Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The One Thing I Agree With The Iron Lady On

As a leftist, it is virtually an article of faith to axiomatically hate and despise Margaret Thatcher, for good reason I would wager.

She was the Godmother of what we now call neoliberalism, an economic doctrine that has wreaked much havoc across the world, especially in the global south. She smashed the workers and trade union movement in Britain. She was very friendly with dictators like Augusto Pinochet, Zia Ul-Haq and Suharto. In addition, she was an ally of Saddam Hussein, an admirer of the Saudi royal family and very soft on the apartheid regime in South Africa. And is responsible for so many other iniquities.

Her acolytes and supporters repeatedly described her, in the totally vacuous and fawning tributes and obituaries in the aftermath of her death in 2013, as a "fearless champion of freedom, democracy and rule of law" when she was anything but the opposite. If I had things my way she would've been described as a champion of despotism and tyranny and an enemy of liberty and democracy.

Anyways, enough of my vitriol. I'll save that for another day to get it out of my system.

Despite my criticisms of her, there is one issue where the 'Iron Lady' and I would see eye to eye, somewhat: The Falklands War.

The reason why I feel the Falklands war, and more importantly the defeat of Galtieri, was on balance a good thing was because of its biggest collateral benefit, which was, the utter embarrassment and discrediting of Galtieri's murderous, fascist junta, and its eventual overthrow.

It was also a bloody nose for the United States, who were uncomfortably made to choose between their British allies or their Argentine junta clients. What many people don't know is far from standing side by side with Britain all the way, Reagan pleaded with Thatcher not to completely retake the islands which would lead to "Argentine humiliation" and tried to produce a compromise between Argentina and Britain, as recent revelations have subsequently revealed. It was only when it was clear that Britain had the upper hand that the US gave firm support to Britain.

The neo-fascist regime of Galtieri and his junta was a favourite of the Reagan administration and the neoconservative apologists like Jeanne Kirkpatrick who viewed the regime as a "bulwark against Communism" in Latin America. Presumably because the "Majestic General's" death squads would stamp out any movement that was not in total subordination to American interests in South America (like the democratic socialist government of Salvador Allende inconveniently elected in Chile in 1970). Moreover, the junta also helped to train and arm the CIA backed homicidal Contra mercenaries in its war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

During the reign of the Argentine Junta, as part of its "Dirty war", (a policy green lighted by the then US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger- why he is still on the outside is beyond me!) anyone who fit the bill of a "subversive" which included leftists, trade unionists, intellectuals, students and journalists simply "disappeared" and was never seen or heard of again.

Any tin pot dictatorship can throw a dissident in jail, and censor their publications because they dislike their opinion, but it is often the most appalling and filthy totalitarian regimes that just make people "disappear". It has that psychological effect of sending a warning to an already terrorised population that if they fall out of line then they or their loved one will be next.

"Los desparecidos" was the name given to an estimated 30,000 people who met this unfortunate fate. Calling them "the disappeared" gives you the impression that there was an air of mystery as to what happened to them. The reality is that most were horrifically tortured, sexually violated, and then murdered.

If you read Jacobo Timerman's, Prisoner Without a Name, about what this hideous regime did to prisoners (especially female ones) in the notorious torture centre of the Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics, you will encounter horrific accounts that will curl your hair:

"The entire affective world, constructed over the years with utmost

difficulty, collapses with a kick in the father's genitals, a smack on

the mother's face, an obscene insult to the sister, or the sexual vio-

lation of a daughter. Suddenly an entire culture based on familial

love, devotion, the capacity for mutual sacrifice collapses. Nothing

is possible in such a universe, and that is precisely what torturers

know...From my cell, I'd hear the whispered voices of children

trying to learn what was happening to their parents, and I'd witness

the efforts of daughters to win over a guard, to arouse a feeling of

tenderness in him, to incite hope of some lovely future relationship

between them in order to learn what was happening to her mother,

to get an orange sent to her, to get permission for her to go

to the bathroom."

This was the reality that the people of Falklands Islands woke up to in May 1982, and would eventually have had to face. It simply could not be allowed that an anti-Semitic, fascist dictatorship run by professional murderers, rapists and torturers could invade an island it had no right to, and trample on the right to self-determination of the inhabitants; it had to be expelled.

Now, in having this opinion, I am to a certain degree in a minority amongst the left- not that I mind that much.

Some on the left, out of a very synthetic and dogmatic pseudo-"anti-imperialism", not merely opposed Thatcher's war to retake the Falklands (that's one thing) but sided with the Galtieri junta. It is so bizarre to me that some of them were delighted that the 'Malvinas' had been 'liberated' from British imperialism when it was clearly the case that the Argentine junta were the ones acting like imperialists and were the naked aggressors.

However, it must be said that most of the left certainly did not like Galtieri because of its suppression of leftists and trade unions and the support it received from the United States, but opposed the war mainly because of discomfort at the flag waving, bloodthirsty, "Argie bashing" jingoism and the ridiculous "Rule Britannia" imperial nostalgia that surrounded that war.  And the belief that Mrs. Thatcher would manipulate this reservoir of patriotism to boost her popularity for the 1983 election.

I can understand the aversion to aggressive British chauvinism, especially when it veered in to xenophobia. I don't like it either. The infantile, puerile nonsense makes me want to puke out food that I've forgotten ever eating.

 The infamous headline from The Sun

 after the controversial sinking of the Belgrano

Nonetheless, despite all this, and despite the fact it helped Thatcher get re-elected I think the war was a good thing, not because of "British pride" but because it’s collateral effect meant the downfall of the fascist junta and the re-establishment of Argentinian democracy.

Because of my internationalism, my love of liberty and a fundamental and visceral antipathy towards tyranny of any sort (especially Fascist tyranny), I simply cannot regret the defeat of Galtieri at the hands of Thatcher or delude myself into thinking the end of the regime was insignificant because it might be a convenient point of credit for Mrs. Thatcher. In my view, a free and democratic Argentina, emancipated from the dark days of fascist oppression and tyranny is the greater good to come out of this whole episode.

There is a very simple principle at stake with the Falklands/Malvinas question: the right to self-determination of the people who live there. If they wish to remain British, which clearly they do, then that is what their status should be. If they still of a sudden want to be part of Argentina or wish to do what the Americans did in 1776 and declare independence from Britain then I would support that right too. But the fact of matter, as the 2013 referendum demonstrated quite clearly, the islanders wish to remain British. So, this is a non-issue for me, and the Argentines are simply punching air.

Hopefully at some point this question that derives from a petty 19th century imperial quarrel will be buried once and for all.

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