United Nations, New York
Peace is an altogether more toilsome business than war, at least for anyone who does not himself need to fight in a war. War does, to be sure, have its uses for nuisance disposal; Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein and Argentina’s General Leopoldo Galtieri, being losers, are expelled from occupancy of Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar’s nightmares. He has quite enough reason to lie awake about the winners.
Both the Ayatollah and Mrs. Thatcher have acquired the honor belonging to those who have repelled aggression, which in the Ayatollah’s case is likely to provide the inspiration for an aggressive essay at extirpating variant thirteenth-century foreign heresies recollected only by himself.
Thatcher’s grudges are much less long-standing, but they are nonetheless lively. Ground she did not very much want was most unceremoniously taken away from her; now she has taken it back at great risk and painful price, and it is understandable that she will be stubborn about keeping it if only as a glistening exhibit for the proposition that Great Britain is neither as rackety nor as exhausted as even Englishmen had come to think.
One misfortune of war is that it is most unserviceable to the common sense of victor and vanquished alike. No conqueror wants to undervalue his conquest, and we ought not to be surprised at how many English nationals at the UN who would have dismissed the Falklands as a nullity in April now speak of them as a bastion of security hardly less essential than Gibraltar.
The irony is that, when May began, it was the British who were anxious to accept Perez de Cuellar’s proposal for a UN-supervised peace and the illusion-inebriated Argentines who scorned it. But later in the month, after ships were sunk, even the Social Democratic Party’s shadow foreign minister, David Owen, came here to make it plain that he would accept no formula that would permit a single official Argentine to remain on the islands; even political moderation in England sounds conscripted to a universal obduracy.
The hope—as usual the only one in affairs of this sort—is that the parties do not mean what they say. Galtieri has so far chosen to model himself on Mussolini in World War II; he started on that markedly unpromising path by imagining an irresistibly swift stroke and he followed it far enough to leave his garrison as stranded as the Italian units were in the Libyan desert. He went on being true to Mussolini’s prescribed pattern, which was to count on a cheap victory, and to end up determined, rhetorically at least, on the most expensive and therefore assumedly glorious defeat. So Buenos Aires talked of fighting for Port Stanley to the last man, a disaster averted only when many of the troops there paid as little attention to Buenos Aires’s invitation to martyrdom as the Italians in the field did to Rome’s.
If there were ever an occasion when we could say that a war made no sense at all, it would be one where the body count was larger than the population of the disputed territory. The fight for the Falklands came too close to being that sort of war.
We ought to pray that time will cool Mrs. Thatcher’s blood of the intoxication natural to the conquering heroine. She must think going to war was the hardest decision of her life, but now she would do well to stand up to a harder one: knowing when to leave.
July 15, 1982