It’s the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War and I can still remember my thoughts at the moment I saw the islands for the first time.
As horizontal sleet blinded me on the forecastle of HMS Brilliant, braced against the howling wind and packed in multi-layers of clothing under my full foul weather gear, I thought;
“My God, they all died for this bloody place”.
The official conflict was long declared over by then time I arrived but the Falklands War was to have repercussions long after the final shots were fired.
Since 1982 more British servicemen who served in the Falklands conflict have committed suicide than were killed on the battlefields or in the ships anchored in bomb alley. Like the long civil conflict in Northern Ireland its events triggered mental illness and trauma that was to manifest itself years later. SSAFA Forces Help is still dealing with veterans from the Falklands War today. Often clients are still struggling with mental illness and the debilitating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Tragically, you will find many Falklands veterans in prison where the violent mood swings caused by PTSD lands them in trouble with the criminal justice system.
Though the price that was paid for the recapturing of these remote and forbidding islands was high, for many veterans, the Falkland’s still represented the good old days of military conflicts. These were the days before Bosnia and Iraq when the UK armed forces were deployed to defend sovereign territory from foreign aggressors.
Now it seems they are deployed largely in defence of US foreign policy than British sovereignty.
In 1982, the Falklands conflict won the full support of the military top brass, the local population, the press and the vast majority of the general public. We all understood why those forces were going, what they were trying to achieve and when they had achieved it. It some senses it was a simple conflict.
It is hard to imagine Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse asking Mrs Thatcher to confirm for him that the effort to retain the Falkland Islands was legal, as defined by international law. The wily Admiral did not need to and no doubt would rather have been keel hauled than bring it up.
The real price of these less simple and dirty conflicts in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq has not yet been paid. The deaths and physical casualties are horrific enough but the mental casualties cannot be fully counted for many years yet.
Many of these casualties will turn to local caseworkers of charities like SSAFA Forces Help. Their volunteers give up their time and are unpaid. They claim only direct expenses for mileage, postage and telephone calls to clients. Even so, at local branch levels the money often looks like running out and caseworkers have to give up more of their days not to help clients but to rattle tins outside Tesco. They will never moan. They are not that sort. It’s not an exercise that makes them feel very highly valued though, I can tell you.
No doubt the 30th anniversary of the Falklands will be an excuse for the media to re-visit past glories and a few controversies. The heroes of that conflict deserve all the attention lavished upon them but I wonder how much airtime will be given to those veterans in prison. Or those condemned to a troubled life on medication with only charities to help out?
A former naval hero now in prison for rape and GBH or a commando leader who committed suicide in back- alley leaving his family bereft doesn’t fit the popular story angle.
Or will anyone contrast the moral case for the Falkland’s with the current crop of questionable military excursions into Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan?
Popular myths are by their nature more attractive than reality but please remember the work of SSAFA Forces Help on this important anniversary.
Thirty years after the Falklands war ended they are still picking up the pieces.