Dog, cat, and mouse in the South Atlantic

Argentina, the world press tells us, intends to rename its top soccer league the “Cruiser General Belgrano First Division”, in honour of the Argentine ship sunk by the Royal Navy during the 1982 Falklands War. Far be it from any outsider to prescribe how a country honours its war dead, but honour is not what the move is about: it’s part of a continuing, exhausting barrage of Falklands agitprop from Argentina’s Kirchner government. Kirchner is scrambling to keep Argentine economic growth rolling, barracking businesses and workers in the classic caudillo manner as inflation outpaces the dubious official statistics. She has tried, with some success, to close off Southern Hemisphere ports to boats flying the maritime flag of the Falklands and to weld traditionally UK-friendly neighbours into a regional bloc against “colonialism”. Tensions are high and the Falkland Islanders are feeling besieged.

Britain is passing through a phase of relative strategic vulnerability when it comes to the Falklands. The islands are garrisoned much more strongly than they were in 1982 and the RAF has a proper airfield. But the UK has sold off its Harrier fleet, and its naval force-projection capacity is a little threadbare; public austerity has forced the Royal Navy to wait until 2016 for a new Nimitz-scale aircraft-carrier class to come into play. General Sir Michael Jackson, often considered the top UK commentator on military affairs (how many General Sirs are there?), recently summed up the situation by suggesting that the Falklands could be defended—but if Argentina captured them in a coup de main, as it did in ’82, its soldiers could probably not now be driven off. From a game-theoretic standpoint, the situation is a nightmare.

Argentine drum-whacking about Las Malvinas is often dismissed as a “distraction” created by whatever party is in charge there. Certainly there are younger people and leftists in Argentina who, despite years of brainwashing, manage to regard the islands with the same friendly calm with which a Canadian contemplates St. Pierre and Miquelon. (SPM’s history is very much like that of the Falklands in the cultural details, and they are a hell of a lot closer to Canadian soil. Like Argentina, Canada’s a colonial successor state; like Britain, France is a former Great Power. This situation doesn’t seem to infuriate anyone here, with the possible exception of a few Newfoundland fishermen.) But the tinkering with high-level soccer is a troubling sign. It suggests that the appetite for Malvinas nonsense in Argentina still cuts across classes and regions and parties; how would it be possible otherwise?

There probably won’t be war. (Fingers crossed.) To return to game theory, one acknowledged mistake the British made in 1982 was failing to signal their determination to protect the Falklands. The Argentine dictatorship did not expect a fight. Britain’s showing its teeth now by emphasizing its moral high ground, refusing to negotiate sovereignty, sending royal visitors to the islands, and in general making as impressive a show of force as possible. Unfortunately, that has led the usual suspects—naïve internationalist “observers”, of the same political stripe as those who spread ridiculous lies about UK atrocities in ’82—to declaim how unfortunate it is that there is so much belligerence on “both” sides. (Notice how little room there is in such a “two-sided” schema for the people of the islands.) On Monday Kirchner trotted out actor Sean Penn to denounce the British “colonialist ideology” that, er, keeps Argentina from taking over an island full of people who don’t want to belong to Argentina.

Penn has the right to an opinion, and, happily, the rest of us have the right to call him a morally lobotomized, infallibly irresponsible egomaniac. It’s quite fascinating to watch Penn roam the globe sucking up to dictators and personality cultists; 30 years ago he would have had the potential “excuse” of a higher loyalty to communism for speaking cretinous balderdash, but we learn from watching him now that some people are just loyal to brutality and stupidity, period. In the case of the Falklands, the narrative of British “colonialism” depends on a view of the islanders (when they are considered at all) as an “implanted” rabble, agents of imperialism who deserve to be swept into the sea for having had the wrong birthplace.

The islanders naturally have a different perception of themselves, one that is surprisingly complicated and that is rarely represented even in congenial Anglosphere media. They don’t really want to be considered anyone’s colony, and it is increasingly unreasonable to describe them as one. The Falklands had no indigenous population when Britain and Spain were squabbling over them in the early 19th century, but they arguably have one now—a multiracial people, if not quite a “nation”, that considers itself distinct from Britain, that prizes its political autonomy, and that in many cases has roots in the Falklands going back seven, eight, nine generations. Maybe the Falkland Islanders should be allowed to invade Argentina and ethnically cleanse its “implanted” Latin population?