1982’s World Cup kicked off in Spain, on June 13. Reigning champions Argentina were ignominiously defeated by Belgium. Diego Maradona, recently signed to Barcelona, disappointed the fans who had flocked to the Nou Camp to see the rising star.
The following day, Argentina surrendered in the Falklands War. As the world focuses on South Africa, here are some timely facts about that largely forgotten war in the South Atlantic.
In 1982 Argentina was ruled by an unelected military junta, headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri (praised by US President Ronald Reagan as ‘magnificent’ for his anti left-wing zeal). Soldiers and paramilitary death squads murdered and tortured thousands – union activists, clergy and civilians alike. Inflation ran at 600%. The unions were rallying for a general strike. Galtieri’s solution was straight out of Mein Kampf - unite the people against a common enemy. In this case, a few hundred English-speaking sheep farmers.
Support for Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government had been haemorrhaging under a wave of cuts and privatisation. With the following year’s general election looking iffy, Thatcher seized on Argentina’s sabre-rattling over the far-flung islands. Despite last minute attempts to solve the crisis diplomatically, the rival regimes had made their minds up.
The short war (74 days) resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 young men – 746 Argentines, 255 British.
For soldiers of both sides the war was far from over in June. Many Argentines were young conscripts. Few had combat experience beyond beating up unarmed strikers. Many were left severly traumatized by the hand-to-hand bayonet battles on the Falklands moors. Their UK counterparts suffered similar post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the South Atlantic Medal Association, more British veterans have taken their own lives since 1982 than were killed during hostilities.
‘Desaparecidos’ is the Spanish word for ‘The Disappeared’ – political opponents arrested by the military and never seen again. For thousands of Argentine families, this has become a symbol of the junta years. The junta’s decision to invade the Falklands created a flicker of short-term patriotism. But for the majority of the population, it could never erase the years of human rights abuses.
One positive outcome of the war were free elections in Argentina.
“The only winners are the financial houses, the arms companies and the politicians who've used the system and current affairs to aid and abet their desire for power."
- Simon Weston, Welsh Guards. He received 46% burns during the war.
Simon is married to Lucy, whom he met when she was working for his charity, Weston Spirit. They were engaged on 8 June 1989, exactly 7 years after the attack on the Sir Galahad. They have 3 children: James, Stuart and Emma. Weston has met and become friends with the Argentine pilot who dropped the bomb which caused his injuries.