to take the war back to the Argentinians. Adm Lewin had been fighting a strong guerrilla war against John Nott, the Defence Secretary, who gave every every impression that he was going to do away with every last aircraft carrier, destroyer and frigate, and submarine to make the Royal Navy the smallest it had ever been. HMS Invincible, for example, was destined to be HMAS Something.

    The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach, was in New Zealand when the Argentinians invaded the islands.

    There’s a lot more still to come out about the war.

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  12. flipper (3,268 comments) says:

    Tripe…
    Good stuff!

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  13. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    I think I have read that novel MnM..I have read a few Jack Higgins books..
    From the little I know about the Falklands , the Argintinians will keep fighting for them till they get them back. The UK has to spend an ever increasing fortune feeding ”work free” muslims..Not much left in the pot for another war.

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  14. Pauleastbay (5,030 comments) says:

    Margaret Thatcher was the shit.

    She over saw the Falklands scene and best of all she stuck it up that loathsome little shit Scargill.

    If she had got the poll tax through she would be running close to equalling Churchill as the greatest PM the UK has ever had

    Hers is one of two autographs that I own.

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  15. Rodders (1,790 comments) says:

    Another person deserving credit was Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington. He took personal responsibility for the failure of the Foreign Office to foresee the invasion and resigned from cabinet. Doesn’t often happen like that these days…

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  16. flipper (3,268 comments) says:

    PEB…
    Well good for you on MT’s autograph.

    Want to sell? :)

    Two points:
    1. The original post by DPF pretty much mirrors Thatcher’s blistering attack on Haig in the Streep movie. If her offer of tea (Will you pour, or shall I?) to Haig is true, it was the ultimate diplomatic put-down.

    2. Had a lot to do with a famous New Zealander (and ex RN Submariner), Admiral Sir Gordon Tait (a Timaru lad, who married a Todd girl), at the time of the Falklands. He predicted the fate of the Belgrano. His private predictions on other similar matters were also spot on.

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  17. Paulus (2,292 comments) says:

    An aspect of the Falklands battle was that whoever controlled the Falkland Islands controlled the Drake Passage.
    At the time the cold war between Russia and USA was on, and the passage was the only deep water where the massive nuclear submarines could pass, between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and could be monitored from equpment in the Falklands.
    Electronincs have changed that – now it is oil fields undersea close by.

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  18. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    My apologies, everyone:

    I had my admirals around the wrong way. Sir Henry Leach was the First Sea Lord 9that is, chief of the Royal Navy), and who stiffened Margaret Thatcher’s resolve.

    Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin was the chief of defence staff.

    I should add that the Argentinians did the British a huge favour in unintended ways. The British found that their Type 21 frigates and Type 43 destroyers were death traps. Successive classes rectified that.

    They also showed that expensive kit such as Seawolf and Sea Dart missiles didn’t work when they should have. As an RN chief petty officer on exchange to the RNZN told me one day: ‘The best weapons we had were the good old Gimpy [general purpose machine-gun] and the .50 cal HMG.

    If the Argentinian Air Force had fused its ordinary bombs bombs better the British would have lost. If 20 or more bombs had gone of when they should have the Brits would have lost a lot more ships (Martin Middlebrook).

    Not a lot of credit has been given, in my opinion, the flying abilities and the raw courage of the pilots of the Argentinian Air Force and Navy. They made their old Skyhawks do astonishing things and caused all sorts of bother.

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  19. flipper (3,268 comments) says:

    Tripe..
    Re Argie pilots… Yep. They did their duty.

    There was an excellent Nat Geo or Discovery programme on this just a couple of days ago. But for those unexploded bombs things could have turned out nasty. Some poor conning decisions by Coventry did not help the UK cause.

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  20. MT_Tinman (2,790 comments) says:

    It was one tactic, probably the nastiest tactic ever devised in modern warfare, that won Faulklands war for the Brits.

    One the Para’s landed and a beachhead was established the Poms stationed a lone piper in the hills above Port Stanley getting him to play non-stop down over the town.

    The Argies immediately surrendered (to Max Hastings from memory).

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  21. rg (190 comments) says:

    Pity we don’t have a PM like Thatcher here. John Key is such a pussy.

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  22. PaulL (5,774 comments) says:

    rg: I’d be interested to see what Key was like in a war (touch wood and all that). He is pragmatic, but I haven’t seen him back down a lot on things he thinks are right. I doubt he’d leave our allies (or colonies, if we had any) in the lurch if a real war came to pass. Labour have been consistently surprised when he turns out to not back down on things they thought he would back down on.

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  23. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    I’d imagine that if someone invaded the Ross Dependency, Mr Key would phone them and offer to sell the place (with the sub-antarctic islands thrown in to sweeten the deal) rather than fight for it. Not that we have much in the way of fighting equipment anyway, although that’s another story.

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  24. PaulL (5,774 comments) says:

    mikenmild: I hope he gets a good price. The Ross Dependency doesn’t come with people, so self determination doesn’t come into it. It does probably have oil and other resources. But there are treaties that prevent exploitation of those resources. Not sure why someone would invade so as to acquire resources that they can’t exploit. And if we agree that we could exploit them, then surely you would take the position that John Key would definitely go to war over oil. :-)

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  25. big bruv (12,327 comments) says:

    The reason that Judith Collins give me a political hard on is that she has more than a bit of Maggie Thatcher about her.

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  26. Rodders (1,790 comments) says:

    too much information

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  27. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    PaulL
    By the time anyone has the technology to exploit the Ross Dependency our defence force will be whittled down to enough soldiers to form a prime ministerial bodyguard, one airliner and a ‘multi-role’ ship.

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  28. Reid (15,510 comments) says:

    I recall reading somewhere it would have been cheaper to pay each of the Falkland islanders a million pounds each and resettling them elsewhere than it cost to retake the Falklands by force.

    Yoza this is why lefties shouldn’t attempt to analyse geopolitics, because none of you have any idea how it works.

    This was, you fool, a grand adventure. Something which wasn’t ever going to be lost from day one. Plus it has the guaranteed benefit of being just the best possibly election winner ever by the PM making, through their iron will, a victorious nation who righteously vanquished the deadly foe. I mean what would you have done? Run away like a little girl, which is what Wussell would do, I imagine. Just a little scaredy cat.

    Only General Galtieri clearly didn’t calculate on the Iron Lady. What a silly billy.

    This is how geopolitics works Yoza. Some mental makes a fatal miscalculation and pisses someone else off and then it all goes downhill. My theory as to why lefties can’t understand these elementary geopolitical calculations is because they’re all too busy wringing their hands at the appalling humanity of the whole thing and they haven’t yet learned to both think and wring their hands at the same time. It’s a hypothesis in development but it seems to fit the observable phenomena.

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  29. PaulL (5,774 comments) says:

    mikenmild: by the time anybody has the technology to exploit the Ross Dependency we’ll all be running of thorium powered molten salt reactors. And have no need for energy from oil. But that’s another story.

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  30. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    Did you get all hot Reid, when you realised that hundreds would die to keep the Falkland Islands British? Could you explain how geopolitics dictated Thatcher’s action without resort to theories based on conspiracies?

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  31. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    PaulL
    All the more reason to sell it now?

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  32. Manolo (12,617 comments) says:

    Long live the Iron Lady!

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  33. Reid (15,510 comments) says:

    Could you explain how geopolitics dictated Thatcher’s action without resort to theories based on conspiracies?

    They’re only theories because you don’t understand them mm, and I thought I had. Someone pisses someone else off and shit happens.

    But at a deeper level, if you wish, of course I abhor the death of any human. It would be nice if no-one ever pissed off anybody, ever. But sometimes they do and sometimes it’s not just a person it’s a country.

    The General didn’t need to do what he did. He was an idiot. He is the one who caused those deaths, not Thatcher and not the commanders of the vessels or the ground forces and not the troops either. Him and him alone.

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  34. Rodders (1,790 comments) says:

    Was there a proven “Falklands factor” in UK’s 1983 General Election?

    In 1983, the Conservatives received fewer votes than in 1979, however Labour received a thrashing as they hemorrhaged votes to the Liberal-SDP Alliance.

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  35. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    It wasn’t one general though, was it? There is a natural human tendency to personalise conflicts – Galtieri vs Thatcher, Saddam versus either Bush, Stalin versus Hitler, etc. The Falklands invasion was wildly popular in Argentina and General Galtieri was hardly a sole evil dictator. The Argentines suffered for the junta’s decisions, although the pitiful conscripts on Las Malvinas paid an easier price than the other thousands of victims of the junta’s ‘dirty war’

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  36. Manolo (12,617 comments) says:

    That’s heresy, comrade mike. You cannot compare the vapid and spineless Key with Mrs Thatcher.
    The two couldn’t be more different: one, an appeaser and insipid lightweight, the other just the Iron Lady.

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  37. nasska (9,484 comments) says:

    Reid

    You missed a highly relevant point. War unites people under the flag of the nation & consequently the government of the day. While Thatcher was probably not adverse to turning the attention of the British away from the effects of her reforms the Argentinian junta surely attempted to take the “Maldives” to draw attention away from the absolute cockup they had made of running their own country.

    A geopolitical “perfect storm” could describe it.

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  38. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    Keep an eye on this website, Manolo:
    http://www.isthatcherdeadyet.co.uk/
    Seriously though, it is unlikely that any NZ PM will ever have to face the challenges that every British PM has to face, so the two are just not comparable in any meaningful sense.

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  39. krazykiwi (9,188 comments) says:

    Always smiled at this cartoon: Gone with the Wind: She promised to follow him to the end of the world. He promised to organise it. :D

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  40. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    Good one kk, I’d forgotten that.

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  41. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    The Argentines gave Margaret Thatcher an even bigger boost when they forced the Royal Marines detachment guarding the Governor’s house to lie down with their hands behind their heads and be photographed.

    That enraged the British public more than the invasion itself. The islands were remote, the islanders were ‘British but not-quite’. But the Royal Marines were ‘our lads’, the Argentinians had humiliated them by letting them be photographed while they strutted about like the conquerors they were. An Argentinian officer of British descent (and there were quite a few, apparently) later privately complained to the governor, Big-Gen Menendez.

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  42. Viking2 (10,702 comments) says:

    Margaret Thatcher gave Francois Mitterand a good bollocking after the Poms found out that the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys were trying to smuggle Exocets into Argentina at the height of the Falklands war:

    Margaret Thatcher warned that Britain’s relationship with France would suffer a “devastating” blow if the latter allowed Exocet missiles to be smuggled to Argentina during the Falklands War.

    In a secret telegram to French president Francois Mitterand, the Prime Minister even cast doubt on the future of the Nato alliance, should he fail to stop shipments of the anti-ship missile, then being used with awful effect against Britain’s task force in the South Atlantic.

    The sea-skimming Exocet was the most feared weapon in the Argentinian armoury, accounting for the destroyer Sheffield and the container ship Atlantic Conveyor, and posing a mortal threat to Operation Corporate, the mission to recover the Falklands.

    http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/2012/12/dodgy-french-ratbags-tried-to-smuggle-exocets-to-the-argies/

    Never changed. Scum foprever. No wonder the Ruskies dislike them

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  43. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    The have a certain je n’est sais quoi though, don’t they?

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  44. Viking2 (10,702 comments) says:

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has unveiled the final extension of a new $US25 billion oil pipeline to the Pacific that underscores the energy power’s gradual shift away from stagnant European markets.

    The East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) link is also expected to expand sales to the United States and fulfil Putin’s dream of cementing Russia’s place as a dominant force in international crude markets.

    Moscow hopes to turn the price of oil transported through ESPO into a benchmark in the Asia-Pacific region that competes with West Texas Intermediate (WTI) – the US oil standard whose price some traders believe is too heavily based on domestic political factors.

    But the head of the Transneft state oil pipeline operator said the lion’s share of the crude from the final leg would in fact be destined for the United States.

    “The American market will receive 35 per cent of Kozmino oil,” Nikolai Tokarev said at the opening ceremony in comments reported by the company’s website.

    “Around 30 per cent will go to Japan and 28 per cent to China.”

    Tokarev appeared to be placing his bets on new markets as he dismissed the idea of offering Europe any assurances that the continent could continue to rely on Russian oil.

    “We do not owe a single EU country a thing, and we are certainly not obligated to account for ourselves,” RIA Novosti quoted Tokarev as saying.

    http://afr.com/p/world/russia_unveils_benchmark_pacific_D37SXYwGvHeeHIVEAvz8SK
    ——————————-
    The important message in this is the last paragraph.
    Russia has been supplying Europe with oil and gas but has changed its political alliances.

    I have blogged that I think France will go soon and take Europe under with it. Oil will be the catalyst, or rather the drop in the price of oil, as it will screw the Arabs who depend on the French.

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  45. Fletch (5,719 comments) says:

    If it weren’t for the combined efforts of Thatcher, Reagan, and Pope John Paul II, the Berlin wall would not have fallen.
    Very good book detailing this is The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World

    http://www.amazon.com/President-Pope-Prime-Minister-ebook/dp/B000X138WI/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1356774704&sr=8-2&keywords=pope+president

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  46. Duxton (543 comments) says:

    It has always amused me that the Joint Task Force Commander, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, had previously (early 1970s) instructed on a Staff College course that included an operational planning scenario featuring an Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. The planning exercise invariably showed that once the Argentinians had occupied the islands, they could not be retaken.

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  47. Bogusnews (425 comments) says:

    Great and typical courage from the British is tackle the argies. When you consider they had 34 harriers (at that time totally unproven in battle) against over 100 Argentinian fighters.

    Then to send their land forces in without air support – God help them if they tried that today (whoops! NZ wouldn’t have any other choice :-) )

    From what I can see, the only reason they won was because the Argies were military pygmies, a view I believe expressed by one of their generals.

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  48. mikenmild (8,761 comments) says:

    It certainly was an operation fraught with risks. It was not inconceivable that the Argentine air force could have damaged or even sunk one of the carriers. If the Argentines had invaded even a few months later, the British might well have been unable to send a task froce of sufficient strength to retake the islands. As it was, the antiquated Argentine air force managed to cause significant damage and it certainly was not out of the question that a missile strike on one of the carriers could have forced the British to withdraw. Once the Brtiish troops were landed; it was all over, as the Argentines had not sent their best troops to occupy the islands and even their best would have suffered in quality measured against the UK forces.

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  49. Paulus (2,292 comments) says:

    Nassca

    Malvinas not Maldives (in the Indian ocean – beautiful)

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  50. cha (3,528 comments) says:

    efforts of Thatcher, Reagan, and Pope John Paul II, the Berlin wall would not have fallen.

    And yet Thatcher> was virulently opposed to German unification.

    http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/112006

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  51. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    Mikenmild: the best Argentinian troops were their Marines. Some of the Army conscripts fought very well, especially against 2 Para (or it might have been the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment) on the mountain overlooking Pt Stanley. Some Argentinian officers were very brave young men and they had a good attitude to the welfare of the men they led.

    Except for the military policeman Major Patricio Dowling (who with his family was able to emigrate to Ireland, from which their ancestors had bunked a hundred or so years before), the Argentinians tried on the whole to be civilised to the Falklanders. That’s not to say they should have been there: they shouldn’t have been.

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  52. ChardonnayGuy (1,023 comments) says:

    Which may well have been the case in 1983, but look at the damage she did to Tory party infrastructure, membership and cohesion after her fall from power in 1990. She fomented insurrection against her successor John Major and his successors as Leader of the Opposition through the next two decades until she began to suffer from advanced age. And judging from the backbench trog Tory ruminations against Cameron’s modernisers, that may still not have run its course.

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  53. Yoza (1,348 comments) says:

    I see my good friend and admirer, Reid, is struggling to type and froth at the same time. The point of my post was to provide context to the amount required to retake the Falklands and question why it was ok to hand over Diego Garcia to foreign occupation while brutally transporting the population of that territory. I’m guessing the Argentinean regime (much like Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait) thought they had the green light from Washington. I know it is in the ‘conspiracy theory’ bucket, but what better way to get rid of an odious friend, the support of whom is becoming too politically toxic, than to encourage that ‘friend’ to act in such away that would allow any ties to be completely severed.

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  54. Reid (15,510 comments) says:

    Diego Garcia is an interesting place Yoza but apparently it’s still UK territory.

    Its strategic location and full range of facilities make the island the last link in the long logistics chain, which supports a vital U.S. and British naval presence in the Indian Ocean and North Arabian Sea.

    As to exiting the indigenous population, they had to. How else are you going to have a secret isolated base where you can do all sorts of things without anyone else knowing about it. Possibly they didn’t have to do it quite so vigorously but I wonder who was in power at that time, left or conservative? Who knows, both sides do it, don’t they Yoza.

    I’m guessing the Argentinean regime (much like Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait) thought they had the green light from Washington.

    Yes I know about the Saddam one and agree with you there was one courtesy of Bush 41, but your other scenario with Argentina and Washington, I’ve never heard of. What would have been in it for Washington given it would be a complete betrayal of its closest ally? And if you were Argentina, surely you wouldn’t be so foolish as to imagine Washington would come out against its closest ally in public and support your adventure? I mean why would anyone in the Argentinian regime be so incredibly stupid as to really truly think that would happen, if they invaded the Falklands?

    But hey keep it up Yoza, the world needs more conspiracy “theories” not less. How else are we ever going wake up the fools and the dullards? :)

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  55. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    If I might help, Yoza:

    The Argentinians (well, some of them did) thought they had a green light from elements of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

    During the 70s some of them had come very close to negotiating away the Falklanders (Britain had included them in legislation un-Britishing the Hong Kong-ese because they didn’t want The Sceptr’d Isle overrun with Asiatics. But for the stubbornness of the islanders and their many friends in the UK they would have got away with it.

    So Galtieri and his fellow generals, admirals, and brigadiers thought they could get away with it. The junta was really unpopular. Only days before the invasion Argentines had crowded into the Plaza de Mayo outside the Casa Rosada demanding democratic government once more.

    No-one, it seems, in the junta had reckoned on Margaret Thatcher. Neither did many of the ‘men’ in her government. Some of them, including Nott, the defence secretary, were adamant that she should reach a settlement – in other words, abandon the Falklands.

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