Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Counterfactual history and the Falklands

This is miles off-topic, and a bit of a ramble, but I was reading this piece by Peter Riddell in The Times last week about Brown’s decision not to call an election. He gets into the interesting area of counterfactual history.

It reminded my of something I read a while back about the Falklands War, and how close we came to losing it. An interesting factoid about the Falklands War is that quite a few bombs dropped by Argentinean pilots actually hit our ships but failed to explode. This is because they were flying at low altitude and the bombs did not have time to arm before they hit their target. According to one Royal Air Force commander this may have been a pivotal factor in the war. He is quoted as saying: “Six better fuses and we would have lost.”

It reinforces the point that history can turn on very small factors, although we tend to think that much larger forces are at work (which are naturally ‘obvious’ in retrospect). What would have happened if we had lost the war? Thatcher might not have won the 1983 election, and a very left-wing Labour government may have been elected. Even if Thatcher had got back in she would have seemed very different (our narrative would have changed) and perhaps she would have followed a more cautious path domestically.

Off on a tangent, my wife and I went to Argentina at the start of the year. One of the places we visited was Rosario, the birthplace of Che Guevara (and the Barcelona player Messi too I think). We were walking along the riverside one afternoon (looking for a bar!) and came across a war memorial to the fallen of Islas Malvinas, as they know the islands in Argentina. There is something quite strange about seeing a memorial to people who died trying to kill people from your own country.

It's interesting that the Wiki in the link above article refers to the bravery of the Argentinean pilots. I read some interviews with British Falklands vets earlier this year and I was gobsmacked both by how they were able to do what they did, and that some of them had formed friendships with their Argentinean counterparts. Although my view of the Falklands war is broadly this, it's impossible not to have respect for those on both sides that fought. I can't ever imagine being the same situation or how I would deal with it.

3 comments:

John Gray said...

Hi Tom

I prefer the magnificent speech on 3 April 1982 (I think) to the emergency session of Parliament about the “betrayal of those who looked to it for protection” and how “we should not see foul, brutal aggression successful in our world”

I hear its going to be a cold winter – I must get a new smart & warm winter coat.

Any update on “struggle”?

Also check out http://grayee.blogspot.com/2007/10/petition-dont-hold-election-until-2010.html

Tom P said...

Hi John

We've sounded a few people about 'the project', we ought to have a catch-up about it. Maybe a beer in the near future?

Like the petition, at the very least it seems to have wound up some Tories!

By the way are you coming to the LAPFF conf this year?

John Gray said...

Hi Tom
Beer would be good, any decent lectures/debates early evening central London on the horizon? No Xmas TUC Pension trustees meeting?

Not sure about LAPFF this year (will explain over beer)

Arranging for union H&C meeting with suitable Minister, who I nobbled at conference and is also interested in "struggle"