Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Monday 2 April 2012

Take a proper gander.

THIRTY years ago today Britain got its knickers in a twist about some islands which are 7,877 miles away.

The Argentinians, living a mere 1,192 miles away, thought they had more right to be in charge of them - influenced not just by geography but an economic crisis, domestic unrest and a military junta keen to deflect attention from its failings - and so they invaded.

Britain suddenly remembered those islands existed, that they were just about all that remained of its empire, and that more importantly the people who lived there didn't much fancy learning Spanish. The UN backed Blighty's right to repel invaders, and off a task force sailed.

There followed a two month war which was the last time we fought anyone without outside help. In total 907 people lost their lives, most of them Argentine conscripts who didn't have any choice about being there, and three of them Falkland Islanders who died in what has since become oxymoronically known as 'friendly fire'.

Alongside the soldiers were journalists who were armed only with pens, cameras, and an unquenchable thirst for pictures of Prince Andrew in a helicopter. Twenty four British journos were picked to join the task force, and had to deal not just with being bombed and shot at but with military officers who censored their reports and expected to use them as a tool for propaganda.

Most did their best to be polite to their hosts while also doing their jobs, reporting the war objectively but with the passion their audiences expected. When BBC reporter Brian Hanrahan was banned from saying that 12 Sea Harrier fighter jets had left aircraft carrier HMS Hermes on a raid, he famously found an even better way of reporting the story, saying: "I counted them all out, and I counted them all back."

On top of that, pictures for TV and newspapers had to be sent back home via early forms of satellite and broadband communications which the military didn't want to let anyone use and involved huge delays. Press reporters merely had to find a phone line to file copy to London, but have you ever tried to find a phone line, in the middle of the sea, during a war, when a dozen other hacks will kill you to file first?

Of course the Argies did things differently. Three British hacks sent to Argentina to cover 'their end' of the war were jailed on the spot for the entire duration of the conflict, and the Argentine press reached levels of jingoistic fantasy which would make Kelvin Mackenzie blush. They faked photographs, made up eyewitness accounts of valiant Argentine troops winning every battle, and reported the sinking of HMS Invincible on an almost daily basis.

Thirty years on, and it's clear that journalism was not only the first draft of history but the most accurate, too.

We can sit and pick apart the reporting of the Scum, the Glimmer or the Wail, or the TV newsgatherers of the Boring Broadcasting Corporation or the Incredibly Twatty Network. The fact is that taken as a whole the Brit journos beat the Argies, were democratic, free and fair, and more importantly they were right. Just as the war was.

There are people - yes, Sean Penn, I'm looking at you - who say that because the Falkland Islands are so far away attempting to keep hold of them is colonialist, that it's all about the oil which has recently been discovered and besides, we can't afford to defend some windswept rocks on the other side of the world.

Yes, to some extent. And no in quite a lot of others.

If the Falklands can't be British because they're a long way away, then Hawaii isn't American, and nor is Alaska. France isn't allowed Corsica, Guadeloupe, or Clipperton Island which is off the coast of Mexico. Russia and Denmark have to stop arguing about who owns the North Pole, and the Dutch can wave goodbye to cheap holidays in the Caribbean Antilles.

More importantly, if the Brits can't have the Falklands because they're too far away, then seven nations currently claiming a piece of the South Pole - which includes our old friends the Argies - would need to wind their necks in too.

Seeing as none of those things are going to happen, we are left with the fact that 3,140 Falkland Islanders are British and want to stay that way. If they had a vote for independence, or an urge to eat tapas on a regular basis, there'd be no real argument for not letting them do so. But the Argentinian government insists these people don't have the right to choose who runs the place, which if you ask me means the Argies shouldn't be allowed to run a tap, much less an entire country.

War is never nice. People die and blood is spilled and it often, in hindsight, seems like an horrendous waste of time, effort, money and human beings. A lot like journalism, but with less booze.

Very occasionally - and the Falklands is one of those cases - it's the entirely right, decent, moral thing to do. The fact that today a few thousand people get to choose who runs the bit of the planet where they live makes those two months in 1982 entirely worthwhile.

It's not colonialism. It's freedom.

This is the best angle from which to see Royal Marines.