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Letters

Vol. 5 No. 6 · 1 April 1983

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Politician’s War

SIR: Thank you for Tam Dalyell’s review of The Battle for the Falklands (LRB, 3 March), but surely the time has come to stop his constant confusion of history with political vendetta. Max Hastings and I most certainly do not ‘exonerate the Prime Minister’ of responsibility either for the outbreak of the war or for its conduct. No one reading the political sections of our book – or for that matter the military ones – could possibly draw that conclusion. Mrs Thatcher must bear her full share of blame for Britain’s lack of preparedness in March, despite Franks’s absurd exculpation, but Mr Dalyell’s thesis that she welcomed the invasion to gain political salvation at home in defeating it is preposterous.

This oft-repeated claim forces him to attempt to rewrite whole passages of the Falklands conflict. For instance, there is no shred of evidence that any of the negotiating packages produced in April or May would have secured a ‘complete withdrawal of troops’ by the Argentinians, as Mr Dalyell maintains. The Junta, even Brigadier Lami Dozo, persistently thought it would win, right through to the eve of the final battle. Whatever one’s view of the war, it is a perversion of history to ignore the fact that it was Buenos Aires which picked the quarrel. Once the confrontation had been commenced, the Argentinian regime was simply too weak to back off.

More serious still, our book should not be used by Mr Dalyell to support his claim that the cruiser Belgrano was deliberately sunk by Mrs Thatcher to scupper Francis Pym’s peace negotiations. Whether or not it had this effect – and Admiral Anaya was not remotely in a mood to accept the Peruvian peace plan that week or any other – it is simply not true that this is why the cruiser was sunk. The torpedoing followed an urgent request from the task force commanders, desperate to eliminate what were then regarded as the two major threats to the planned landing: the cruiser and aircraft-carrier groups. Since the fleet subsequently fled to port, it is hard now to realise how much these ships were dreaded by Admiral Woodward. In addition, Belgrano carried a mass of radar equipment apparently intended to assist in directing air attacks into the exclusion zone. It was politically most unfortunate (potentially disastrous) that the ship was outside the exclusion zone when she was sunk, but the reason was military. The most mystifying aspect of the incident is not the motive but the inability of ministers to provide a convincing justification for it in public. The price they pay for their secrecy is Mr Dalyell’s damaging accusations.

Mrs Thatcher’s undeniable lack of enthusiasm towards the various Falklands peace initiatives in April and May was not the result of any instinctive war lust. Virtually alone among her ministers, she was convinced from the start that the Junta would not leave the islands or acknowledge the principle of self-determination for the islanders unless compelled to do so by force of arms. Given her objectives, I believe that her judgment in meeting them was correct. This in no way diminishes the other criticisms of her and her government made in our book.

Simon Jenkins
London NW1

SIR: I do not mind being called a ‘knave in the Parliamentary pack’ by Brian Bond in his review of One Man’s Falklands (LRB, 3 March). I do mind a ‘military historian’s’ misconceptions.

My Parliamentary friends and I did not ‘snipe’. We conducted a full-blooded Parliamentary Opposition to the dispatch of the Task Force, which went largely unreported until the London Review of Books Editor, Karl Miller, asked me for and printed a full, serious article outlining the dissenters’ case, and until Panorama’s team, appalled by the way we had been treated by other sectors of the BBC, put on ‘Traitorama’ on 10 May, when Crouch, Foulkes, Meyer and I – four mild-mannered and douce MPs – voiced rational objections to the South Atlantic War.

At no time did I accuse my country of warmongering and aggression. On 2 April, many thousands of my constituents, good and generally well-informed people, would have been hard-pressed to say where exactly the Falkland Islands were. This accusation is not even directed at the Conservative Party, but at Mrs Margaret Hilda Thatcher and her immediate entourage.

‘Even Michael Foot’ was obliged to dismiss me. Yes. But I repeat what I said to him, at the sacking interview. ‘Michael, the issue is not my future – it’s about yours, Michael.’ Had he opposed the dispatch of the Task Force (and I pleaded with him before he spoke on 3 April), who now supposes that we should be subjected to daily doubts about his leadership? It is simply tragic.

If, as Bond says, the Falklanders are manifestly British, is not the answer, for those who above all else want to be British, to come and live in Britain – where I would have deemed them as first-class citizens under the British Nationality Acts?

I do not doubt the ‘oppressive nature of the regime’ – though Galtieri was showing signs of being better than Viola or Videla. But Brian Bond must know perfectly well that those Falklanders who elected to stay would have joined the privileged Anglo-Argentine community, or been like the Welsh-speaking, rugby-playing Welsh communities of Southern Patagonia, and not the Disappeared Ones.

‘Central to Mr Dalyell’s thesis that Mrs Thatcher was the aggressor was the sinking of the General Belgrano. On this point he is prejudiced and wrong.’ It’s not me, but Bond who is wrong. The Belgrano was not, as he claims, ‘heading towards elements of the Task Force’. By Parliamentary Question, on the Government’s own admission, Belgrano was on a 280-degree course at the time she was sunk, heading towards the entrace to the Straits of Magellan, and her home port of Ushuaia. She was under orders to return from Admiral Inaya – for which he is publicly and bitterly accused of treachery by the pilots of the Aviacon Naval. Moreover, since the British, with the help of the Americans, had broken the Argentinian codes (relatively unsophisticated), Thatcher and Lewin jolly well knew that Belgrano had been ordered back, as had the Army, in the belief that the Peruvian/American proposals for withdrawal of all forces, Argentinian and British, would be accepted. Mrs Thatcher would not have any truck with such proposals on account of domestic politics here in Britain. But then Brian Bond has not grasped the central fact that for Mrs Thatcher, the conflict was never about the rights, views, paramount or otherwise, of the Falklanders: it was about the injured political pride which sent the Fleet, and about retaining the leadership of the Conservative Party, with the support of an ignorant and disgraceful press.

Bond concludes by saying that the Argentines are unlikely to make the same mistake again for a very long time. Maybe or maybe not. People who continue to scour the world for Exocets are going to keep the pressure up. The costs soar. Financial cuts devastate the Health Service, Housing, Education and much else. What would Brian Bond do if the nation which is about to spend £880,000,000 on Port Stanley Airport decided that it had to cut yet more university departments – even that of War Studies, in King’s College, London?

Tam Dalyell
House of Commons, London SW1

Queen Famine’s Courtier

SIR: I have been sent, by a friend, a copy of the composite review by Paul Delany (LRB, 3 February) of the book on Graves, and of the Selected Letters published relatedly to that, and of my book of early stories in a new edition, Progress of Stories; and I have considered writing something for the interest of your readers on the actual tendentious disposition underlying your reviewer’s effort to display more critical decency in regard to the subject of myself than other reviewers have displayed. No one writing of myself as he wrote in his comments on the two books centred on Graves could with critical decency merge with them comments of a literarily appropriate order on this single book of mine. The false relevance he creates between the perversions of fact concerning myself that both the other books have poured into reading circulation adds something new to the record of recently ugly British reviewer behaviour – with the opportunities for indulgence in the vanities of easy prejudice offered by those books.

Laura (Riding) Jackson
Florida

Too far, man

SIR: In reading D.A.N. Jones’s review of my book A Visit from the Footbinder (LRB, 3 March), I noted an unfortunate error which I feel I must put right. It was not Terry Southern who, as Mr Jones put it, ‘went rather too far in his tale of L.B.J.’s necrophily with the assassinated J.F.K.’, but Paul Krassner, then editor of the now-defunct Realist Magazine. I know Mr Krassner would adore to take the blame.

Emily Prager
New York

‘Nothing Sacred’

SIR: So why is Frank Sinatra famous? Because everybody knows him. And why does everybody know him? Because he’s famous, of course. Names, repeated often enough, become household, but let’s not confuse publicity with genuine criticism. It seems of late that at the rattle of every quality paper the names and credentials of the so-called Martian poets swim through the newsprint. What ever we may think of their poetry (my cards on the table: not much; the Martians have no clothes) there’s really no excuse for the current plague of back-scratching. The Sunday Times has permitted itself to be used for Martian back-slapping exercises (our own drama critic, our own poetry reviewer …), but we ought to expect better of the London Review of Books.

At any rate, genuine literary criticism is surely not what Tom Paulin’s review of Angela Carter’s Nothing Sacred (LRB, 3 March) amounts to. What excuse can there be for such gratuitous name-dropping in an article presumably about the excellent Ms Carter’s writing? What’s she to Hecuba? The comparisons are odious, not least that they are made superficially with the use of that easy and deceptive ‘Like …’ Like whom? Paulin is pushing his own fortunes here. That slab of Martian verse does not compare with Carter, and has no place here, slid in behind Douanier Rousseau and find-the-lady games. To claim class-awareness has no part in Angela Carter’s work is surely to miss the point. To use her as an excuse to mention, amongst others, Paulin’s own editor at Faber is shameful. And dishonest.

Ken Smith
London E6

Tom Paulin writes: I believe absolutely in what I wrote – that Carter, Reid and Raine share a new English sensibility. It is no secret that Raine is my poetry editor at Faber, but that does not mean that I share, say, his admiration of Betjeman’s kitsch Englishness. Mr Smith calls me ‘dishonest’ – let him explain why or oil his pistols.

Serious Mistake

SIR: When I write something self-contradictory, the least you could do is print it incorrectly. In my piece called ‘On the library coffee-table’, which you ran in the last issue, the sentence ‘Not that the old European scholar-popularisers have died off’ makes no sense in that context. Obviously I set out to write, ‘Now that the old European scholar-popularisers have died off’, to be followed by some suggestion that their successors are imbued with a rather different spirit. But something went wrong between the draft and typescript. A simple misprint would have covered my blunder. Please try to be more careless in future.

At least one serious parenthesis got lost in the process of squeezing so expansive a contribution into such a terse paper. I am well aware that Oxford, Simpkin and other imprints published small-format books on thin paper with excellent results. What I meant was that in the German-speaking countries the same kind of publishing, rather than something special, was standard practice – as indeed it still is, while with us the idea has all but died out.

A footnote on Wilhelm Waetzoldt. Since submitting the finished article, I have found out that he was dismissed from his post in 1934, so if he later did any ‘playing along’ it might have been for good reasons. Looking back on this matter needs forbearance. It might also be said that it needs information. One is very conscious, when writing about these topics, of educating oneself in public. The professional scholars will have the last word. But it is my impression that not all the first words have yet been said.

Clive James
The Observer, London EC4

The sentence made perfectly good sense in that context, it seems to me: and Mr James is at fault in using the occasion to deny us (a very small staff) the benefit of his favourite word of praise: ‘serious’. No doubt – or not that – the old European scholar-popularisers would have done better.

Editor, ‘London Review’

British Pluck

SIR: Daniel Eilon, in his letter on A.J.P. Taylor’s comments on Israel (Letters, 3 March), has not only anatomised the problem: he has, I fear, also exemplified it.

John Lord
University of Surrey

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