Falkland Islands: Nothing More Than a Symbol of Pride


May 14 1979 Time Magazine Proved To Be a Prophecy...but for what?

On This Date in History:  In the early 1980’s, there was a much publicized war between Argentina and Great Britain over a tiny group of islands off the southern tip of Argentina.  It became known as the Falkland Islands War.  Britain had long maintained sovereignty over the islands and Argentina suddenly had laid claim to them.  Very few people had heard of the islands before and most in Great Britain probably had no idea that it was British property.  The islands really had little value but the honor of Britain was at stake.  As it turns out, it was really a repeat of history. 

Sir Thomas Cavendish

The Spanish had been the lords of the sea for much of the 18th century and therefore had been able to do the most exploring and exploitation of the new world.   When the Spanish Armada was routed by the British in 1588, that opened up the New World to other European nations.  Now, Sir Thomas Cavendish was an English explorer and sailor known as the “navigator” for his sailing skills.  While Magellan, Loaisa, Drake and Loyola all had circumnavigated the globe, apparently none of them set sail with that intention.  Cavendish is credited with being the first to make such a voyage as his primary, intended quest.  He achieved this at age 28 after a two-year journey in 1588.  For some reason, that was not enough because he tried it again in 1591.  By 1592, Cavendish was dead of unknown causes and the attempt has been labeled a disaster.   However, it is thought that, on this voyage, one of Cavendish’s ships was captained by a man named Davis who, either by design or bad weather, got separated from Cavendish near the Straits of Magellan and is thought to be the first to have seen the islands.  However, he did not explore then or otherwise make any observations.  While that seems nebulous on the surface, it would prove to be important for centuries. 

Over 200 years later, Falklands still good for sheep

In 1771, a man named Samuel Johnson wrote a detailed history of the Falkland Islands up to that point.  Johnson seems to be opining of the uselessness of the islands.  After Captain Davis, several other people saw the islands but never bothered to stop.  When they were mapped, it was found that the islands had lots of water but no wood.  It had a good harbor and only had a benefit perhaps as a military outpost to support colonial operations.  But, even that was a dubious distinction because there was no way that the islands could ever be self-sufficient.  Spain had nominally laid claim to the islands as part of its Argentina colonization but the Spanish never did much with it.  The British did set up an outpost and provisioned it regularly and also found that sheep and cattle seemed to be more suitable for that environment than agriculture.  Around 1870, the Spanish showed up and asked the British to leave.  Mainly out of pride, the British refused.  The exchanges between the commander of the British garrison and the Spanish frigate captain is remarkable in that it is civil.  It’s as if both of them were doing their duty but really didn’t want to spill blood over something of such little value.  The Spanish eventually landed with a far superior force and the British left.  But, that wasn’t the end of it. Again, pride shows up and the crown just  couldn’t allow their claims to be challenged.  Their claim of possession was  basically that they had found it first.  The courts of Spain and England negotiated and discussed and, in the end, the King of Spain disavowed any knowledge of the actions of the governor of Buenos Aires, who apparently had directed his naval forces to take the island without orders  or permission from the King.  So, on this date in 1771, Spain ceded what was known as the Falkland Islands to the English, to the British Crown. 

Falklands More Suitable To Penguins Than People

Johnson opined on what all of this got the crown:  “… a restitution of our settlement, maintained the honour of the crown, and the superiority of our influence. Beyond this what have we acquired? What, but a bleak and gloomy solitude, an island, thrown aside from human use, stormy in winter, and barren in summer; an island, which not the southern savages have dignified with habitation; where a garrison must be kept in a state that contemplates with envy the exiles of Siberia; of which the expense will be perpetual, and the use only occasional; and which, if fortune smile upon our labours, may become a nest of smugglers in peace, and in war the refuge of future bucaniers.”  Johnson hammered the point of the lack of utility of the island when he points out that, after the Brits gained the concession, they abandoned the island.  He does note, however, that “the Spaniards have stipulated, that the grant of possession shall not preclude the question of prior right, a question which we shall probably make no haste to discuss, and a right, of which no formal resignation was ever required.”  This perhaps was the underlying excuse for hostility by the Argentinians 200 years later.

Falkland Islands Map

Falkland Islands Map

On the other hand,  it is not unusual for a government in turmoil with a risk of collapse from within to create an international incident in order to unify the country against a common foe besides the government. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Argentina had been ruled by a military dictatorship that had once been popular but was rapidly losing support from the people as they grew weary of the number of political prisoners that had been taken as well as people who had simply disappeared. The economy was shrinking at 6% per year and inflation was running at 160%. The unions began to join forces with political opposition groups and the military Junta knew it was in trouble. Then, they thought a gift had been delivered to them.

The Harrier Proved Its Meddle in the Falklands

The Harrier Proved Its Meddle in the Falklands

While the Falkland and the South Georgia Islands had long been part of the British empire, the general global feeling of the 20th century was that empires needed to come to an end. However, perhaps due to the same pride that caused the British to want to keep the islands in the 18th century,  numerous attempts through the United Nations by Argentina to get Britain to cede the islands to Argentina failed. In 1979, an Argentinian businessman (Constantino Davidoff) purchased a former whale slaughterhouse on the South Georgia Islands from an Englishman(Christian Salvensen). The new owner wanted to dismantle the plant and sell the metal for scrap. The HMS Endurance was in the vicinity and the Argentine owner asked the Brits to loan him the use of their naval vessel to help him haul off the scrap. The crown denied his request. So, he went to his own Navy which obliged. This was the perfect set up for the Junta. It knew that the people of Argentina supported the idea of the nation gaining sovereignty over the islands off its coast and, if the Junta could use the situation properly, it could perhaps regain public support.  Besides, the Spanish never did acknowledge that the British had rightful claim when it ceded control in 1771.

Aluminum Ships Like Destroyer HMS Sheffield Proved Vulnerable To Missiles

Aluminum Ships Like Destroyer HMS Sheffield Proved Vulnerable To Missiles

So, in March 1982 when the Argentine Navy ship showed up at the South Georgia Islands, residents there complained to London that there was a warship with the Argentine flag floating in their waters. So, the British sent the HMS Endurance to the scene to prevent any landing by any Argentinians. Argentina responded by sending the military transport Bahia Parasio to the islands with the hope of occupying the islands peacefully. Now, the Junta had a plan for invading the Falkland and South Georgia Islands on the shelf for a couple of years. The nation had a pretty decent military and the battlefield would be 7500 miles from England. Also, they figured that they could use the weather as an ally by staging their invasion between June and October, which is the winter time in the Southern Hemisphere which would make things more difficult for England. The advantage really was with Argentina.

War Was The Big Headline in London

War Was The Big Headline in London

But…the people at home were getting restless and protests were growing quickly against the military leaders. So, they made the mistake of moving up their time-table. On April 2, 1982 Argentine ground forces of landed on the South Georgia Islands. The Falkland Islands War was on and the Argentine government appealed to President Reagan for support. The Rio Treaty of 1947 called on all nations of the Americas to come to the aid of any nation that was invaded by foreign forces. The Junta told Reagan that they were enforcing the rights of Argentine workers to legally do the job of removing the whaling slaughterhouse. I guess Ron didn’t agree because he didn’t lift a finger. After all, England was not your ordinary foreign invader. It had been our pal throughout the 20th Century and Reagan had established a strong bond with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who earned her reputation as the “Iron Lady” by calling the Argentine bluff.

Sinking HMS Conventry and other ships highlighted limitations and vulnerability of naval assets

Instead of quietly negotiating away the islands, she sent a task force of ships, submarines, sailors and over 10,000 troops all the way from England. The task force left on April 5, 1982…just 3 days after the Argentine invasion. The first encounter of the Brits and Argentines happened on April 25 and by the middle of June, the war was over with an Argentinian surrender…just before the winter got going. Many historians agree, the biggest mistake of the Argentine Junta was to attack in the fall instead of sticking to their plan of a winter assault. In the eyes of many, the Argentinians had a good case for obtaining the islands but, the military might and determination of Margaret Thatcher rendered any legitimate points moot. A little more than a year later, the Argentinian Junta was out of office and any hope of ever getting to the negotiating table with Britain over ceding the islands was doomed. They never should have neglected the weather forecast.  Or maybe they should have just agreed that the islands were of no value.  As it stands, many people died and treasure spent on a bunch of islands that no one really found  much use for except express misappropriated pride…but at last, that pride is redeemed…you see, oil was discovered a few years ago near the Falkland Islands and, once again, Argentina is claiming and Britain ain’t listening. 

Weather Bottom Line:  Yes, it’s cold.  Is your street clear of snow?  I think the Mayor is in Washington DC so maybe he’s not aware of the snow on the streets in your neighborhood.  Then again, perhaps the delay is just a money-saving tactic since it’s the weekend and they’ll just clear everyone’s road by Sunday night for the Monday start to the work week.  See, there is a model out there that just keeps throwing snow over the area for many days.  That would be the GFS.   Its been consistent in that assertion from last Thursday through early Saturday morning. I suspect that it will change its mind because it’s the outlier as most models do not have a low traversing the Ohio Valley and conspiring with one to the South to bring lots of snow, or at least several days of light snow.  Instead, most damp out the midwest low and make the southern low the dominant feature and routes it through Dixie and up the east coast.  The weather service still has a chance of snow in the forecast from Sunday night through Wednesday, but we’ll have to wait and see.  Either way, while it will remain cold for the forseeable future, we will come out of the ice bucket after the weekend.

13 Responses

  1. The Brits have an uncanny knack for the Art of CYA. Just imagine the money they’ll make if Anthroprogenic Global Warming really takes off in the 21st Century. The Falklands will be the Mecca of the Rich and Famous. Monnaco, the Riviera, and everything else in the Med will be as dead as the Sahara. Of course.. if the global heatwave doesn’t happen, what have they lost, really?

  2. Perhaps you could explain how Argentina inherited any rights from Spain in the Falklands, or anywhere else for that matter, when Argentina took its independence (and any territory it could) by force?

  3. In 1870, it was the Spanish Governor of Argentina that ordered the ships to kick out the British. It was the Spanish King who said that his governor had taken action without orders from the crown. That would seem to imply that all along, the Spanish considered it part of Argentina. When they ceded it, they did so without acknowledging England’s legitimate posssession. I suppose they thought it wasn’t worth it. Now that oil is found there, the Argentinians are back to wanting their islands and England has more than just pride at stake in keeping it…blood from the 1982 war and now oil.

  4. Firstly, in 1870 Argentina had been a de facto independent country for the best part of 60 years (depending on whether you date independence to 1810 or 1816).

    Secondly, since Spain had recognised Argentine independence in 1859 it is highly unlikely, in fact impossible, that Argentina would still have had a Spanish governor in 1870. Oh and by the way, for the most part of 1870 Spain did not even have a monarch (see the Glorious revolution of 1868)!

    You still have not answered my question. Since Argentina had taken her independence from Spain (and therefore what territory it could) by force, how exactly did Argentina inherit rights from Spain in the Falklands or anywhere else? Under what principle of international law could this be possible?

  5. Perhaps this will help next time you want to write about the Falklands. Just to get the facts and chronology correct.

    http://www.falklandshistory.org/gettingitright.pdf

    The islands are British because the Falkland Islanders want it to be that way. Nothing to do with pride…

  6. I believe you missed the entire point of the whole article. It had nothing to do with a few folks who have been born and raised a British subjects desiring to remain such rather than becoming Argentinian. It is about the utility, or lack thereof, of the islands and that there is no concrete, pragmatic reason for any nation to risk its blood and treasure over the islands. As for chronology, I can accept that you are capable of making a mistake by utilizing one source and taking it as gospel though you seem to be incapable of giving me teh same consideration in a response that i said 1870 instead of 1770, which the article (if you really read it and read for content) clearly states. And since you obviously read the article, then you would find that the documentation that I used is the very same one referenced in your link, the one associated with Samuel Johnson. Today, there are apparent economic interests beyond national pride for Britain to defend the islands and Argentina to continue to claim them for the oil that is apparently in the area. Your link seems to emphasize that there was no real economic or pragmatic reason for anyone to claim the islands, or fight for them, as the Spanish and Brits figured out in 1770. An issue I would have with your condescending tone (and lack of answering your own question) is that your source seems to have an anglo bias and does not give the Argentinian point of view. I had zero agenda in the writing of my little piece but it does seem the link you posted as gospel does indeed have an agenda. As for your statement, in the late 20th century, the reason why the islands are British is because of Margaret Thatcher, the British Royal Navy and British Royal Marines.

    Thanx for writing

  7. OK, you made a typo. Fair enough. Even so, your argument is jumbled and incoherent. You say it’s all about pride but conveniently ignore the Falkland Islanders right to self determination.

    The Argentine claim is unfounded. Yet they chose to invade causing the loss of “blood and treasure”. They ignored a UN Security Council resolution to get out. Personally I’m glad Mrs Thatcher decided to defend British territory and those “few folk” you seem to feel were not worth anything. Not because of pride, but on principle. I know her decision saved Mrs Thatchers political neck. So what? She did the right thing. The Falkland Islanders are not under some unelected Argentine dictatorship’s yoke.

    My source “seems to have an anglo bias”. Perhaps then you could explain why most of his original source documents are held in the Argentine national archives. My source is simply pointing out the gaping holes in the Argentine position and claim.

    Now I’d love to know how you think Argentina has anything to do with this when it was a matter between Britain and Spain, as you state in your post.

  8. We just are not communicating very well. Even in business, when one company acquires another, it takes on the obligations and contracts made by the acquired company. The thinking with Argentina is that, since Spain never acknowledged that the islands were rightfully British, they figured it was good enough for them. I’m not siding with anyone. The notion that it was over pride comes from the fact that neither nation has (had)any utitlity for the islands and that had been the case from the beginning based on the fact that whomever “discovered” them never bothered to stop by and it took a long time for anyone to even check them out. The bias comes from the verbiage of the documents…as I stated…they offer their point of view and uses terms such as “nonsense” which is hardly objective. From an Argentinians point of view, the perspective would be different yet, since we are only shown the Falklanders (British subjects) opinion, then we are left to assume that theres is the only truth. It reminds me of my wifes aunt who, when I was researching a thesis regarding Louisville history, told me all I needed to know was in a book she wrote for middle school students in the early 1960’s. It was the truth…but a truth that she wanted to present, which means it was absent any mention of racial, ethnic and financial issues involving the city and it led one to believe that Louisville was part of the Confederacy when, in fact, Louisville was the home base for the Union’s Army of the Ohio which was invited into the state by the Kentucky Legislature.

    Look, you make it sound like I’m siding with the Argentinians when I really do not. It’s tough in the 21st century to make such a claim, especially since they got it handed to them in 1982. Now that oil has been found in the vicinity, it may be interesting to see if Argentina tries again. I doubt they will as their people probably want none of that. Nevertheless, it may be tempting given the financial situation of the UK and other nations perhaps limiting the ability and will power of that nation to make a stand like the Iron Lady did nearly 30 years ago.

    I do appreciate your adding to the discussion and the link, though.

  9. We may well be not communicating very well, but it’s a conversation worth having.

    Your example of one company acquiring another makes no sense. A better example would be a branch office breaking away from the “mother” company. Do you think that branch would be allowed to trade in the mother company’s name, using their logo? I don’t think so… There was no ordered and agreed acquisition of anything in the case of Argentine independence. Argentina took its independence from Spain by force, it fought for independence using guns and bullets. How could Argentina possibly “inherit” any of Spains rights and obligations? What’s more is that since the 1790s Britain had in retained rights in the Falklands under the Nootka Sound Convention – Spain’s title was not unlimited. And post 1833 Spain never once denied the Falklands were British.

    You seem to think that Argentine opinion and Falklander opinion should be given equal weight. The last time I checked it was the Falkland Islanders who had the right to self determination in the Falklands, which means Argentine opinion over what happens there is irrelevant.

    I know the Pascoe/Pepper document uses words like “nonsense”, but that is for the simple reason that some of what the Argentine government puts out is nothing less than nonsense. Nonsense is a polite word for some of their blatant lies.

    By the way, it has been know that oil might exist around the Falklands since the 1960s and there were finds in the 1970s, so it’s nothing new.

    Whatever the “utility” of the Falkland Islands, the UK has an obligation to the Falkland Islanders under international law. The only pride in this equation is Argentine pride.

  10. The branch company would have to take on the contracts and obligations associated with that branch. As for the oil, it may have been known but having the ability to get it is another thing as well as the cost effectiveness. It has been known for many many years that there is a bunch of oil in the Austin Chalk, between Houston and Austin, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that it was economically feasible to extract it. When the price of oil dropped in the late 80’s, the drillers all went home. I appreciate your participation and your passion on the subject. For the record, I do think that the Falklands belongs to the UK. Many of your perceptions are incorrect but again, I’ll take the blame for not communicating properly.

  11. Do you really think that a branch which breaks away from the mother company without some kind of agreed process would be allowed to take on what are effectively the mother company’s contracts? I find that very hard to envisage. If it was agreed then I can completely understand how that would be possible, but if it was unilateral and not agreed then it doesn’t seem likely.

    You said “Now that oil has been found in the vicinity…”. I was simply pointing out that oil was found there the best part of four decades ago, so it’s not a new factor.

    It goes without saying that oil exploration (because that is happening at the moment) has ramped up because of the high oil price. You might be aware that in 1995 Argentina and the UK (on behalf of the Falklands) signed a hydrocarbons agreement to cooperate in the region. The current exploration in Falkland waters was organised in advance under this agreement. It was the Argentine government who walked away and now accuse the FIG of acting unilaterally…

  12. First off, a branch of a company can’t just declare independence and walk. A branch would be spun off by the parent. Technology plays a part in the oil exploration as well as the price. Some of the deeper waters were not accessible 20 years ago.

  13. Well to using your own analogy, Argentina was not “spun off by the parent (Spain). It declared independence (unilaterally and took its independence by force). No rights or obligations were inherited. Issues between Spain and Britain have nothing to do with Argentina, the point I tried to make in my very first comment, when I asked you to explain how Argentina could possibly “inherit” any rights (or obligations) from Spain.

    True, changing technology could make some of the oil more accessible, but what has not changed is the knowledge that oil exists. In your comment you said it had “now… been found”. That clearly implies that oil is a new factor. It is not.

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