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2 May, 2012 19:08

Falklands War 30 years on: ‘The British have learned nothing’

Thirty years after the UK and Argentina fought over the remote Falkland Islands, the war continues to resonate in both countries. Historian Hugh Bicheno says Britain has not learned from the conflict and the islands are still vulnerable to invasion.

After Britain managed to defend a British colony with a population numbering only 3,000 from invasion, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity was boosted, and her image as a strong leader was cast in iron. Argentina’s right-wing government, notorious for its human rights abuses, was humiliated and the stinging defeat hastened its collapse.Cuban-born but Cambridge-educated, Hugh Bicheno was a UK intelligence officer on a mission in Argentina itself at the time of the conflict. He has also written Razor’s Edge, a top-selling and controversial account of the war, based on the testimonies of many who participatedRT's Ivor Bennett asked him if the Falklands conflict has any relevance today.RT: You’ve said the British regarded the Falkland Islands as an inconvenience before the war broke out. Why is that?Bicheno: You know how trendy the country is, and everyone charges in one direction at one time, so everyone at the time thought that we must get rid of the Empire to prove what a modern nation we were. We thought “we must shed our imperial past and everyone is going to like us again.” Overlooking the fact that people’s memories go a long way back.RT:Why did Argentina invade?Bicheno: The Argentines invaded because they were told that all Britain would do would be to yap to the UN. They were utterly dumbfounded when Thatcher decided to send down a taskforce. They were totally dumbfounded and totally unprepared for that.RT:How well was the campaign conducted by the British?Bicheno: Well, we had to do it. We had a legal and a moral obligation to those islanders, and if we didn’t keep our word to them we were worthless. How close was the campaign? My book is called Razor’s Edge for a reason – that whole operation could have gone either way at any stage. We didn’t underestimate the Argentines, we just didn’t have the capability. If it had lasted another six months, we couldn’t have done it. We had no more aircraft carriers, we would have had no more amphibious capability. If the Argentines had been better at certain small things, Britain could have easily lost the war.RT:Why does the British government want to keep the islands?Bicheno: Far from it, the British government desperately wants to get rid of the islands, but they just can’t get rid of them. After that war, it was politically impossible for the British government to sell out the islanders, however much the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence want to do it. You can’t do it. People remember and people will ask what the hell is this?RT:Looking at subsequent conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, have the British learned anything?Bicheno: The British are very poor at learning the lessons of anything, broadly speaking because they never face up to the truth of learning about anything. The politicians, if they can, will draw the wrong conclusions about everything, and Blair got us into war after war after war for which we didn’t have the capabilities. We were put in Basra and we were put in Helmand when we didn’t have the capability. And one rages in vain against this, not because of censorship or because I will walk out of this room and be beaten up over what I say, but simply because my opinions and statements of fact will be ignored because they are inconvenient.