"Undue Reverence" - Questioning national identity in the media coverage of the 1982 Falklands War.
During the 1982 Falklands War, a Conservative MP complained that the BBC had shown "undue reverence" when reporting on the funeral of an Argentinean serviceman killed in the conflict. As we shall see below, such comments formed part of what Dodds has labelled "British elite narratives" (Dodds, p.619) of the conflict and played an important part in justifying and scripting the battle for a small group of islands in the South Atlantic. Yet as important as such statements were in defining the war effort, they also offer a revealing insight into the assumptions that underpin British society (and the world as a whole) by implicitly endorsing the political ideology that has dominated mankinds history in modern times; nationalism.
By way of an example what exactly does the phrase "undue reverence", in the context used above, tell us about the principles that govern our lives? Simply put, the MPs comment was another expression of the idea that one of our lives is worth more than one of theirs, and while this belief may be understated normally, it becomes a virtual mantra during times of conflict. In this instance their dead are not to be acknowledged as anything other than statistics, namely as an indication of how well we are fighting the war. "Undue reverence" is merely the other side of the ideological coin that creates tombstones and remembrance days in honour of our dead, both of which are accorded the greatest possible respect within the national calendar.
What I propose to study in this essay is the way in which the ideology of nationalism is used to inform every aspect of our lives so that the division of the globe, both spatially and ideologically, is seen as natural. The second part of this study will focus on the ways in which the doctrine of nationalism was (and is) used to script the Falklands War and how the media, as the main agent of mass communication, were the primary exponents of this narrative.
Before engaging in this discussion however, it might be first prudent, by way of an introduction, to examine a number of the main theories of nationalism and how in many of these formulations a reliance on communication may be informed by media theory.
Ernest Gellner defines nationalism as "a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent" (Gellner, p.1). This principle presupposes the fact that humankind can be divided into national units, each possessing its own particular characteristics, which are in turn historically bound to a demarcated, sacred territory. The manifold problems that may be attributed to nationalist conflict over time stem largely from the impossibility of defining any such national group or its own sacred place on the planet. So that while nationalists will argue that each national unit has any number of shared traits that can be identified and analysed, in reality these units will be composed of numerous different peoples who will have been swallowed up by the march of history and asked to devote themselves to a new type of political organisation, the nation-state.
Such an argument denies the idea that nations are natural entities that have existed since time immemorial and instead places the rise of the nation-state at a particular point in history characterised by distinctive socio-economic and political circumstances. The nation as a natural concomitant to the rise of the industrial age is one of the major theories of nationalism which stresses the distinctly modern nature of the nation-state and forms the basis of Gellners text, Nations and Nationalism.
In Gellners analysis the growing needs of an industrial society are met by the creation of a homogeneous culture, supported by a standardised state education system, which is aligned to a distinct political unit - what we now call the nation-state. Therefore it is the social, economic and political changes of industrialisation that engendered the rise of nationalist sentiments in the modern world. To support his argument Gellner identifies the essential characteristics of both agrarian and industrial societies in order to illustrate how the nation defines humanity in one, yet remains unthought of in the other.
Agrarian societies are typically stable and well-ordered, relying on two fundamental divisions - those of power and culture - to maintain a tiny hierarchy that takes its authority from God and nature. As Gellner, writes, "in the characteristic agro-literate polity, the ruling class forms a small minority ... rigidly separate from the great majority of direct agricultural producers or peasants" (Gellner, p.9). In this way inequalities are naturalised and the majority are offered salvation, by adhering to a religious way of life, in order to give meaning to their often pitiful lives. Most importantly, "the state ... has no interest in promoting lateral communication between its [subjects]" (Gellner, p.10) who, in most cases, remain tied to local cultures, myths and folklore.
The first major difference between industrial and agrarian societies is that of sheer population size. While the latter are represented by stability and reinforced differentiation, industrial communities may be seen as amorphous, literate and characterised by constant growth and astounding complexity. The transformation of land and labour into commodities and the growth of communications mean that societies must remove - at least in appearance - internal barriers, and create a, "generic cultural base" (Gellner, p.37) so as to allow individuals to effectively interact. Only the state can effectively produce a homogenised culture, which is maintained by a standardised education system and mass communications.
The link between nationalism and modernity in Gellners thesis is echoed in Nairns theory of uneven development, where nationalism is seen as the "idealist motor of the forced march out of backwardness or dependency" (Nairn, p.342 - See Blaut). Nationalism then, provides the impetus for peripheral elites to achieve relative parity against a dominating centre by utilising the only resources at their disposal, the masses. Nairn goes on to argue that while this new ideology may have found root in the under-developed regions, it would have been first utilised by those with the means to do so, the advanced states. "England and France and the United States did not invent nationalism - they did not need to initially. They were in front .... these societies had the media and the abundant human and material resources" needed to mobilise their populations and sanctify the myth of the nation-state.
The idea that the two sides continually modify each other finds resonance in Smiths claim that "the West acquired nations almost by accident, in other parts of the globe nations were created by design" (Smith, p.100). The accident in the West being a new mode of production - fuelled by Gellners amorphous, literate society - that produced crushing economic advantage and a response in the periphery, nations by design.
Each nationalist movement is thus seen as a drive to modernity in the face of unequal competition, a desperate scramble up the ladder of economic progress. As Perlman argues, "In practice, nationalism was a methodology for conducting the empire of capital" (Perlman, p.11). Therefore it did not matter whether that force driving the nationalist bandwagon was left or right politically, only that it sought to escape the plight of backwardness and exploitation or alternatively to stay in front.
What these theories of nationalism all stress is that nationalism and its politico-cultural progeny, the nation-state are not natural or God-given or the awakening of long-lost, atavistic feelings for a cherished past, but the product of a particular set of historical circumstances. Yet if that is the case, and the rise of the nation-state demands a new relationship between elites and the masses - or in Gellners terms between culture and polity - then what are the means via which this new contract is formulated? In other words how is the new system of political organisation made to function with the compliance of the majority of people, now cast as citizens of a state rather than as subjects of a potentate?
It is possible to argue that virtually any characteristic of humankind can be used to differentiate one type of group from another. In many societies skin colour happens to be one of the ways in which people are categorised and, often, stigmatised. Yet foot size, eye colour or length of fingers would do equally well so long as myths associated with people with large feet, blue eyes or long fingers were actively promoted and popularly used. Therefore it is not the characteristic used, but the degree to which it is commonly believed to signify negative (or beneficial) traits that counts.
In the case of nationalism, or indeed any kind of group identity, it is not the particular characteristics that are necessarily important (although obviously they can be used as indicators of membership) but the individuals own perception of belonging to one group as opposed to another and whether he \ she is recognised as such by others both within and outside the ascribed group. As Gellner writes, "A mere category of persons ... becomes a nation if and when the members of the category firmly recognise certain mutual rights and duties to each other in virtue of their shared membership of it. It is [this] recognition of each other .... and not the other shared attributes .... which separate the category from non-members (Gellner, p.7).
The whole issue of categories and who belongs is central to the ideology of nationalism for if one cannot divide mankind into distinct groups then it is obviously not possible to argue that each must have its own political unit and territory. Therefore the drawing of both ideological and spatial boundaries around people to represent their distinctiveness becomes the norm, so that nations are not only seen to exist by virtue of their limits, but also in the way that space is transformed into place and given meaning within a new set of global relations (See Hershkovitz).
In dividing the world into supposedly immutable homelands nationalism has placed a new emphasis on the control of space, employing a strategy that Sack has labelled territoriality. This is not to say that territoriality ("any attempt to affect, influence or control actions by enforcing control over a specific geographical space") did not precede the rise of nationalism, merely that the nation-state is the most territorial of socio-political entities.
If, as argued above, the industrial age is characterised by the need for perpetual growth and innovation, then it also demands a new system of political organisation and control. Whereas once people were overtly constrained by social status and reinforced differentiation a new kind of strategy is required to manage the growing numbers of citizens within a new social structure. Sack argues that industrialisation required the establishment of a powerful state in order to reconcile the differences between economic classes. State power is not based on absolute coercion however (although it does possess the monopoly of legitimised violence) but instead is located in space, defined by clearly identifiable boundaries. This makes sense on a practical and economic level as society is simply too complex to influence all actions by direct contact. The establishment of a sovereign territory requires only one marker - the boundary - , classification of those who are \ not permitted to enter and a punishment for transgression. This process not only defines who belongs but more importantly provides them and others with a concrete image of their nation. After all if something can be seen - even on a map - then surely it must exist? (See Penrose, p.163)
Finally the strategy of territoriality permits the state to respond to any eventuality (be it recognised or unknown) within the demarcated territory, whilst also limiting actions to the level of the national. As Sack argues, "this is especially true in political affairs where a part of political activities is its concern with novel conditions or relationships".
Hence the nation-state can be seen to be the primary manifestation of territoriality in the modern world, where border controls, the law of the land and the classification of people by location are the norm.
The role of territory within nationalist thought should not be merely related to methods of controlling action, however, but also at the way in which humankind has throughout history imagined itself as attached to relatively extensive environments. These areas provide not only physical sustenance but also symbolic feelings of belonging, what Grosby has labelled, "the expansion of familiarity" between man and space. In fact it is only in the mind and through social relations that space is transformed into place i.e. is given meaning. As Silverstone writes, "Places are human spaces, the focus of experience and intention, memories and desires ... They are, perhaps, above all, important sources of individual and communal identity" (Silverstone, p.27).
The importance of boundaries in defining place, particularly when land is both limited and cherished, is paramount. After all, "the existence of boundaries imply that [an] area is conceived as being relatively homogeneous in some way".
In terms of the nation-state, boundaries describe the segregation of different national types. Crossing national boundaries implies that we may have to abide by a new set of rules and regulations, pertaining to an alien culture. After all, what would be the point of having boundaries if not to communicate that something has changed?
The apparent uniformity implied by the existence of boundaries also helps create a sense of feeling for ones homeland. Most nations are so extensive that they cannot be imagined as anything other than a place on a map. For the vast majority home in the national sense will be an abstract reality, based upon a variety of assumptions about those that live within it. One of those assumptions will be that fellow nationals will subscribe to the same laws and values and will therefore behave accordingly. As Grosby argues, "Individuals orient their actions in ways that are meaningful to one another; their actions are guided by the norms engendered by the shared beliefs constitutive of their territorially bounded society" (Grosby, p.147). The importance of the word "shared" cannot be underestimated here, for these laws and values cannot be seen as prescriptive but as the product of consensus, and preferably tradition.
The authority of the state rests on the ability of it being able to persuade the majority and effectively coerce the rest. In the case of the former, general agreement can only be maintained if those that one meets in a day-to-day context exhibit characteristics that are considered to be part of the national type. As Dodds writes "for the myth of sovereignty to be believable, the sovereign state needs to control how the people are written or constituted" (Dodds, p.622). This formulation leads directly on to questions of cultural identity and ethnicity.
Culture is central to the ideology of nationalism as at a basic level it describes how people respond to everyday stimuli and can therefore - theoretically, at least - be used to differentiate different types of people. For nationalists each nation has its own unique way of thinking, acting and communicating which manifests itself in diet, dress, language, institutions, sport and other tangible ways of behaving. As ever the issues involved in both defining and ascribing culture are never that simple.
People the world over are the product of different environments, histories and social mores (let us state the obvious and say different!) yet in no way do these differences coincide with the clinical arrangements of nations across the globe. Instead what we find is that national elites draw elements from the culture pools within its territory to produce a hybrid national culture. This is Gellners "generic cultural base" which essentially allows the newly mobilised masses - thrown from their feudal states - to function within a new type of society, based around the demands for profit. "Culture is now the necessary shared medium, the life blood or perhaps the shared atmosphere, within which alone the shared members of society .... can all breathe and speak and produce; so it must be the same culture"(Gellner, p.37).
Similarly, in Nairns theory of uneven development where societies use nationalism as the driving force to "propel themselves forward to certain kinds of goal" the elites "[look] inwards, drawing on their indigenous resources, resurrecting past folk-heroes and myths about themselves and so on"(Nairn, p.348). Such resources are transformed into the "attributes of nations - flags, anthems, parades, coinage, capital cities, oaths, folk costumes" and so on (Smith, p.77). More important than the actual form of these symbols and their veracity as representations of national unity, is the fact that the creation of a national culture must by its very nature involve choice, so that for every one folk-song chosen to represent the nation x number are likely to have been discarded, that for every battle chosen to acknowledge a glorious national past any number might be forgotten, for the majority at least (Note - events not considered to be worthy of the national past may be remembered by other non-national groups). As Heath argues, "nationhood [or indeed any kind of cultural identity ] is not a given but always something to be gained" (M\R-H, p.6) This point needs to be stressed as so often we take such notions as culture for granted whilst the processes that impact upon how a particular culture is defined and represented remain obscured. Culture cannot be conceived as a thing " a natural object or entity made up of [identifiable] objects and entities" (Handler, p.14) when it is the product of so much debate and outright conflict.
A second term that has received much attention within the nationalist debate - and remains largely undefined - is ethnicity which again is popularly used to indicate categories of people, without ever being scrutinised to find out exactly what is meant in each context.
Eriksen broadly defines ethnicity as dealing with the social, cultural and political issues that relate to the classification of people and group relationships, including how such classifications are constructed, negotiated and maintained, and how they impact on relationships both within the group and with others.
The final point is crucial to the whole question of identity for it is impossible to define ones own kind if there are no others with which a comparison can be made. In the words of Eriksen "The first fact of ethnicity is the application of systematic distinctions between insiders and outsiders; between Us and Them. If no such principle exists there can be no ethnicity since ethnicity presupposes ... delineated categories" (Eriksen, p.18).
The whole issue of the other in the construction of national identity will be discussed in greater detail below with regard to the British scripting of the Falklands War. Suffice to say difference is at the heart of the nationalist debate, as exemplified by the requirement of each national community to possess its own demarcated territory, protected by immutable borders that may be used to classify who belongs. As Robins and Morley note, "Rather than analysing ... identities one by one and then, subsequently ... thinking about how they are related to each other .... we must grasp how these identities ... are originally constructed in and through their relations to each other" (M\R - I, p.14). Stereotypes are a prime way of cementing ones own identity by stigmatising others as having negative traits or attributes. As Eriksen writes "stereotypes contribute to defining ones own group in relation to others by providing a tidy map of the social world" (Eriksen, p.25).
Therefore it can be seen that stereotypes are just one of the ways in which we make sense of the world around us and our place within it. Whether any particular stereotype has a basis in reality is rather irrelevant to this discussion, what truly matters is whether they are believed to be so (even in jest) and how they are promulgated. Such a process requires no empirical proof that Germans are efficient, Irish stupid or Scots miserly, only imagination, which brings us to the role of communication in the making of the nation.
If, as has been argued above, nations are not natural, God-given way of classifying men then they must be created. Or as Benedict Anderson argues "all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished , not by their falsity \ genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined" (Anderson, p.6). If this is the case then communication will be of primary importance in creating and reifying the image of the nation (and its apparent authenticity) in the minds of men.
In the words of Perlman "common language and religion appear to be corollaries of nationhood, but only because of an optical illusion. As welding materials, languages and religions were used when they served their purpose, discarded when they did not .... The shared heritages, roots and commonalties had to satisfy only one criterion .... did they work?" (Perlman, p.15). This rather cynical outlook is echoed in the title of Hobsbawms and Rangerss work on historical myths, The Invention of Tradition and in Hobsbawms own study of nationalism, subtitled Programme, Myth, Reality.
By way of a more concrete example Handler has examined how a distinct Quebecois identity has been engendered by attempting to isolate and preserve folk society as part of a distinct French-Canadian culture. Urban Quebecois are encouraged to visit rural settlements where they are encouraged to find their roots and observe the traditional French-Canadian way of life, as represented by folk-dancing and family parties (See Handler, chp.3).
Gellner argues that the state has the primary role in cementing the national culture - notably through the education system, as no other body (private or public) retains the necessary human or economic resources. However, I would also argue that in a society characterised by abstract nationalist sentiments - mobile, literate, amorphous - the role of mass communications is absolutely paramount. Anderson has in fact linked the rise of nationalism to the emergence of print-capitalism, which "gave a new fixity to language [and] ... in the long run helped to build that image of antiquity so central to the subjective idea of the nation" (Anderson, p.44). With the rise of the electronic media it has become even more important to understand how certain values and beliefs are communicated and come to be accepted as well as resisted and negotiated within a society. Does the modern mass media (namely television and the press) merely reinforce the accepted norms within society, according to the demands of powerful elites, or can the media offer its audiences alternative versions of reality, notably with regard to their own identities and places within the world?
It might now be useful to examine a few of the major theories of the media in order to contrast those who see the media as simply adjuncts of government (Chomsky, pp. 75-105) with studies that place greater emphasis on audience resilience and interpretation and how both may inform a study of nationalism and its almost unchallenged position within the modern, industrial world.
In 1991 it was reported that the average individual in Europe spent more than half of their "disposable time" - estimated to be around 4 to 5 hours per day - in front of the television screen (ETF, p.1). If we add to that time spent reading the paper and magazines, listening to the radio, going to the cinema and even looking at advertisements, then it can be seen that a large proportion of leisure activities - at least in the more advanced societies - are solely devoted to contemplating the output of what have been labelled the cultural industries (See dialectic\E, p.120 & MM&S, p.15).
Even if we ignore the statistics on television viewing et al, the influence of the media
can be observed in any office, check-out queue or train carriage where discussions will often be generated (or at least informed) by knowledge gleaned from the mass media. Millions of people who may never know anything else about one another are united every single day by the fact that they switch to a particular television channel at the same time. Whether they became automatons in doing so or whether they are all constructing preferred texts is somewhat irrelevant in this context (although it will be discussed below). What is far more important is that people, in consuming and then discussing the same media products (it is rare that a TV show will be debated without recourse to the whole gamut of popular discourse i.e. did you read about X star in Y paper? etc.) become part of a pseudo-community that nevertheless has a part to play in recognising ones own kind. As part of society "we communicate ... with [and about the media] ... and in doing so recognise our mass nature in addition to our individual nature (Smith, 195). Whether this is necessarily detrimental to our lives or society as a whole - and how it affects the way we identify ourselves - is perhaps the next question we need to ask.
The presumed ability of the cultural industries to standardise (or at least stultify) public opinion and popular discourse has been a prime area of debate within academia and society in general (not least within the media itself) this century.
One of the most celebrated of these diatribes is Adorno and Horkheimers essay, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception where the authors sudden exposure to American mass culture caused them to declare that, "culture now impresses the same stamp on everything. Films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part" (A\H, p.120). Although not specifically dealing with the question of national identities Adorno and Horkheimers theory of mass culture, which contrasted "the social utility" of high art and the "profit-making objectives of consumerism" (A\H, p. 121) informs many of the critiques of the media today, which argue that at best they create a "hedonistic bias" (MM&S, p206) at worst, consensus in the interests of the powerful.
The fear that the majority are being duped into accepting whatever slice of televised offal that happens to appear on their screens is a commonplace of academic discourse. The literary critic F.R Leavis complained that "broadcasting was little more than a means of passive diversion but one that made active recreation, especially active use of the mind more difficult" (PWR, p.223). The control of such an influential communicative tool as the media by powerful economic interests (compare the relative ease of getting a book published, printing a pamphlet, even getting a radio slot - legally or otherwise - with starting up your own TV station) is another focus of critical discussion.
In a cutting polemic on our "TV Times" the Anti-Media group write "TV is the most important medium of our culture because for most people TV is our culture. Never before have so many people in so many places plugged into the same common system of messages, images and information while having so limited a part in creating, or being able to affect, that system. TV is our chief organised source for learning what other people think .. which we use to decide how to act within our society" (AM, p.10).
The output of the media has also been likened to a drug, providing relief from work and a source of distraction from everyday reality, what Lazarfeld labelled the "narcotyzing dysfunction" of the mass media (PWR, p.225). This stupor induced by exposure to the media, it is argued, reduces not only peoples ability to demand change but also the knowledge that change might be needed, thus serving whatever status quo exists within society.
Claims that the media merely services the needs of the establishment - thereby cementing traditional beliefs and ignoring any voices that propose alternative ways of ordering society - are perhaps best evinced in the work of Noam Chomsky who succinctly writes "In short, the major media - particularly the elite media that set the agenda that others generally follow - are corporations selling ... audiences to other businesses. It would hardly come as a surprise if the picture of the world they present were to reflect the perspectives and interests of the sellers, buyers and product" (Chomsky, p.8).
The arguments cited above might all be considered to fall into, what Curran and Seaton, have labelled "the determinist tradition" (PWR, p.223) where study is focused on the relationship between the ruling elite and the media, and how this impacts unfavourably on society as a whole. Most of these studies are based moreover on modern, industrial (western) societies although much work has been done on the impact of globalisation on media production around the globe.
Both Morley \ Robins and Ang have argued that a new economic order based on a "fundamental and innovative restructuring of accumulation and regulation" (Robins, p.146) which places the demands of capital over the pursuit of national objectives has the potential to create image spaces that transcend the national.
The media industrys demand for consumer types based on age, sex and tastes makes traditional political boundaries irrelevant and instead defines people by what they wear, eat, watch and read rather than by which particular part of the globe they happen to inhabit. It is a truism that capital cares little for religion, nationality or ethnicity so long as they do not adversely affect profits. One of the features of the Falklands conflict was the Citys reluctance to support a war that might unduly affect trade with Latin America, and hence create financial losses.
If nationality deflects from the business of doing business then is not the nation-state itself under threat in a world dominated by footloose multi-nationals, pan-national economic blocs and the triumph of free-market enterprise?
While trade per se, and notably trade in what have been labelled TIS (trade in services) (Miller, p.96), are now undoubtedly a global concern (hence the signing of GATT and other such free trade agreements) the consumption of cultural products - films, television, books, adverts - cannot be seen as uniform and necessarily detrimental for every individual in any situation.
Instead as Higson argues, writing on the concept of national cinema, any study of the mass media should focus on the site of consumption, as well as production. In other words it is necessary to analyse how and under what circumstances audiences "make sense of and use" media products (Higson, p.37) rather than simply stressing the impact of the media on its viewers.
In his book Television Culture John Fiske makes broadly the same point by emphasising the role of the individual viewers in interpreting media texts according to their own preferences, tastes and beliefs, which are in turn the product of distinct social experiences. Therefore viewers are not standardised, empty vessels waiting to fill up on their latest dose of media propaganda but instead find preferred meanings (Fiske, p.65) in the programmes they watch. Hence "reading the television text is a process of negotiation between the existing subject position and the one proposed by the text itself, and in this negotiation the balance of power lies with the reader" (Fiske, p.66). Similarly in a study of Media Events Katz and Dayan argue that each event is scripted and then negotiated by the three partners involved; the organisers, the broadcasters and the audience. For example, "the joint decision of organisers and broadcasters to give media-events treatment to some public occasion may fail because the audience refuses to attend, or to celebrate, the event" (Katz \ Dayan, p.67) as intended.
Consequently, television does not operate as a closed text - that can only be read according to the dominant ideology - but is instead open to alternate interpretations according to the disposition of the individual viewer. According to Eco, subversion of the text is more likely, due to the wide range of different social groups watching, than it being read as intended (Fiske, p.65). Hence the popularity of much television can be ascribed to the fact that its texts can be read and enjoyed by a diversity of social groups.
Ien Ang has also called for a less determinist evaluation of media effects preferring to offer a more "ethnographic" reading of audiences, that stresses social environment and other more localised influences, such as family, religion, education etc. (Ang, p.148). Echoing Fiske, she argues that audiences are not homogeneous entities that can be enlightened by watching the right mix of programmes but instead view television within a socio-cultural context that will partly inform how the text is read and used.
The media does not simply hold a mirror up to reality but instead "construct[s] a self-contained, internally consistent world which is real-seeming" (Fiske, p.130). The role of narration (the linking of events in an ordered manner so as to make their relationship meaningful and therefore understandable) is central to this practice, as it "imposes coherence and resolution upon a world that has neither"(Fiske, p.130).
As we shall see below, both the post-war history of Britain and the Battle of Goose Green may be seen as narratives. In both cases, the process of narration transforms random occurences into meaningful stories that become part of a "grand signifying pattern" (Fiske, p.129). As the term pattern suggests, these narratives rely on both convention and code in order that an audience will be able to make sense of a text.
The employment of familiar codes (or signifiers) can produce not only culturally specific texts but also render the most complex issues meaningful. For example, party politics are often reduced to a confrontation between two figureheads while war is frequently portrayed as a battle between good and evil.
Indeed the theory of nationalism which argues that mankind may be divided into natural units is a narrative in that nationalists provide a particular version of history. Furthermore, just as reports on the evening news are labelled stories, so are competing versions of these stories - written on behalf of a particular audience - to be expected.
These audiences may not be, as Morley & Robins, argue conceived on a national scale (note - for economic reasons most media products will be aimed at as wide an audience as possible) but the fact that the majority of people are still constituted as nationals will still have to be taken into account. For example while CNN might broadcast across the globe it still organises its coverage around the national unit.
Similarly a viewer tuning into MTV Europe may gain a sense of their own (national) identity by contrasting their own lifestyle with the attitudes and behaviour of those portrayed on screen, rather than simply ascribing to the values of the trans-national youth culture popularised by the station.
Such a response will almost certainly be informed by the ideology of nationalism, "the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our times" (Anderson, p.3). Perhaps the best way to try to bring the two theories of media to bear on a study of nationalism is with reference to a concrete example. A recent advertisement on British television is I believe appropriate for this task, as it specifically addresses a national audience with images that are (presumed to be) culturally relevant and collectively remembered.
The advert celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the telephone directory, Yellow Pages by showing various landmarks in British history, which are given humorous captions relating to the function of the product in question. Therefore an image of capsized rowing boat is underlined with a comment about leaks and plumbing and so on. The relevance of this example is in the way that its makers have specifically chosen images of the nation that suit the context of an advert and assume that the audience will possess the necessary cultural knowledge to decipher the text. In the same way the advert assumed previous knowledge and shared values (for example that the first streaker at a sports event is a source of amusement rather than profanity for the majority) the mass media as a whole creates an agenda that is presumed relevant to the nation. For while the media cannot force its audiences what to think, it can - and indeed does - control what people think about.
The National Lottery is a fine example of an idea propagated by the media, that now acts as a common currency of expression within British life. In other words the lottery forms the basis of a popular discourse that, through its main characters and associated ideologies - Mystic Meg, Anthea Turner, Camelots profits, the objections of the Church -, represents an image of the nation, seen as both natural and unique.
For every story chosen as news there will be an infinite number considered unworthy of coverage or, more importantly, not relevant to our lives, that is the life of the nation. Moreover just as the advert-makers would have been extremely unlikely to choose, for example, the inner city riots of the early Eighties to illustrate the benefits of the Yellow Pages (although Im sure most people in Britain would be just aware of them as Erica Roes momentous strip) so does a mythical national interest - that is linked to preferred readings of the past and present - inform everyday debate within the mass media. This national interest is moreover more likely to be construed in the interests of those who control the business of culture (as Chomsky has argued) which is where a more critical stance towards not only the media but the ideology of nationalism is required.
Karl Deutsch wrote that "the inner source of political power - the relatively coherent and stable structure of memories, habits and values - depends on existing facilities for social communication" (Deutsch, p.75). Through the mass media these memories, habits and values acquire their own value as totems of the nation, in the process obscuring alternative representations of society and its individuals.
In 1982 such images became part of campaign to justify the fighting of a war eight thousand miles from home. The national interest once again provided the mass media with the necessary impetus to produce virtually the entire script. The next chapters will examine how this task was completed with recourse to images of home, the other and the resurrection of a glorious past.
This wasnt supposed to have happened. With billions committed to Trident, half the British Navy in the shop window and our gaze firmly fixed on the "Evil Empire" in the east, a glorified sheep farm in the South Atlantic that had more or less been given up as a bad investment wasnt exactly high on the government agenda as the most likely cause for which Our Boys would be asked to fight in the spring of 1982 (See The Untold Story).
If the Falklands War was something of an aberration in an era dominated by global superpowers and the arms race, then its origins perfectly encapsulated the rather unreal nature of the whole affair. On 19 March 1982, a group of scrap merchants landed on the British dependency of South Georgia in order to dismantle an abandoned whaling station there. This visit to the island had been provisionally approved but had yet to receive official authorisation from the British consul in Buenos Aires.
When the landing party raised the Argentinean flag on the island, Britain responded initially with diplomatic protests and then sent a group of Marines to the area from Port Stanley. As it was, this minor squabble over South Georgia turned out to be a pretext for the real drama to come; an Argentinean invasion of the Falkland Islands and the subsequent British efforts to liberate them.
For such an insignificant dot on the world map the Falklands had been the source of an enormous amount of diplomatic wrangling and political consternation prior to the conflagration in 1982. Both the British and French colonised the islands in the late eighteenth century, the former achieving supremacy - after Spanish interference -before leaving in 1774 having claimed the area as sovereign territory.
In 1816 Buenos Aires gained independence from Spain and formally appointed a governor for the Falklands \ Malvinas seven years later. The authority of the new governor was disputed by both American and Britain, reflecting the islands strategic value at the time. After both diplomatic and military solutions failed, the British landed forces on the islands in 1832, establishing a rule that has been openly and loudly debated ever since by Argentina (Rubin, pp.9-21).
The 1982 conflict was the culmination of years of opposing claims and counter-claims to sovereignty of the islands that had left the Argentineans frustrated with British intransigence over the dispute. As Coll writes "British policy was unclear in its objectives towards the Falklands; the confusing signals sent to Argentina during the 1960s and 1970s did not create a clear picture of what ... Britain intended to do with the islands or how vital she considered them to her national honour" (Coll, p.235). In fact, not only did Britain permit closer ties between Argentina and the Falklands - including the offer to Islanders of freedom of movement on the mainland and other economic inducements (Kinney, p.83) - but as Barnett writes "British officials ... long had doubts as to the legitimacy of their countrys claims to the [islands]"(See Barnett, p.13). Five years before the conflict, Labours Ted Rowlands concluded that Parliament should "keep British sovereignty over the islanders, but give Argentina sovereignty over territory" (Barnett, p.13-14). The Conservative MP, Nicholas Ridley, made a similar claim in 1980 although his proposals for a leaseback agreement were vehemently opposed by the Falkland lobby and subsequently rejected by the Cabinet (See The Untold Story).
One of the major stumbling blocks to any such agreement was the Governments insistence that the wishes of the islanders be taken into account. This apparent devotion to the principle of self-determination was however undermined by the decision to only grant full British citizenship rights to those islanders who are patrials - that is with at least one parent or grandparent born in the UK - in the 1981 British Nationality Bill. This decision still provided the majority of the current generation of islanders with British citizenship but undoubtedly affected their children, who were not patrials (NS, p. 3). Therefore the noble act of respecting the islanders wishes to remain British is somewhat negated by the fact - written in law - that they are not considered to be fully British by Parliament. Or as Lord Trefgarne argued at the time, "I must remind your Lordships that however strong the affection the fact remains that the Falklands are not and never have been a part of the United Kingdom" (NS, p.3). Such comments stand in stark contrast to those expressed by the vast majority of MPs in the spring of 1982, where the islanders wishes and, more importantly, their Britishness marked them out as worthy of sending an entire task force 8000 miles to save them from fascist invaders. The reasons why 1,800 inhabitants of a negligible island in the South Atlantic were suddenly transformed from a political burden to "our dear fellow citizens" (HMSO, 3\4\82, p.343) will be discussed below with regard to Britains post-imperial standing in the world. What might concern us now is the importance of representing the islanders as "paradigmatic British victims" (Femenia, p.21) in order to both garner support for sending the Task Force and steel popular resolve for the loss of British lives. Dying for the rights of a small, unknown farming village 8000 miles from home is after all an entirely different matter from dying for the protection of democracy, freedom and the British way of life. The image of the Falklanders themselves was therefore vital in justifying the war - notably for those who would be paying for it - and involved constructing an appropriate script of the conflict and its participants that would tie in with the official government position (NB - Note on Diego Garcia).
In the case of the victims it was necessary to give evidence of their Britishness so as to make them seem worthy, which in turn required the utilisation of images and ideals commonly construed as being part of a unique British culture and way of life.
If, as was argued above, culture is a site of conflict and negotiation - rather than a God-given entity - then whoever defines the parameters of debate has an advantage in ascribing particular definitions of events and omitting others. In the case of the Falklands War the British Government was able, at least initially, to (re)present the issues and participants according to its own requirements simply because it provided the first definition of events taking place in the South Atlantic within the popular imagination.
In other words, Parliament - through the media and other official sources - provided the context for the entire war, thereby providing people with a version of the events being carried out in their name. For example the Parliamentary session that set the agenda for the initial reportage (and hence understanding) of the crisis primarily involved MPs attacking the Argentinean junta for violating international law and demanding the liberation of British sovereign territory. Thatcher opened the so-called debate with the following statement which more or less set the tone for the entire proceedings:
The House meets this Saturday to respond to a situation of great gravity. We are here because, for the first time for many years, British sovereign territory has been invaded by a foreign power .... I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning totally this unprovoked aggression by ... Argentina against British territory. (Honourable Members: Hear, hear.). It has not a shred of justification, and not a scrap of legality (HMSO, 3\4\82).
Furthermore while all bar a few MPs joined in the demands for action to forcibly remove the junta, the debate itself was deliberately kept brief by the leaders of the House. Barnett writes that "an attempt by one MP to have the time extended to five hours, so that more opinions could be heard, was voted down by the MPs themselves" (Barnett, p.12). Hence the decision to send the Task Force - which undoubtedly shaped the way the whole affair was initially perceived by the British public - was based upon a three hour discussion dominated by speeches from the two front benches all in support of military action.
This is not to suggest that alternative opinions of the crisis were not in evidence only that the official version gained greater currency (shall we say credibility) within popular discourse. For example, ITN reported that when the Labour MP, Ray Whitney, "suggested the matter should be settled by negotiation and not by force he was shouted down [by Parliament]". This suggestion presumably warranted no further debate as the report moved swiftly on to discuss both John Notts assertion that "if [diplomacy] failed and it probably would there would no choice but to [use force]" and the capabilities of the Task Force (3\4\82, 22:00).
Later, as the Task Force set sail, The Sun provided its readers with the following reasons for "our lads ... going to war".
It is a time of despair, not only for our fighting men but for the whole country. It is a black moment in our history ... a wound we cannot forget. But now our troops are on their way ... to wipe out that memory and free our loyal friends (8\4\82).
Similarly The Times railed against Argentinas "Naked Aggression" warning the junta "We no longer rule the waves. But we still have one of the most powerful navies in the world" (3\4\82). These sentiments required that our loyal friends be subject to particular scrutiny for if it is "the first duty of any British Government ... to safeguard our people in peace and freedom" (HMSO, 1\7\82) then this naturally requires the definition of who exactly our people are, notably if they happen to be living off the coast of Argentina. Consequently geographic realities were largely ignored in favour of creating the Falklands "as a signifier of British identity" (Dodds, p.622).
Therefore the British public were asked by Parliament to be appalled at "the very thought that our people, 1800 people of British blood and bone could be left in the hands of such criminals" (HMSO, 3\4\82) while evidence of the islanders British credentials were exhibited for all to see.
The first indication of the islanders Britishness - aside from the rhetoric about their being "passionate believers in parliamentary democracy"(HMSO, 3\4\82) and "British by blood" (Times, 5\4\82) - is presented in their reaction to the invasion and their captors. They are not merely portrayed as being subject to a "Fascist, corrupt and cruel regime" (HMSO, 3\4\82) but are moreover determined to remain British.
Once again Thatcher helped set the tone of the debate with the following statement:
... when he (the former governor of the islands, Rex Hunt) left the Falklands he said that the people were in tears. They do not want to be Argentinean. He said that the islanders are still tremendously loyal (HMSO, 3\4\82)
The battle for the right to represent the islanders views continued throughout the early stages of the crisis, with Hunt being given a primary role as their spokesman. Hence a report in The Times indicating that "some islanders [are] ready to change flag if troops withdraw" was tempered by Hunts claim that "90% of the islanders would rather stay despite the risks and get rid of the Argentineans, rather than risk losing the island" (Times, 8\4\82). Another report which stated that the Falklanders were seeking temporary evacuation was similarly refuted by Hunt who went on to claim that "the vast majority of islanders are prepared to suffer loss of property or even loss of life if that is the only way of getting rid of the Argentineans". Furthermore the call for temporary evacuation was attributed to "short-term civil servants, not islanders born and bred" (14\4\82). Similarly reports from others who had left the Falklands emphasised the no compromise attitude of those left behind;
Brave islanders on the Falklands want the Argentineans kicked out - even if it means the peril of a British counter-invasion. An American mechanic evacuated from the islands ... yesterday said the friends he left behind are determined to stay British no matter what.
"People are frightened and naturally they would prefer a peaceful settlement. But they think Britain should use force if necessary" (The Sun, 14\4\82).
Allied to the islanders fervent wishes to remain British was their defiance of the captors, which featured prominently in popular coverage of the conflict. The following are just a few illustrations of the islanders derring do;
Defiant Falkland islanders sang Land of Hope and Glory to music played on the local radio station as Argentinas invasion force drew near yesterday.
The odds were hopeless but what they lacked in numbers these passionately British folk made up for in spirit and courage.
Every one of the 1,800 islanders was ready to rally round the British flag. They defiantly composed a new song, "Dont try it here Argentina" (The Sun, 3\4\82).
Later under the headline "British Bulldogs" the islanders were shown waving the "flag of courage" in the face of Argentinean aggression.
Even the Daily Mirror which argued for negotiations and the involvement of the UN in contrast to the right wing presss more gung-ho attitudes managed to find time and space to emphasis that the islanders remained "Unconquered". Under the sub-heading "Falklanders defy the enemy troops" the paper presented further evidence of the islanders courage and independence.
Defiant Falklanders are refusing to knuckle under the Argentinean invasion forces. Silently and secretly they have mounted a massive campaign of civil disobedience to harass and confuse the invaders. Every night the islanders bring out forbidden radio transmitters and tune in to frequencies they know the Argentineans will hear. Then they defiantly sing Rule Britannia into their microphones.
As well as serenading their captors the islanders also "confused" them by painting arrows on the wrong side of the road after being ordered to drive on the right and refused offers of cheap colour TVs (Daily Mirror, 16\4\82).
The Times also took great delight in reporting on the islanders (now affectionately referred to as Kelpers) "little gems of verbal resistance".
The Kelpers ... were asked ... what they thought of the invading forces. "My name is Mickey Mouse" one is reported as saying, "By the way when are you going home?" (The Times, 8\4\82)
ITN provided further evidence of the islanders fighting spirit reporting that "marines and the islanders themselves put up a strong fight against the invasion", with the Kelpers even "lining up tractors, barrels and lumber on the local airstrip" to prevent the Argentines from landing there (4\4\82, 18:30)
These acts of defiance do not amount to much even if they were true and yet they played an important part in constructing an appropriate image of the Falklanders. After all if the islanders were seen as welcoming the Argentineans or unconcerned about the removal of the British then it would have been extremely hard for the Government to have justified sending of the Task Force to save them.
However the mere fact that the islanders were seen to be resisting their captors is not enough. After all, popular culture thrives on stories of the oppressed resisting the power of the unjust ruler. The plight of black South Africans was the ultimate cause celebre for Western liberal societies before Mandelas release yet Parliament would never have dreamed of sending a Task Force to liberate Soweto. The important difference in the Spring of 1982 was that those being oppressed in the South Atlantic were our people - or so we were rudely informed on 3 April, the majority having been previously unaware of their existence.
Therefore the task of the government was not only to transform the islanders into worthy victims, but more importantly victims that were undeniably British. This in turn required appropriating particular images of Britain and exporting them 8000 miles to Port Stanley.
These images focused in the main on three different areas of the Falklanders lives; geography, history and culture, and all employed values that are commonly used in the more dominant representations of the British nation.The first of these images is based on geographical circumstance and the fact that both the victims and their protectors happen to live on islands. Britain has long ascribed to herself an island mentality, arguing that the natural boundary of the sea sets her apart from the continent (that undifferentiated mass of foreigners) and has protected and nurtured a distinct people and way of life. The importance of boundaries in signifying difference is evinced in the following comment by the Conservative MP, Norman Tebbit. "Our boundaries (that troublesome one in Ireland apart) are drawn by the sea - some might say by Providence. Unlike those of most other nations they have not been drawn, rubbed out and redrawn time and again ... The blessing of insularity has long protected us against rabid dog and dictators alike" (Lowenthal, p.22).
Whether the inhabitants of either Scotland, Wales or that "troublesome" spot across the Irish Sea quite agree with Tebbits argument is, of course, subject to debate. What is undoubtedly true is that many popular representations of Britain (that is to say mainstream narratives) delight in this island status. Hence our attitudes to both the EU - commonly portrayed as Europes attempts to stifle British culture - and the Channel Tunnel, seen as threatening British independence by physically uniting us with Europe.
During the spring of 1982 this island mentality suddenly provided common ground between the British people and the Kelpers. As Thatcher argued
in her momentous statement to Parliament on 3rd April; "The people of the Falklands, like the people of the UK, are an island race. Their way of life is British; their allegiance is to the Crown (HMSO, 3\4\82)". The Times echoed the Prime Minister commenting "We are an island race, and the focus of attack is one of our islands, inhabited by our islanders" (5\4\82). However it was left to the Unionist MP, Enoch Powell, to explain exactly why the Falklanders island status meant so much to Britain herself.
"... if we the third naval power in the world ... are unable ... to [protect] ... our possession of the Falkland Islands ... we had better resign any notion that we might have had of being able to defend ourselves in our island home in the North Atlantic (HMSO, 3\4\82)".
In essence then, the Falklands crisis was a test-case for Britains ability to defend her own boundaries. This defence is to be of both physical and ideological frontiers, to maintain in other words, Britains territorial and cultural sovereignty.
These island-races - both North and South Atlantic - are not then merely geographical descriptions but instead become important ideological signifiers, uniting both Kelpers and Britons in a defence of common boundaries which at the same time denies the actual physical distance that separates them both. In the words of the MP, Richard Luce, "... it matters not whether the invasion took place 80 or 8000 miles away ... [It is] British subjects who have been invaded" (HMSO, 7\4\82). To find out exactly how British the Islanders really were required a cursory glance of the British media during the conflict and the acknowledgement of a number of the myths of nationhood.
The Times in fact purported to answer the very question of the Islanders Britishness (as if such a gauge exists) with the following statistics;
"... the latest official census (December 7, 1980) ... testifies eloquently to the Britishness of the people ... 95.04% were British nationals. More than half [the population of the islands] ... a total of 932 ... have lived on the islands for more than 20 years. According to the Falklands Islands Office in London almost all the British subjects are of Scottish, Irish or Welsh descent and many families have been islanders for six or seven generations. The predominant denomination is still Church of England, followed by Roman Catholic and Methodists" (The Times, 8\4\82).
These facts, and the assumptions that underlie them, may provide an insight into the other two areas of the Kelpers lives - culture and history - that were used to signify them as True Brits.
Both Martin Wiener and David Lowenthal have identified a particular strain of British nationalism that places particular value on "stability, tranquillity, closeness to the past and nonmaterialism. [A] ... a way of life ... defined and widely accepted ... [as being] encapsulated by rustic imagery - "England is the country" in Stanley Baldwins phrase ... This countryside of the mind was everything industrial society was not - ancient, slow-moving, stable, cosy and spiritual" (Wiener, p.6).
These valued attributes became a feature of the coverage of the Falklanders during the conflict, in a process that transformed a small, neglected, socially stratified, sheep-raising colony (See Barnett, pp. 78-81) into the archetypal rural idyll, based around the two imaginary pillars of British society; family and community.
As the Governor Rex Hunt was faithfully reported in the Daily Mirror "The ... [Islanders] have a quality of life which was lost in Britain 60 years ago" (3\4\82). This quality of life undoubtedly refers back to a mythical Britain - characterised by social unity, class distinction and the predominance of the rural - so beloved of conservative commentators. As Lowenthal writes "Nostalgia for rural order harks back to times when boundaries were firmly marked. Everything was in its place; people too knew their place" (Lowenthal, p.28).
The Falklanders, numbering just 1,800, and living in predominately rural environments were portrayed as representing the last vestiges of a cherished image of Britain, no matter the often depressing reality of their existence (See Shackleton Report). Rather than examining the islanders dependence on the Falkland Islands Trading Company for trade or the outmigration of young people in "search of a greater degree of personal freedom" (Barnett, p.80) the media preferred to focus on the more appealing aspects of the Kelpers lives, thus cementing their community image.
One of the first pieces of television footage of the crisis showed the invasion forces on the islands, the newsreader lamenting that "... this was the pastoral life Britain ... had been unable to protect" as the images of a man walking a sheep and children playing in the street flashed across the screen (ITN 4\4\82, 15:00).
Why else would The Times report on the last issue of Penguin News, the islanders own newsletter, if not to show the islanders preoccupation with the minutiae of such a simple (hence rural) existence?
The Penguin News journal of the Falkland Islands ... consisting of 15 stencilled and stapled pages, is a classic of its kind, reflecting a way of life that has nothing to do with the world beyond. (My emphasis)
... the paper reported a good turnout for the annual vegetable show and announced that the Stanley soccer side achieved a splendid 5-0 victory over the Royal Marines (The Times, 26\4\82).
If the islanders culture was something to be envied and \ or gently humoured then their response to liberation was pretty much to be expected, the "Stiff upper lip in Port Stanley" (The Times, 11\6\82) replaced by rejoicing and, of course, gratitude.
"The civilians rejoiced freely in the British triumph. Never for a moment did we doubt that British forces would come Mrs Desmond Kind said" (The Times, 16\6\82). Similarly The Sun pictured "Jubilant Falkland Islanders hail[ing] their heroes ... and drink[ing] a toast to victory (The Sun, 16\6\82) while the journalist Max Hastings almost forgot that he had travelled 8000 miles to report on this outcome so British was the occasion. "It wasnt in the least like being abroad. One talks about the Falklands and yet it was like liberating a pub in the middle of Surrey or Kent" (The Sun, 16\6\82).
If then the Falklanders became such bonafide Britons in the space of three months that, as Jonathon Akass argued, "We could all pass a simple O-Level on the subject" (The Sun, 12\4\82) then what of the enemy we had to fight in order to protect "our way of life and our sovereign territory" (The Sun, 16\6\82)? How was a previously negligible nation such as Argentina to be effectively portrayed during the crisis and to what degree did they - in the role of the other - help consolidate British identity?Chapter Three
It is arguable that prior to the spring of 1982, the country of Argentina meant one of two things to most people; football and \ or corned beef (The Sun actually took great delight in promoting non-Argentinean corned beef during the conflict, unable to find many other popular signifiers of Argieness with which to mock the enemy - 5\4\82).
However, by the end of the war Argentina had become, like the other historic enemies of Britain, a known space on the ideological map of the globe, signifying barbarity and, hence, representing everything we were not. Again it is important to note that identities are not simply out there, but are instead "constituted in relation to others; the very idea of the nation presupposes that there are other nations or, at least other peoples" who are not like us (Eriksen, p.111). Therefore it is only when we are confronted with difference - be it ways of behaving, speaking, dressing - that we are made aware of our own identity.
In the case of the Falklands Conflict, the scripting of the Argentinean other created not only a despicable enemy but more importantly helped to justify our cause. Once again Parliament and the media provided a common stock of images of the enemy that were rarely challenged within popular discourse. These representations primarily focused on the brutality of the Argentinean regime and their lack of respect for international laws.
As the MP Bernard Braine argued "We are dealing here not with a democratic country that has some claim to the Falkland Islands - with which the matter could be thrashed out in a civilised way - but with a Fascist, corrupt and cruel regime" (HMSO, 3\4\82). Firstly it must be acknowledged that Braines description of the Argentinean junta was absolutely true. Argentina had been ruled by a brutal military dictatorship since the removal of Senora Peron in 1976. The regime was responsible for massive human rights violations throughout the 1970s and early 80s, including widespread torture and the use of death squads to silence subversives. In 1977 a report by Amnesty International concluded, "In Argentina, thousands of people have been abducted by the security forces and taken to secret camps throughout the country, where they are usually tortured". Another 30,000 were thought to have simply disappeared - been murdered by the military (Dodds, p.632). Yet despite evidence of this "holocaust" (Herman, p.38) Western countries had been more than willing to trade with the junta, realising, in the words of E.P Thompson, "the importance of the Argentinean state as a customer". In fact the "inventory of the Argentine air and sea forces ... [was] a compendium of the arsenal of the Free World. There is a British carrier and an American cruiser; two British destroyers ... six from the United States" and so on (The Times ???). The justification for selling arms to "the Neo-Nazi Generals of Argentina" (Chomsky, p.282) was often steeped in the rhetoric of the Cold War era. Simply put, Argentina might be run by a bunch of fascists but at least they were our fascists and not one of their totalitarian regimes (See Times ??? and Herman \ Chomsky, The Political Economy of Human Rights). In Britain under Thatcher, there were no such pretensions, "commercial considerations" overriding any concerns about "the character of the governments" involved (Dodds, p.632).
However once the Argentineans had threatened "British stock" (HMSO, 30\4\82) then their unsavoury behaviour suddenly became a cause for concern and a challenge to democracy everywhere. In the words of the Labour MP, John Silkin;
"... what has taken place is the aggression of a Fascist dictatorship and a Fascist junta whose latest leader, General Galtieri, is probably the worst of the bunch of its leaders - a man who wears upon his chest the medals he has won repressing his own people. When he says to us that he will respect the rights ... and freedom of our people, we have a right to wonder whether that is true in view of what he does to his own people" (HMSO, 3\4\82).
The role of Galtieri was in fact fundamental to the creation of the Argentinean other. For while the representation of the people of Argentina varied widely - portraying them alternately as victims of the junta, supporting the war effort via demonstrations of national solidarity (See ITN, 5\5\82, 22:00) or "showing Britain two fingers .. and gloat[ing]" (The Sun, 3\4\82) - their unelected leaders became the undoubted villains of the piece. It is quite interesting to note that prior to the Falklands crisis the Fascist junta were considered to be "moderates [with] democratic leanings" according to The New York Times (Herman, p.38).
After the invasion, however, Galtieri became, in effect, a totem of evil so that "all social negativity [was] projected onto one figure" (Schulte-Sasse, p.91) thus transforming a complex international dispute into the story of one mans "naked aggression". As Schulte-Sasse argue this "picture reduces the crisis to a story with no, ifs, buts or maybes: only right and wrong" (Schulte-Sasse, p.92). The audience can then settle down to watch the battle unfold safe in the knowledge that we are the good guys.
Perhaps the most explicit example of Galtieris demonisation by the British establishment could be found in a cartoon, in The Sun, entitled "The juntas new recruit" which pictured the Devil delivering napalm to the dictator (3\6\82). The discovery of Argentinean napalm stocks at Goose Green provided another illustration of the juntas barbarous nature.
Yet the story of the napalm revealed that the media could not focus all their vitriol on Galtieri, for even if he was portrayed as the architect of the invasion, others - namely the Argentinean army - were still involved in carrying out his wishes. Prior to the land conflict, and with no hard news coming out of the islands, the media were forced to examine the horrific military records of the men in control of the Argentinean forces, in order to illustrate why the islanders must be saved. The new governor of the Falklands was revealed as a former torturer by the Daily Mirror under the headline "Captain Blood is set to move in". The paper reported that "the fate of 1000 Britons in the occupied islands is now in the hands of an army general [Benjamin Menendez] who was responsible for one of Argentinas most notorious concentration camps" (5\4\82). Similarly The Times wrote that "in the mid-70s he (Menendez] became known as a ruthless, even fanatical opponent of all forms of subversion ... [namely] the expression of views that differed from those of the military regime" (6\4\82).
On the islands themselves Menendezs (presumed) influence soon became evident with the publication of the following stories;
"Reign of fear for islanders - Argentinas army of occupation yesterday put all the islanders under 24 hour a day house arrest. Islanders are also being forced to learn Spanish and drive on the right" (The Sun, 4\4\82)
"Islanders told: Jail if you break curfew - The 1,800 residents of the Falkland Islands got a taste yesterday of what they can expect under Argentinas military occupation ...
Anybody who shows disrespect to the invaders ... [or] insult[s] the Argentinean flag ... faces up to 60 days in prison. The instructions were issued ... despite previous assurances that the islanders rights would be respected" (Daily Mirror, 5\4\82).
What these reports all imply is that the junta were attempting to turn the
Falklands into a small colony of the mainland, thereby subjecting the islanders (our people and consequently worth fighting for) to the same appalling conditions of repression as the rest of the Argentinean population. The threat of prison for dissenting is, we are surely intended to presume, the first step towards torture and other human rights abuses. As Frances Pym opined in the Commons;
"While we have no reports of direct maltreatment of the islanders, it is quite obvious that the occupation force has no intention of treating them other than as a conquered population" (HMSO, 7\4\82).
Further proof of the juntas real intentions towards the islanders was provided after the liberation of each settlement by Our Boys, where stories of "the bully boy invaders" showed that the Argies were already mistreating their captors. The Daily Mirror reported that the "Argentinean invaders went on an orgy of looting and bullying as soon as they took over ... Mr Eric Goss, manager of the liberated Goose Green settlement condemned the Argentines Nazi tactics" (9\6\82) while The Times noted that "Argentinean soldiers held ... [islanders] at gunpoint for 4 days and robbed them of money, watches and jewellery" (1\6\82). Whether these acts quite constitute Nazi tactics is debatable, although further evidence of the Argies barbarity was provided by Our Boys themselves. The discovery of napalm stocks at Goose Green brought the following comment from a British officer; "[we] had hoped the Argentines would stick to certain ground rules but this proved they meant to burn our lads alive" (The Times, 2\6\82). Elsewhere there was "outrage over the discovery of Argentine stocks of internationally banned dum dum bullets" (apparently those found using such bullets were castigated as "war criminals" in previous conflicts - Daily Mirror, 9\6\82) and the warning to "Never trust an Argy" - a number of whom were reported to have offered the "white flag" of surrender before "open[ing] fire on the Paras" (The Sun, 1\6\82).
What these stories all emphasise is the Argentinean militarys apparent disregard for accepted standards of conduct. Just as Galtieri abused his own people, so his army generals planned to use napalm and the troops under their command terrorised the islanders by "rampag[ing] through their homes" (The Sun, 1\6\82). Jurgen Link has written that such representations of the other attempt to place them "outside the system" of normal, rational behaviour, that is, "incapable of following the rules of the game". This "subject status" is in direct contrast to our own identity which is defined as within the system and capable of participating in a game "that is defined by rules presupposing a sense of responsibility" (Link, p.40). Link further argues that whereas the Soviets were seen as "crafty poker and chess players [or] ... devils with vested interests" during the Cold War (they were at least playing the same game) the new Third World enemy (which would include Galtieri, as well as, other more recent incarnations such as Saddam, Noriega, Gaddafi etc.) is by contrast a fanatic, with complete disregard for our traditional values, never mind international law.
For example, how can a military dictator, such as Galtieri, who is prepared to slaughter his own people be reasoned with? The obvious (and intended) answer is he cant and therefore we as the protectors of freedom and those "vulnerable to aggression from more powerful neighbours" (HMSO, 7\4\82) are able to justify our actions with recourse to the irrationality of the other. As Femenia argues, "constructing [Argentine] aggression as unprovoked (not connected with any previous British behaviour) also qualifies it as an unspecific kind of random aggression, and thus perpetrated by a crazy country that is applying no specific rationale" (Femenia, Chp.4, p.19).
The overriding effect of such a portrayal of the other - fanaticism allied to brutality - (notably when combined with triumphalist representations of ones own identity) is a process that the Daily Mirror has labelled "sizing down of the enemy". In other words, "this schoolboy urge to invest our enemies with scornful nicknames [and brutish habits that] must arise from a desire to cut them comfortably down to size and ... reduce them to unlikeable cartoon dimensions. Cartoon characters say, "Aargh" a lot but they dont bleed" (My emphasis - 15\4\82).
Attempts to caricaturise the enemy perhaps reached their apotheosis in The Sun, the paper that supports Our Boys, a right-wing tabloid that had used Bingo and Jingo to launch a vicious circulation war during the early 1980s. Nailing its nationalistic credentials firmly to its mast-head The Sun under the expert guidance of its new editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, was able to "indulge in emotions and language which had been denied to British newspapers for a generation. This was no shady adventure like Suez, no messy, drawn-out conflict like Ulster" but a chance to "give those damn Argies a whole lot of bargy" in support of Queen and Country (Harris, p.40).
As part of the war effort The Sun launched "undie-cover warfare" (underwear for the forces sweethearts "embroidered across the front with the proud name of a ship on which a husband or boyfriend is serving"), the Invincible garter, the "Stick it up your junta" T-shirt and free "Good Luck" badges designed "to give the lads a big morale-booster" (Harris, pp. 46-7). All these gimmicks were allied to reportage that presented "the whole war as a video game come to life" (Harris, p.48), with the cowardly, bean-eating gauchos as targets.
On May 1st the paper promised "A Sun missile for Galtieris gauchos" announcing that "The Sun - on behalf of all our millions of patriotic readers - has sponsored the missile by paying towards the victory party once the war is over" (1\5\82). A picture of a missile was captioned "Here it comes Senors" and three days later Tony Snow (our man aboard HMS Invincible) reported that "The Sun has scored another first ... by downing an Argentine bomber" (4\5\82). The paper also encouraged its readers to join in the fun by starting an "Argy Bargy Blitz" which simply involved sending in gags about the Argies. Every joke published netted the reader £5, "plus a can of Non-Argy corn beef". One Titus Rowland, aged nine, sent in a particularly amusing tale about how two marines had managed to kill 1000 Argies, by pretending there was only one of them (1\5\82).
On May 3rd the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano, was announced to the British nation with the now infamous headline "Gotcha!". Presumably that made it 7-0 to Our Boys, the News of the World having printed a scorecard the previous day reading "Britain 6 (South Georgia, two airstrips, three warplanes), Argentina 0" (Harris, p.48). Interestingly no-one mentioned the score two days later when the HMS Sheffield was sunk by the Argentines, the "bean eaters [finally] ... earn[ing] the fleets respect" according to The Times (7\5\82).
The sinking of both the Belgrano and HMS Sheffield not only effectively ended any chance of a diplomatic solution to the crisis but also provided a further illustration of the way in which images of the two forces were utilised to provide an appropriate script of the war.
In War and Peace News Broadbent et al examine "the treatment of survivors and casualties as themes in the news" coverage of the war (p.29). More specifically they argue that while journalists stressed the "survivability of the crew of the Belgrano" (p.30), at the same time echoing the Governments justifications for the sinking, coverage of the Sheffield focused on casualties and the need for improved military defence of the Task Force (p.64). For example, the opening statement of the ITN news broadcast on May 4th began "Government defends the torpedoing of the Belgrano saying British lives were at risk", before twice quoting reports from Argentina regarding the crew of the sunken cruiser;
"Argentine reports say most of the crewmen are safe ... 400 survivors have been picked up so far" (400 survivors actually being less than half the entire crew, not most of them).
"Argentine naval sources report that the majority of the 1000 crew are safe".
Later in the same broadcast both the Prime Minister and Secretary of Defences statements to the Commons were also reported;
"if wed left it any later it may have been too late and I then might have come to the House with the news that some of our ships had been sunk" (Thatcher)
The Opposition asked for further details but were also said to be "just as concerned about the threat to British ships and men" (ITN, 4\4\82, 17:45).
As Broadbent et al argue, "part of the power of the media [is] to determine how events are to be understood ... within the context of an established theme" (p.64). In the case of the sinking of the Belgrano, the media to a great extent reflected the government stance which stressed that "this heavily armed surface attack group ... was closing on elements of our task force" and was therefore a threat to "our own ships and men" (HMSO, 4\4\82). While not wishing to suggest that the media did not question the official version of events at all, it can be seen from Broadbent et als study that statements justifying the sinking were used in the majority of instances to frame the reports.
In terms of representing the other the issue of context is all important in defining how people understand events and those that shape them. If most reports defined the Belgrano as a threat and then went on to stress the survivability of her crew then conflicting representations of the sinking are less likely to gain any credibility within popular discourse. Similarly if the enemy are portrayed as violent fanatics then their deaths are both justified and ritualised, hence Gotcha! and the aforementioned "undue reverence" comment.
Compare the personalised reports of Our Boys as husbands, fathers, friends and sons - "A Boy for Hero Dad" (The Sun, 12\4\82), "My Son - Im proud to have a son who died doing a job he loved for the country he loved" (The Sun, 6\5\82), "The Boys Come Home" (Daily Mirror, 4\6\82), "Daddys Home!" (Daily Mirror, 8\6\82) - with those involving the "enemy invaders", that undifferentiated mass who have "raped ... property and land" (HMSO, 7\4\82). What they illustrate is that the "nation depends upon its enemies, actual or potential, to define it" (Braund, p.62). As Schulte-Sasse argue, "representations of war [fortify] ... the national body as oneness on the basis of excluding ... alien elements as otherness" (Schulte-Sasse, p.72). If Argentina, represented by Galtieri and his henchmen, were the fascist oppressors this naturally meant we were defending freedom and justice. Such a role has particular significance for British national identity, reflecting as it does a preoccupation with the past that informs almost every aspect of our culture in the present. During the Falklands War, historical precedent was used to justify, interpret and finally sanctify British military action 400 miles off the coast of Argentina.Chapter Four
Schulte-Sasse have written that "a society that uses representations of war as a means of unifying the body politic in an imaginary fashion requires an elaborate network of signs representing Oneness and Otherness - including a sophisticated economy distributing these signs and institutionalised practices that guarantees a rapturous public consumption of such signs" (Schulte-Sasse, p.72). It has been argued above that the demonisation of Argentina during the war provided the British with self-images constituted in relation to the enemy other. These representations were, throughout the conflict, used so as to accord with an image of Britain that has been widely utilised within popular discourse despite (or perhaps because of) the realities of her post-imperial status and declining world influence. This self-image does not, in fact, completely deny Britains relative decline but instead continually harks back to a glorious past that is seen as providing the key to future redemption. In other words it is not that Britain is no longer Great, just that her people have stopped doing (and believing in) the things that once made her so powerful. A Sun editorial from 1993 perhaps best encapsulates this national dilemma;
East or west, Britains best - Did you wake up this morning with pride in your heart? With the feeling that it is good to be British? You probably didnt and thats a crying shame. For the one thing that this country has never lacked is spirit. The Sun does not believe that has changed. What has gone wrong is that we lack someone to inspire us, to bring out the best in us ... Why, is Britain playing below form, why are our heads down? Because we are not being led. The British are a great crew. What we need now is a great skipper.
Queen Victoria, Wellington, Churchill (all popular signifiers of British power) are, no doubt, some of the our former skippers The Sun had in mind when lambasting the present incumbents. While nostalgia for a sanctified past - represented by Victorian values, social unity, patriotic fervour and Imperial might - has characterised the British self-image since 1945, successive internal others have been used by successive governments and their supporters to mobilise popular sentiments and demonstrate why we are playing below form; immigrants, trade unions, disaffected youths, even single mothers have all been offered up as sacrifices to the ghost of Britains past. Conversely, as Tom Nairn has argued, a series of panaceas, all promising national rejuvenescence, were also identified but to no avail; new relationships with both the EEC and America proved unsatisfactory, North Sea oil revenues were rapidly spent and the welfare state - the symbol of Britains post war renaissance - crumbled (Nairn, pp. 53-58). Meanwhile the Suez crisis of 1956 only confirmed Britains shrinking global status.
Then in the spring of 1982 General Galtieris shadow passed across the Falkland Islands and Britain suddenly had another opportunity to wear the robes of greatness whilst demonstrating to the world that she mattered. As Margaret Thatcher thundered to her adoring masses a month after victory was claimed in the Falklands;
"When we started out, there were the waverers and the fainthearts ... The people who thought we could no longer do the great things we once did. Those who believed that our decline was irreversible - that we could never again be what we were. There were those ... too [who] had their secret fears that it was true: that Britain was no longer the nation that had built an Empire and ruled a quarter of the world. Well they were wrong. The lesson of the Falklands is that Britain has not changed and that this nation still has those sterling qualities which shine through our history" (Cheltenham, 3\7\82).
These sentiments, however, were not just the triumphalist bleatings of a political party in the aftermath of a famous victory, but instead framed the entire campaign from the British perspective. That is to say, no sooner had the Argentines invaded the Falklands, than British elites were mobilising popular support for a military solution with recourse to both a historic past and the possibility of a glorious future. This, they argued, was another chance to restore pride in the nation, banish the ghosts of Suez and rebuild our international image.
Or as Nora Femenia has argued "the reformulation of British hopes and aspirations was carved out not in terms of historical progress, constructed as the result of steps to be taken in the present, towards the future, but through recollection of the past" (Chp.4, p.6). This process focused, moreover, on particular aspects of British history that had been both popularised and reified through, most notably, the media and education system. The nations popular self-image of the two World Wars was joyously resurrected so that in opposing the fascist junta of Argentina the British were simply fulfilling their role as defenders of freedom, the world over. As the MP, Mr English, declared to the Commons;
"We are not defending the Falkland Islands and we are not ... defending the 1,800 islanders ... The most important thing is that what we are defending is the rule of law in the world ... We are defending civilisation against barbarians as our ancestors did centuries ago elsewhere. That is what we are doing. That is what I hope we shall continue to do for the sake of the world" (HMSO, 7\4\82).
The fact that we had chosen not to defend civilisation in South Africa or Cambodia or Indonesia or even Argentina prior to April 1982, was obviously irrelevant. The important point was that our glorious past might be recreated in the present, simply by invoking historical precedent and ignoring everyday reality.
It was first necessary, however, to convince the nation that reinvading a sheep-colony in the South Atlantic was indeed the modern day equivalent of defending civilisation. This naturally meant drawing comparisons between the actions of our (nb - note on the importance of a collective history) forefathers and the activities taking place in and around the Falklands during the spring of 1982.
Hence Galtieri became the latest in a long line of dictators that Britain - in her role as the worlds policeman - would have to confront;
"We would much prefer a peaceful solution ... The House and the country should be in no doubt about that. But if our efforts fail, the Argentine regime will know what to expect: Britain does not appease dictators" (Pym, HMSO, 7\4\82).
"When one stops a dictator, there are always risks and as ... the Prime Minister said the other day, there are greater risks in not stopping a dictator ... a lesson that this nation has learnt before" (Nott, 7\4\82).
"... our whole experience with dictators has taught us that if you appease them, in the end you have to pay the greater price" (The Sun, 6\4\82).
The implications of the Foreign Secretary, Frances Pyms statement are of particular interest. Here it is assumed that Britains proud history of standing up to dictators is so well regarded that even Argentina will know what to expect. In ascribing such a role to the nation, Pym and his supporters were attempting to transform what had been a "humiliating defeat" (HMSO, 3\4\82) into a crusade of national rejuvenation.
Femenia writes that the "Resort to aggression appeared to be a needed means to redress the pain that humiliation had brought upon Britain. The way of escaping a tarnished self-image was not to talk about it, but about the opposite: the glories of the past" (Femenia, Chp 4, p.8). The fear that Argentinas occupation might finally confirm Britains diminished world status was rapidly turned into a challenge to the nation, to prove that Britain could once again rule the waves. As the Prime Minister, the single person most likely to benefit from such a revision, proclaimed; "Too long submerged, too often denigrated, too easily forgotten, the springs of pride in Britain flow again" (HMSO, 29\4\82).
Elsewhere both Parliament and the media emphasised the significance of the conflict to Britains wounded self-image;
"We cannot allow aggression to prosper in the world and keep our honour" (The Sun, 12\4\82).
"This is one of the most critical moments in the history of our country since the war" (HMSO, 3\4\82)
The government have acted with ... the support of Parliament and the nation. Believing that both their honour and the nations is involved, they have committed themselves to the recovery of the islanders" (HMSO, 7\4\82).
It must be recognised, however, that these towering sentiments were simply intended to make the whole affair seem relevant to what was by then a deeply divided and disenfranchised society. By 1982 the myth of the green and pleasant land had long since faded as Britain faced continuing economic and social problems. Many of the inner cities were still simmering after the riots of the previous year, Northern Ireland was proving as intractable as ever, unemployment had officially touched three million and health workers, railwaymen, miners and teachers were either involved in or threatening strike action. During the three months of the conflict itself "226 companies went into liquidation every week" adding to the 5,500 bankruptcies already recorded that year (Barnett, pp. 7-8).
As Tom Nairn perceptively wrote a year before the crisis, "England needs another war ... War was the great social experience of England this century .... war served to confirm and re-validate the value of the past, to affirm the essential continuity of the national tradition" (Nairn, p.274). War, in itself, was not entirely useful, however, unless it could be written into the great chapter of British triumphs and therefore seem like a natural continuation of past glories. The majority of the media, following Parliaments lead, once again provided the necessary words and images to produce such a script.
From the beginning of the crisis, understanding of the events and participants was shaped with recourse to the past. The Times set the scene for its readers with the following editorial comment;
"Argentinas seizure of the Falkland Islands is as perfect an example of unprovoked aggression and military expansionism as the world has had to witness since the end of Adolf Hitler" (3\4\82).
Such a comment neatly avoided 45 years of history and provided the present conflict with a direct link to Britains last triumph on the world stage. Even the relatively mundane process of mobilisation was provided with an historical precedent. "In scenes reminiscent of the last World War posters were put up and loudspeaker messages broadcast at London railway stations calling on men of the 3rd Battalion .. to return to their bases immediately" (The Times, 3\4\82). Once it had been announced that the Task Force would set sail - the largest in peace time, of course - then it was time for Britains glorious naval history to be utilised;
"The Navy has never failed us. It will certainly not do so now. God Speed!" (The Sun, 5\4\82).
"Our capacity for resistance may not be perfect. We no longer "rule the waves". But we still have one of the worlds most powerful navies" (The Times, 3\4\82).
"Well Sink Them - Britains armada has been told the Falkland Islands must be won back at all costs" (The Sun, 5\4\82).
"Armada at the ready" (Daily Mirror, 3\4\82).
As the Task Force set sail it was described as "a scene every Briton prayed we would never see again". Elsewhere "onlookers wept as the carrier [Invincible] ... edged past Nelsons flagship, Victory (Daily Mirror, 6\4\82).
Both these phrases offer an important insight into the construction of national myths. The first literally implies that every Briton has already witnessed such scenes, referring most certainly to the last World War, but perhaps also further back to Nelson, Drake, Cook and Britains other preferred naval past. It is obviously a nonsense to suggest that anyone today could have witnessed Nelson defeating the Spanish Armada. What this phrase instead refers to is the notion that Britons are aware of this proud tradition of naval success - through exposure to the media, education, family etc. - and are therefore united in history via their collective memory. In the second instance, the significance of Nelsons flagship is not made explicit. Readers, by virtue of their Britishness, are expected to be aware of its relevance to the Task Force and its mission.
Even a story about the cleaning of Nelsons column (perhaps an impressive photo-caption during peace-time) suddenly became relevant to the war effort. The Daily Mirror opined that "in times like these his presence seems more towering than ever" whilst Reg Dossell, steeplejack, was quoted; "Its a pity the old sea dog isnt alive today and heading our navy to the Falklands" (Daily Mirror, 15\4\82).
The spectre of Nelson continued to inform media coverage as the conflict intensified, most notably in the aftermath of the sinking of HMS Sheffield. The cartoon in The Sun the day after the destroyer was lost pictured the ghost of Nelson with a wreath, bearing the legend "Tribute to HMS Sheffield. The image was entitled "Heroic British Naval Spirit" (6\5\82). The next day the same paper reported on the burial of those killed, emphasising a similar link with the past; "In a sombre and moving ceremony, unchanged since the days of Nelson, the heroes of HMS Sheffield will slide to rest" (My emphasis - 7\5\82).
Other attempts were made to "incorporate the Falklands into the flow of British history and legend by injecting historical references wherever possible and appealing to selected folk memories of [most notably] the last war" (Broadbent et al, p.122).
For example, the British bombing of the runway on the Falklands was explicated with reference to Arthur "Bomber" Harris, a Second World War veteran. The Times began its coverage of the incident with the following headline; "Bomber Harris approves of runway action". It then went on to report;
Marshal of the RAF, Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, Commander-in-Chief during the Second World War, yesterday gave his seal of approval to the military action taken by the Task Force ... Sir Arthur, aged 90, said "... I would have done exactly that". [He then] referred to the young men flying .. over the Falklands as the same breed as those he used to command.
Sir Arthur ... described the action over the past 24 hours as inevitable". "We cant be kicked around without retaliating" he said (3\5\82)
A report on the BBC also interviewed Harris asking what action he would have taken if involved. He again emphasised the need to "keep the runways out of order so that our enemy, if hes worth calling that, cant use them" (Broadbent et al, p.123).
The positive association of a World War Two veteran helped sanctify the conflict - from the British side - simply by making parallels between it and one of the most important signifier of British greatness in modern times.
Other historical precedents evoked so as to frame the Falklands as the next chapter in Britains glorious history, included D-Day, the Battle of Britain, Lord Haw-Haw (apparently the Argentines had a female equivalent, Lady Haw-Haw - Daily Mirror, 23\4\82) and, of course, Winston Churchill.
In the case of the D-Day parallel, actual footage of the World War Two landings were shown before a report from San Carlos claimed "it would have reminded anybody of British Tommies landing on D-Day in 1944" - "as if all generations of viewers would be keeping alive these memories of forty years ago" (Broadbent et al, p124).
Furthermore, whether the Falklands landings resembled the 1944 originals in any way - other than they involved British soldiers - is extremely doubtful. The injection of favoured memories of British history into the framing of the Falklands conflict not only helped lend gravitas to what was, after all, a small international squabble over a group of insignificant islands, but also placed the conflict within the flow of British history. The crisis was transformed into a symbol of the nations renewal, the key to unlock the door to greatness.
In this way, "the glories of the past offered a framework for escaping a tarnished self-image ... Britain seized the opportunity to transform the shame of the Falklands invasion ... into a glorious naval victory which restored the pride of Britains past" (Femenia, E\A).
Yet this official version of the Falklands campaign, written ostensibly to sanctify the governments actions, has not remained unchallenged. While only a handful of MPs opposed a military solution and the media remained generally compliant (if only through a lack of hard information) throughout the conflict itself, the aftermath of the war has produced a variety of scripts that have sought to offer new insights into the whole affair. It might be useful now to briefly examine how the right to represent the Falklands conflict has become contested by artists, film-makers and even those who fought in the war, in order to contest to the official version of events.Chapter Five
Lasting a mere three months in total, "the Falklands Campaign came to be considered the worst reported war since the Crimea" (Harris, p.86). The government in fact launched an enquiry into the handling of the press during the conflict, which in many cases revealed that, "the whole operation was a shambles from the media point of view ... the figleaf of national interest ... used to cover the errors, omissions, muddle and lack of information" not to mention government censorship (p.93). Indeed during the enquiry Sir Frank Cooper, under-secretary at the MoD, commented, "you [the government] will never have it easier than the Falklands. There is no doubt about that".
As a result of the undeniably poor media coverage at the time of the crisis, the majority of the images of the war were seen in the light of victory. This meant, in effect, that harrowing pictures of injured men and bloodied corpses which might have provoked a more negative response during the conflict itself, could be reconciled with the fact that Britain had triumphed. The circumstances in which the Falklands campaign was fought, 8000 miles from Britain in just under 13 weeks, were compounded by the fact that the media were both entirely subject to (and reliant on) the armed forces and that every report they filed was censored both in the field and in London. Consequently while the Government claimed that censorship was only undertaken for "operational reasons" (HoC Papers, 1-17, p.435) (and not political expediency) many journalists criticised the fact that, "some copy got through of the same nature as other copy that did not" (p.190). For example, The Scotsman asked, "was it just by chance that the celebrated picture of San Carlos villagers offering a marine a cup of tea achieved such instant currency, whilst others such as the one of HMS Antelope exploding suffered considerable delays" (p. xxxviii) while a memo from The Guardians correspondent - sent to his news desk - ended with the following comment; "Spirits are high, but if they were not I could not say it" (P.205 - See also Harris, pp134-136).
The restrictions imposed on the media during the war (not to mention the practice of self-censorship used by many of the media, themselves - Taylor in Aulich, p.15) contrasted with the relative flood of information and, notably, images that emerged after the cease-fire.
Just 202 pictures, mainly of men training and equipment being prepared, were released during the conflict itself (Taylor in Aulich, p.14). These were complimented by, what have been labelled, Boys Own pictures of people fighting, maps, models and other graphic representations of events which bore no reality to the [actual ] situation (Mercer, Late Show). This meant that the whole affair was primarily reported using words - written or spoken - , based on official sources, since no-one bar the war correspondents could actually get to the scene of the fighting and, in many cases, even they were left stranded (See Harris).
However, the end of the war, and the relative wealth of information generated by the ceasefire, allowed many to question what exactly had taken place in the South Atlantic and, more importantly, to ask why Britain had gone to war.
Those who proposed an alternative explanation of events were, of course, faced by the fact that the entire affair had been popularly represented as a simple narrative - featuring aggressors, victims and defenders - in which the latter had won. In this version the triumph of the good guys (i.e. us) should have ended the story, enabling us all to tune into the next world crisis - Lebanon? - whilst basking in the glory of the nations victory. The fact that this did not happen stands testament to the way in which the Falklands campaign has increasingly become a contested site of representation within popular discourse.
This is not to argue that there was no challenge to the official version of events during the war, merely that dissenting voices were often marginalised by the media (as they were by Parliament) at this time (See W&PN, pp. 133-35, Harris, pp.75-83 and Aulich, pp.98-99). In other words, an ideological battle was (and still is) being waged by politicians, artists, journalists and the public for the right to represent (and remember) the war. Referring back to Fiske, it might be argued that the Falklands conflict is not (nor ever has been) a closed text but instead has been subject to, "a process of negotiation" between audiences and the differing texts, since the beginning of the campaign itself.
Perhaps the most obvious way in which new perspectives on the war entered the publics consciousness was from the comments and reactions to events of those who actually served in the Falklands. After all, these were the men and women who alternatively fought to defend "civilisation", "our dear fellow citizens in the Falklands" and "win back Britains pride", depending on whom one listened to. They had been eulogised by Parliament "as the finest and the most professional [force] in the world" (HMSO, 15\06\82) while their comrades who had died were seen to "epitomise all that is best in our nation" (HMSO, 15\06\82).
Many of the veterans and their families had been reported during the conflict as supporting the effort despite having lost loved ones. Typical of these efforts was a report from Max Hastings which concluded with the following anecdote about two soldiers first catching sight of the then liberated Port Stanley;
"Looking down on the untidy collection of red and green roofed houses straggling up the hillside [the officer] ... said, "My God is that what weve come all this way for". An adjunct handed him ... a celebratory drink and said, "Never mind its been worth it". (The Times, 19\6\82).
As a post-script to the campaign it suited the papers almost whole-hearted approval of the war perfectly - the islands might not have looked much but it was the principle we were defending. Others were not so sure. An ex-Scots Guard, interviewed on a Late Show special about the war complained that the media coverage of the conflict "was only a half-truth ... they only showed the half they wanted to show". In asking "When are they going to show some nineteen year old kid with both his legs blown off?" he like many other veterans seemed to detect a vast gulf between his experience of the war and the sanitised version the public had been presented with.
Similarly the image of the Victory Parade on 12 October 1982, "the largest ever staged in London" (Aulich, p.6) was questioned. Apparently those who had been wounded in the war were prevented from parading with their colleagues. Therefore the only image of the soldiers that the public received in this instance was of fit, young men who had done their duty for Queen and Country. The other consequences of the war - death, injury and grief - were effectively banished from this very public celebration of the Falklands campaign.
As for almost all the main groups represented as being integral to the crisis, two or three persons were chosen to symbolise the struggles, triumphs and hopes of the veterans. Thereby, Simon Weston became the face of the 777 British wounded during the war, his story coming to represent the courage and bravery of all those who had been injured in the South Atlantic. Three films were made by the BBC about Simon, who had been badly burned aboard the troop carrier, Sir Galahad, followed his progress as he underwent surgery and rehabilitation. As Taylor writes, "The real passage of Simon Weston, as an historical being, from war to peace to triumph, fitted the shape of the Falklands War". Just as the war had begun with suffering and ended with peace and triumph for the British, so Simons journey was seen to mirror the conflict. The first two films had shown a young man suffering immense pain, anger and despair, while the concluding episode showed how Simon had achieved, "according to the BBC, ... a personal victory" (Taylor, pp. 26-7). Even for one so brutally affected by the war, there was to be a suitable ending; both at a personal and national level things had turned out right.
For other veterans things did not turn out all right, the psychological scars of the war causing enormous grief and self-doubt, often leading to family breakdown, drink and other problems. This is the aftermath of the war, that the Victory Parade and other such affirmations of national pride, obscured. These stories of pain and loss simply did not accord with the "rhetoric that surrounded the war and ... constructed it as instant popular mythology" (Wilcox, pp77-82). Similarly the controversy that surrounded the three major British television dramas dealing with the war, Tumbledown, Resurrected and For Queen and Country, was seemingly generated because these representations challenged the popular version of events. In Tumbledown, the story focused on an officer in the Scots Guards who had been injured in the battle for Tumbledown mountain and, on his return, neglected by the Army. Resurrected deals with the response of small community to the unexpected return of one of their number, a Scots Guard, who had gone missing during the battle for Stanley. Unable to relate his Falklands experience with their common mediated perceptions of the conflict, he is welcomed as a hero, before being vilified as a deserter. In For Queen and Country, a black Falklands veteran, Rueben James, returns to the "urban jungle of decaying London council estates and ... ghettos" (Walsh, p.44) that represents the other side of Thatchers Britain. In this environment, Falklands campaign medals have no value and James faces an almost inevitable descent into a life of crime and murder. The final irony of the film, which concludes with James being shot by a police marksman, is that he is deprived of his British status, under the 1981 Nationality Act, due to the fact that he came to Britain from St Lucia, aged four.
Whether these films were entirely accurate or even well made is not relevant to this discussion - the soldier whose experience formed the basis of the film, Tumbledown, has in fact argued that both the Ministry of Defence and the Scots Guards attempted to discredit him (Walsh, p.38). What is important is the fact that they portrayed an alternative image of Britain that in no way represents Thatcherite visions of a nation united by the Falklands affair. Instead we are presented with an economically and socially stratified society, in which the mythical "spirit of the Atlantic" is conspicuous by its absence.
Dramatic portrayals of the war, which can at least be repudiated as fictional if they offend common sensibilities, do not attract the same degree of opprobrium as documentaries, which are, of course, seen as dealing with facts. It is a strange paradox of our society, that documentaries are (correctly) assumed to be authored while the news is popularly portrayed as impartial. As Elliot et al argue, "documentaries are ascribed to an individual reporter ... and presented as their particular point of view ... In the process, they move out of the normal roles of observer and reporter and into the role of author, a role they share with the creators of television fiction and ... writers of single plays.(Eliot et al, p.162. Also see MM&S, p.141).
Therefore if a documentary presents a challenge to accepted norms or values it becomes evidence of the authors political affiliations and is either derided as propaganda or else a response is demanded for the sake of balance. In the case of the Falklands a number of documentaries attempting to ask questions about accepted versions of events have been viciously attacked. For example, as part of the Secret History series, Channel Four recently broadcast a programme focusing on the battle of Goose Green, which questioned whether this previously celebrated example of British courage and military skill had needed to be fought at all.
Goose Green has been ascribed a special place within the overall narrative of the Falklands War for a number of reasons; it was the first land battle of the war where - after weeks of naval engagements that often threatened the British effort - Our Boys were finally going to give Johnny Gaucho a "touch of cold steel" (The Sun, 14\6\82). Secondly, it was the first significant settlement on the islands reclaimed by the British and finally it produced a tale of courage and glory on the battlefield, that involved a selfless hero so beloved of popular mythology. Colonel H Jones led the attack on Goose Green and was killed as he advanced, alone, on an Argentine machine gun position. Of all the soldiers serving in the Falklands he, above all others, came to personify the conflict, representing, in the time honoured tradition of comic books and war films, valour and bravery on the battlefield. As John Taylor writes, "he continues to stand in for the patriotism of 1982: in 1990 the Daily Star (self-styled paper fit for heroes) ran a front-page article on the Colonel" (Taylor, p.24). Inside the paper reported that his wife planted a tree in his memory each year; "The corner of England that is forever H". Such an image of Colonel H echoed The Suns coverage of his death 8 years before, where Rupert Brookes First World War poem The Soldier was again used to place his ultimate sacrifice within the overall flow of British military history.
The importance of Colonel Jones to the overall narrative of the Falklands campaign means that any attempt to reinterpret the battle of Goose Green as anything other than a glorious triumph will be met with hostility. As Taylor argues, the value of Jones sacrifice must be invested in the glory of victory, not in his being a "gallant irrelevance"(The Guardian, 11\6\96).
Therefore when the Secret History programme suggested that the battle for Goose Green had been unecessary and fought at the behest of British politicians aiming to disrupt the diplomatic peace process, it was immediately repudiated by many sections of the media. The Daily Mail ran a two page article on the "controversy" claiming that Channel 4 were "besmirching an honoured Falklands War Hero" (11\696). The Colonels wife was liberally quoted and the papers correspondent in the Falklands at the time wrote that "His fatal charge turned the tide of the battle". Elsewhere the same papers television critic was prepared to admit that "there was precious little at Goose Green worth shedding blood for" but then proposed that Hs sacrifice would provide a "model of selfless courage ... for future generations of soldiers".
In fact far from "besmirching" Jones memory the programme seemed to be merely questioning why he had been fighting for Goose Green in the first place. A similar argument was made in another television documentary on the war made by the independent comapny Fine Art Productions and broadcast in 1992. In this programme, claims by Thatcher that "there can be no question of pressuring the force commander to move prematurely" were subsequently shown to be blatant lies by her own ministers. The demand for a military success also meant that the battalion attacking Goose Green - which was on the opposite side of the island from the capital, Port Stanley - had only enough ammunition and stocks to launch a raid. 2nd Para, in fact, paid a heavy price for the early success the politicians in London had demanded with almost one in five of the men either killed or wounded.
Yet the popular record of the war merely reports how 400 British soldiers captured around 1000 Argies (they in fact surrended; their commanding officer was later court-martialled) to avenge the memory of Colonel H (See Taylor, p.23). It is a Boys Own story - which fits perfectly with the age old image of British Tommies fighting in the defence of freedom and democracy - that was once again used to script the Falklands campaign.
It is interesting to note that a recent series (See Video) on the SAS, which included an episode on their involvement in the South Atlantic failed, to my knowledge, to produce any such controversy. Using commmentaries by masked SAS men and reconstructions to illustrate the units role in destroying air bases and other important enemy sites, the programmes merely contributed to an imageof the forces as gallant heroes fighting for Britain. Even the unsuccessful landings on South Georgia were turned into a triumph, illustrating the (undoubted) courage of the rescue forces, rather than the poorly planned nature of the operation. Similarly, a mid-air collision between two helicopters was a tragedy because good men had been lost unecessarily i.e not in battle.
Therein lies the difference between the two programmes; one simply reinforced many of the dominant myths surrounding the Falklands campaign, while the other attempted to challenge these more popular conceptions of the conflict, by providing new interpretations of events and actions.
It would, of course, be a nonsense to suggest that any script of the Falklands conflict was read and evaluated according to the express intentions of its narrators (The fact that previously accepted versions of history are constantly being re-evaluated simply illustrates the fact that representations of the past are, like those of the nation, subject to continuing struggle).What is clear is that these texts help to define what their audiences think about, not only in terms of a short-term conflict but, more importantly, with regard to the nation as a whole.Conclusion
Karl Deutsch has argued that the effectiveness of a people will be determined to a great extent by the levels of sophistication of the social channels of communication between them (p.167). In the age of nationalism, the need for effective communication between both the state and populace and the diversified individuals that constitute the people is paramount in order to facilitate the continued functioning of society.
As Gellner has argued mass, industrial society is so complex that individuals must be able to interact with a huge variety of unknown people and situations, within a new system dominated by the demands of capital accumulation. This practical need for communication is complemented by the undermining of religious and dynastic predilections, thus making societies (at least in theory) both secular and egalitarian (This is not to say that the nation superseded religion but became for many the new frame of referent. Even in societies where a fundamental link between church and state still remains religious beliefs are tempered by national ideology and boundaries).
As part of a national community, the individual is (should?) no longer be defined by status or occupation, but by the fact that they are part of a shared, cherished culture, protected by state and boundary.
Andersons imagined community - which by definition is based on the role of communication as one is never born with the image of nation - must therefore be placed within the context of a new mode of production, which in itself is based on the need for information and interaction between mobile, undifferentiated, rationalised individuals. Communication - rather than culture, religion, ethnicity, birthplace or language although all may feature - is therefore at the heart of the national conundrum. After all, the individual cannot be made to comprehend the notion of being a national type unless they are made aware (provided with evidence) of the nations existence. This is a process enacted from birth in many places and will depend on the existence of appropriate channels of social communication e.g. education, media etc.
For while it is possible to choose ones nationality, it is first necessary to know what one is changing from and why. In other words, it is impossible for an individual to not (officially) belong to a nation even if they have lived in a forest for their entire lives and are not aware of the concept. The very principle of nationalism requires that everyone must belong to a nation, in order that the myths of nationalism be seen as natural. As Penrose argues "our acceptance of nations as natural divisions of the global territory and populace is essential to the maintenance of the existing geopolitical order" (Penrose, p.162).
The legitimisation of the national myth has also meant that challenges to political power bases are restricted to the national level while conflict, social strife and even revolution is constrained within national boundaries, thus preventing the undermining of the nation as an ideological construct. In this way, the closure of a hospital due to external pressures on the state to cut spending will be seen as a national policy despite the fact that it impacts at a local level and is determined by decisions made globally (See Taylor).
What might be labelled the utility of the national myth finds perfect expression in the dominant representations of the Falklands conflict, whereby narratives concerning the Falklanders, the British and the Argentines were all used to justify military action in the South Atlantic (See below). These narratives employed symbols of cultural significance while opposing scripts of the conflict were ascribed negative meanings in the context of the national interest. Such a process involved the utilisation of a culturally significant past so as to place events within the naturalised flow of the nations history, and preclude popular recognition of the crisis as anything other than a confrontation between nations.
Todorov has, in fact, identified the primary feature of narrative structure as being the return of a natural state of affairs after a period of disruption or disequilibrium (Fiske, p.139). In the case of the Falklands crisis, British possession of the islands and superiority over the Argentines (hence confirming the formers relative power in the world) was temporarily disrupted before Our Boys restored the natural order of things.
A feature of the Falklands crisis was that the islanders disappeared from our view almost as soon as they had become British subjects. Opposition to a British military solution was often articulated in terms of the utility of the conflict to Parliament (NB - It is likely given the oppositions official support for the task force that a military solution would also have been the option under a Labour government), as represented by its sudden interest in the Kelpers plight after decades of neglect.
Shortly after the Task Force set sail Frances Pym made a memorable speech to Parliament which attempted to illustrate the juntas manipulation of the Falklands issue for its own political ends;
Harassed by political unrest at home, and beset by mounting economic difficulties, the regime turned desperately to a cynical attempt to arouse jingoism among its people. The Falkland Islanders have thus become the victims of the unprincipled opportunism of a morally bankrupt regime (HMSO, 7\4\82).
This claim, made without any hint of irony, should perhaps be examined with reference to the following press reports;
Mrs Thatcher will go down in history as Britains worst Prime Minister according to a summary of British opinion polls taken in 1981 (The Times, 14\4\82).
Poll shows nine point jump in Thatcher popularity - The governments popularity has leapt upwards in the wake of the recapture of South Georgia (The Times, 29\4\82).
Maggie in lead by 13% (The Sun, 2\5\82)
The MP, Tony Benn, drew the obvious conclusions arguing that, "It is not only General Galtieri for whom the Falklands War is a diversion from domestic failure ... Why else concentrate the expenditure of ... £1000 million on the Falklands which have been ignored for years? (HMSO, 9\4\82). Elsewhere the effects of the Falklands War on government popularity have been the subject of debate within academic circles. Sanders et al attribute "macroeconomic factors" to the "revival of Mrs Thatchers political fortunes" arguing that "the boost to government popularity which occurred in the spring of 1982 was derived from intelligent macroeconomic movement"(Sanders et al, p.281). Alternatively Clarke et al, agree with "what has become conventional wisdom in British politics" (p.63) regarding the so-called Falklands Factor (See The Late Show). They write "... considering the low ebb to which [the Conservatives] ... political fortunes fell in late 1981, there is a plausible case for the proposition that the Thatcher hegemony of ... British politics [in the 1980s] owes a lot to General Galtieri" (Clarke et al, p.81).
Ignoring the obvious party political ramifications of these arguments (though the Opposition can have little cause for complaint given that they officially supported Thatchers policy) the usefulness of the Falklands crisis to British national elites cannot be underestimated. The crisis provided a new script for national rejuvenation that could be utilised in a manner that Suez, Northern Ireland and later, the Gulf War could not. The fundamental advantage that the Falklands campaign provided to elite narrators was that the Kelpers could be construed as British and therefore worth saving. The identity of the victims - and the appeal to historical precedent that this permitted - stands in stark contrast to Britains last (publicised) foreign excursion to Suez in 1956 when there was no-one to save except the crumbling facade of Britannia.
Northern Ireland too permitted no valiant triumph, being a dirty, internal affair that defied simple solutions and glorious myths. The 1991 Gulf War may have been played out as a televised war game but the myth of defending democracy was no easier to sustain, particularly when there was so much oil flowing about and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were the democracies in question.
The Falklands crisis then stands as a unique remainder of the power of both the national myth and the mass media in the modern world to create narratives about the world in which we live. Even the existence of an almost perfect parallel to the Falklands situation - Diego Garcia in 1965 (NB #1DG) - which unequivocally exhibited the hypocrisy of British elite posturing and myth-making - with regard to defending democracy, respecting sovereign territories and the protection of small communities the world over - failed to bring home the fact that the war, like the nation, was a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Anthony Barnett describes the logic of sovereignty as the theory that places a higher value on national imperatives than human lives (Barnett, pp. 91-96). In practice it may be defined by the actions of sovereign leaders who choose to lead their people into battle so as to protect the national interest (that spurious and well used symbol of anonymous power that can seemingly be applied with impunity to any situation even if a suitable justification is not forthcoming), no matter the relevance of the conflict to anyone other than themselves and their footsoldiers. Defining civilians as legitimate targets for military action is a fine example of the way in which technology and sovereignty have brutally combined.
In the case of the Falklands crisis it might be relevant to ask just who had been humiliated by Argentinas invasion of the islands? Or exactly why it mattered to a housewife in Hull or a miner in Nottingham that the junta now threatened people on a remote island when they had been killing thousands for a decade or more elsewhere?
The answer is it had to be made relevant - just as Diego Garcia was ignored (NB #2DG) - and this could only be achieved with recourse to the nation. Yet while the national interest continues to be formulated without resort to the national community at large it remains a tool for the powerful and about as far removed from the democratic principle as is possible.
Anderson perceptively wrote that "[what] cannot be remembered must be narrated" (Anderson, p.204). Perhaps it is now time to remember that the nation is a means to an end and not a justification for the subjugation of populations the world over (See Perlman, pp.27-28)
By: Michael Skey
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