30 years ago today (20th May) the first British troops began to land on the Falklands/Malvinas islands and Britain was officially at war with Argentina as peace negotiations collapsed.
By the end of the conflict 907 people, Argentinian and British, were violently killed, either by British or Argentinian fire. Another 1,188 Argentinians and 777 British were injured.
The names of the UK military personnel killed have already been engraved on the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire, which was opened in 2007. The Armed Forces Memorial lists all those British military that have been killed on active service since 1945. The number currently stands at over 15,000.
However, until today the three British civilians that were killed in the Falkands War have not been officially memorialized. Today a new memorial was unveiled, which included, for the first time, their names.
and Mary Goodwin
were killed by UK fire during the bombardment of Port Stanley on 11th June. The new memorial also contained the names of those UK service personnel and merchant seamen who were killed.
The Falkands war was the start of Britain’s history of active engagement in interventionary wars in modern times. It was also the start of a new form of UK citizen anti-war protest, which focused on the actual people being killed with British weapons, rather than the hypothetical future victims of nuclear war.
On 2nd May 1982 UK forces sank the Argentinian ship the “General Belgrano”, killing all 329 crew members, as the ship was sailing away from the conflict area. This was my “Damascus” moment, which sparked the activism which has become an increasing part of my life since then.
That act was clearly aggressive (some use the more slippery term “pre-emptive”) rather than defensive in intent. That aggressive stance set the precedent for what followed over the ensuing decades, in Kosovo-Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011) when British bombs were dropped on people who had neither attacked British forces nor had any imminent intention to.
It is salutory to be reminded that all this started in 1982 when British forces were responsible for the violent death of three non-combatant British women. Those responsible are to be commended for finally giving civilian dead equal status to military dead, even though it took 30 years.
But it is not enough! It is also salutary to notice that nowhere in Britain is there any memorial, official or unofficial, to the Argentinian victims of this conflict. The main Argentinian memorial is in Buenos Aires, where the names of the Argentinians who died are listed.
There are no worthy or unworthy victims of this war. All are simply victims, humans who unnecessarily died because of the choices made by political leaders in both countries, who could have chosen otherwise.
I yearn for the day when it would be natural and uncontroversial to have all names of the dead of this, or any, conflict, in one place, rather than separated by country, nationality or status. Every Argentinian casualty of this war was just as much a tragedy as every British casualty. When we British concentrate only on our own dead while ignoring the dead of the so-called “enemy” we are sowing the seeds for future conflicts.