Falkland Islands: Nothing More Than a Symbol of Pride
January 22, 2011

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.


When Traveling the Oregon Trail Once (or Twice) is Not Enough
October 9, 2010

Ezra Meeker Never Got To Use His Ford Model A Covered Wagon to Once Again Travel the Oregon Trail

John Jacob Astor

John Jacob Astor

On This Date in History: I’m sure many people have heard of the Oregon Trail but probably aren’t familiar with where it is except Oregon. In the early 19th Century, Lewis and Clark gained the blessings and financial support (Probably Not Constitutional) of President Jefferson. That paved the way for commerce with John Jacob Astor leading the way in the American fur trade. Again, it was Thomas Jefferson who encouraged Astor, who formed the Pacific Fur Company. Astor sent a man named Wilson Price Hunt to establish a base of operations and in 1811, Hunt followed the trail of Lewis and Clark to the Dakotas and then cut over land through Jackson Hole and eventually to the mouth of the Columbia River. They called the place Fort Astor or Fort Astoria.

The War of 1812 broke out and the Crown sent a warship to seize the fort. The guys in the fort figured out that they were in trouble so, being good businessmen, they sold the town to their British competitors. The North West Company purchased the fort, renamed it Fort George and the British gained control without firing a shot and presumably John Jacob Astor got some money for his trouble.

Did Ogden Have a Neck?

Just before the Brits took over the fort, a group of men led by Robert Stuart left Fort Astor for St. Louis. That party in 1812 was the first follow the Oregon Trail, though they did it in reverse. About 10 years later, the Northwest Fur Company merged with the Hudson Bay Company and a hellion with the Company named Peter Skene Ogden was used as a inspector of operations in the far west. He got the position probably to keep him out of the offices because in the past, he had tried to incinerate a campanion for fun, nearly beat a company officer to death and led an entire outpost in a mutiny. Ogden ended up knowing more about the west than anyone except for mountain man Jedediah Smith. Ogden’s explorations made its way to cartographers who made maps that paved the way for settlers to emigrate west over the Oregon Trail. I suppose that Ogden Utah got its name from this rough and nasty man of the west.

Ezra Meeker 1906

So, a bunch of people went west following the Oregon Trail. One was Ezra Meeker who took his family along the trail in 1852 and moved into the Washington Territory. What makes Meeker stand out was in an attempt to keep the history of the trail alive, honor the men who blazed it and work toward improving roads out west.   Ezra Meeker got an ox and wagon and took the trail again, stopping often to give speeches and promote its importance in history. Meeker at the time was 75 years old. It was a tough trip and the ox died, but not Meeker. So enthused with his efforts, he did it again in 1910.

Ezra Meeker and Friend 1910

In 1915 he traveled the route by automobile. And on this date in 1924, Ezra Meeker once again followed the trail that he first set out on 72 years earlier. This time he was 93 years old and this time he made the 1300 mile journey like a bird. He traveled by airplane. At age 98, he attempted to travel the trail by car again with the support of Henry Ford, but he died on December 3, 1928.

Recognize This View From Kindergarten Cop?

Fort Astor is today known as Astoria, Oregon and was the setting for the movie Kindergarten Cop. Meeker had his last oxen team slaughtered and mounted by a taxidermist and can be found today on display, still hooked to the wagon, at the Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma. A commemorative coin was struck in the 1920’s and 30’s to commemorate Meeker and the trail. In the 1980’s, a computer game company put out “The Oregon Trail” game and had a default feature that listed Ezra Meeker in 5th place on the all-time scorer list with a score of 2052. Why they picked that score is a mystery to me.

I’ll tell you what…in the dictionary under “obsession” should be a picture of Ezra Meeker.

Weather Bottom Line:  Our conditions are similar to what you might find in the desert.  The air is so dry that when you add in somes sunshine, even at the lower angle of fall, it heats up rapidly and when you take away the heat source (the sun going down) it cools off pretty rapidly.  So, Saturday and Sunday we will be in the upper 80’s to near 90 in the afternoons but cool off to the low to mid 50’s.  Really, the warm afternoons won’t be that uncomfortable and its likely that you can just keep the windows open and air conditioners off each day.  The same will hold true for Monday though it may be a little more humid as a cold front advances and we get a slight return flow of some moisture.  But, it won’t be sufficient to bring any rain to speak of with the frontal passage on Monday night.  Temperatures will back off though closer to seasonal levels, though maybe still a bit warmer than average, for the balance of the week.  I’ll be on Fox 41 on Sunday night.