Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Falklands, Margaret Thatcher, and Ray Hamilton

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Falkland Island campaigns, yet another example of how truth is much stranger than fiction. Who would have believed that Great Britain and Argentina would fight a war over such an obscure piece of real estate? My favorite cartoon from that era is from Bloom County, when the Opus the penguin explains he has relatives in the combat zone, and since penguins have no instinct for aggression, they find the whole conflict very confusing. The last panel has Falklands penguins poking their head out of a foxhole with missiles exploding overhead, screaming, “Was it something we said?”

I am sure the families of the men found it less humorous—649 Argentineans and 257 British were killed in the conflict. My British correspondent will be happy to know American sympathies were largely with the British (I once saw a news report about a British girl worried about her father. I’m sure Argentineans were worried about their fathers too, but they wouldn’t have been able to speak English with such a cute accent). The British were, after all, our allies throughout most of the 20th century. Indeed, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck once commented that the most important fact of the 20th century was that the Americans and the British speak the same language.

(If I had had the ear of the Argentine leadership in early 1982, I would have told them that they would be much better advised to agitate in favor of free elections for self-determination on the Falklands, then send a business agent to Port Stanley announcing they should pay x thousand pounds to each islander if the election turned out to be pro-Argentine—If you’re living on a windswept rocky island that sheep could barely live on, would you rather be poor on the Falkands or rich in the Haberdines? If you couldn’t make the islanders a financial offer they couldn’t refuse, the next step would be to hire Cuban troops as mercenaries. Whereas everyone hates the Argentine Junta, the left wing is so enamored with Che Guevara’s legacy that it would be impossible for them to object to Cubans going anywhere and doing anything they want. Maybe that wouldn’t have worked, but it would have been a lot more sensible than thousands of young men dying.)

One other result of the Falkland Islands conflict was the worldwide respect for Margaret Thatcher as being the most badass PM the Brits have had since Churchill retired. I’m reminded of a story I once heard from my undergraduate academic advisor, a fine black gentleman named Ray Hamilton. Ray is now old and grey, but in his youth he was a very formidable figure. He played varsity football four years at Ohio State (25 years after graduation, the University gave him a great job—Ohio State takes care of its own).

When Ray was just a little kidster in a tough neighborhood in Warren, Ohio, he was once set upon by several older kids who roughed him up considerably and chased him home. He managed to lock the door behind him, although he had to listen to his tormentors stand near the front porch and talk trash about how they were going to get him. In Ray’s neighborhood, kids learned very early to either get tough or accept that life would be a living hell—in those parts of town, people do not call the cops. So Ray found a cinderblock inside the house, carried it up to the second floor, and threw it out the window, narrowly missing one of his tormentors. They ran screaming for their lives. A few minutes later, those hellions’ mother showed up. After realizing the methods Ray had used to keep her boys at bay, she dragged them from the front porch, shouting, “Don’t mess with him, he’s CRAZY!” Those particular guys never hassled Ray again.

I don’t know what Lady Thatcher would think of me comparing her to an OSU football star, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to think “My God, she’s ready to fight a war over the most obscure piece of real estate on earth?” What would she be willing to do if the stakes were higher? Don’t mess with her, she’s CRAZY!

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