Who won the Falklands War?
If Galtieri’s junta had prepared for war in 1982, even to the minimal extent of equipping Argentinian fighter-bombers properly, Mrs Thatcher’s Enterprise of the Falklands would almost certainly have failed, thereby ensuring that Argentina would still today be ruled by a triumphalist military élite, inept mismanagers of a decaying economy, impotent spectators of the country’s social disintegration, and of course both cruel and corrupt. As it is, defeated Argentina is undergoing a profound economic reconstruction and making unprecedented progress towards democratic governance, while Britain has paid a large penalty for a very small war.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 14 No. 9 · 14 May 1992
There is rich irony in the picture of Edward Luttwak (LRB, 23 April), sitting on his Chair of Strategic Anglophobia, or whatever he does in Washington, telling us contemptuously about ‘the world’s strategic slums, where they still run around with guns’. Washington, crime capital of the United States!
This is preceded by a lecture on the meritocratic virtues, with particular reference to the Royal Navy and its shortcomings. The Navy is not, nor ever has been save for a short period towards the end of the 19th century, an aristocratic service. Unlike the Army, it did not sell commissions, and although ‘interest’ was important when it was a feature in every field, it has maintained, since its founding in King Alfred’s reign, a steadily meritocratic character. On the rare occasions when it has followed political faction, it has favoured the mercantile, middle-class interest, solidly supporting Parliament in the Civil War.
From the social point of view, the Navy was hardly attractive to aristocrats. During the Napoleonic wars, when the Navy came into its own as a possible road to wealth and distinction, it is clear that the advancement of men of obscure origin caused resentment in some quarters, as witness Sir Walter Elliot’s vexation, in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, at the enoblement of ‘Lord St Ives, whose father we all know to have been a country curate’. Queen Victoria, in the earlier years of her reign, was embarrassed by the impropriety of inviting Naval officers to sit at dinner with her Guards officers, and the difficulty in finding those fit to do so. As conditions became less jail-like, the Service attracted more men of name, but was clearly too important to the national interest to tolerate the dilettante officer. Jacky Fisher would break men without hesitation if they did not come up to scratch.
Admiral Woodward’s background is probably typical of the Navy today, and I think Luttwak has misunderstood the chit-chat of his memoirs. Certainly there has been family tradition, and one can think of several Navy names, and this has done no harm. It should not be confused with the ‘aristocratic’ and will, I hope, always be subordinate to efficiency. Luttwak’s review seems to have been fuelled by a slightly rancid Anglophobia, anciently found, for historical reasons, in the USN – which has family traditions of its own not dissimilar to those found in the RN.
Since the attributes derided by Luttwak in his piece on the Falklands are those which not only won the battle and restored British self confidence, but also gave Argentina some hope of democracy, it is quite hard to despise them. If they had not existed, it is of course possible that the Argentines might have won, but how would that have helped the British economy or improved its class system?