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Learn from history and make peace now

Why the Falklands still matters.

The Falklands war is hugely important. Many try to pretend otherwise, especially those on the left. The episode was an accident, they maintain, a bizarre throwback to colonial impulses, a tragic joke. US support was vital, so all the talk of our "winning it alone" is nonsense. Also, it has nothing
to do with us on the left (true, Labour supported it and, when it finally got to power 15 years later, it fought conflicts in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and committed itself to renewing Trident and building new aircraft carriers - but, really, Labour is not militaristic).

The list could be lengthened. I'm pretty sure that most New Statesman readers prefer to shrug or sigh, ie repress, rather than embrace the ongoing significance that the Falklands conflict has for politics and power in the UK.

At the time, I argued that the impulse for war emerged from what I called "Churchillism". It was only 36 years since the end of the Second World War and the cabinet had either grown up during the war, like Thatcher, or served in it. The formative moment of 1940 shaped the mentality of British politics, including that of the left - Labour, Liberals, Communists - in its consensus. The NHS was born then, too.

Thatcher turned her Falklands victory into a coup against Churchillism's wide-ranging legacy - crushing its humanity with the bellicosity that was
also part of it.

Today, 30 years after the Falklands war, a slightly younger generation of political leaders has a similar youthful memory of the formative moment of 1982 as Thatcher's generation did of 1940 and 1945.

They may be uneasily conscious of its anachronistic tub-thumping. But they are the bearers of its active legacy. Far from being just a throwback, as it seemed when it was happening, the Falklands conflict became a harbinger, above all because it was a rare victory.

Short fuse

That victory was so close. Had the bombs that hit the Royal Navy been properly fused; had Argentina mined the landing areas; had its army defended slightly better and dragged out the land fighting by a week (the winter arrived the evening of the surrender, with 100mph winds
of hail and sleet, and the British had only two days of ammunition left); or had Leopoldo Galtieri simply delayed the invasion by three months, Thatcher would have been out on her ear.

But luck goes with the grain and the victory was immensely consequential. Mentally and in terms of the military budget, the UK reattached itself to a global role, rather than pulling back to the European theatre as was planned in 1981.

The victory gave birth to the double-headed monster of militarism and market fundamentalism signalled in Thatcher's Cheltenham victory speech, when she proclaimed that she would bring the war home to make it "the real spirit of Britain".

It reforged military intelligence relations between the US and the UK at the level of their, or should I say "our", deep states. It saw the first experience of embedding journalists.

Since then, the apparatus has learned to orchestrate a manipulative militarism, with the cult of soldiers doing their job irrespective of the cause. (In the words of last year's Christmas number one by the Military Wives Choir: "Wherever you are . . . may your courage never cease.")

The Falklands achieved these things because although it was a brief war, it was not at all a low-intensity one of the Northern Irish kind or the colonial-style occupation that we see today in Afghanistan. On the contrary, in a short blast of ferocious fighting, it was a high-technology, full-spectrum clash of arms, pioneering long-range missiles, the use of nuclear submarines, the latest air-to-air armoury - all tested for the first time in actual combat to the delight of the arms industry.

It became a crucial learning experience for the post-cold war interventions of "projecting" force at a distance and cashing in the tabloid popularity at
home. David Cameron captured the script perfectly early on in his premiership, speaking to the troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province: "During the first and second world wars and during the Falklands war, there was real support in our country for the military. We want to put you front and centre of our national life again . . ."

To which we should reply: "Make peace in the South Atlantic." The UN Charter stipulates an obligation to protect the "interests" of the Falkland Islanders, not to obey their "wishes". They want the oil being discovered there. We should recognise it as Argentina's black gold, not "defend" it with more British lives.

Anthony Barnett's "Iron Britannia" was a bestseller in 1982. The book is being reissued this month on the Faber Finds imprint (£11), with a new introductory overview on 30 years of militarism

This article first appeared in the 02 April 2012 issue of the New Statesman, France is my enemy

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.