Socialist Worker

A tale of two islands

by Mike Rosen
Issue No. 1825

I LISTENED a week ago to some radio programmes about people affected by the Falklands War in 1982. We heard from a woman whose husband was a computer technician in the navy. It was clear from the way she spoke that she admired and loved him.

He wrote to her and their daughters telling them that he was on his way home, and was desperately looking forward to seeing them soon. Then they got a letter from him saying that he wasn't coming home - he was heading for the South Atlantic. They never saw him again. He was burnt alive as he sat by his computer screen, after his ship took a direct hit.

At this point the programme touched on the fact that the men were wearing protective suits which, incredibly, made it more likely they would die. It was to do with the material they were made out of. I was overcome with a mix of anger, sadness and outrage.

Here was a family wrecked by death. No matter how brave and confident the women sounded, you could hear in their voices that the lives they had wanted to lead had been stolen away from them. But why? What was it all for?

The series went on to explain that it was so the UK could save the Falkland Islanders from being ruled by Argentina. At the time it wasn't only right wingers who thought that this was an honourable thing to do. The then leader of the Labour Party, Michael Foot, supported it too, and took much of the Labour Party with him.

On the real left we said the war was a blatant attempt by the Tories to shore up their unpopular government and, most importantly, it was a dispute that could have been solved in a way that wouldn't involve hundreds of deaths. Hundreds of young Argentinian conscript soldiers died - many in the General Belgrano, a ship that was sailing away from the war zone - as well as hundreds on the British side.

The lying cant that the government shot at us at the time was that the freedom of the Falkland Islanders was non-negotiable. They were British and were now under occupation by a foreign power. How do we know that this is hypocritical garbage? Because of what happened to the people of the Chagos Islands, especially those from the island of Diego Garcia.

The US wanted Diego Garcia as a military base. In its way were several thousand inhabitants. So in the 1970s Britain, which owned the islands, simply shipped them all off to Mauritius and the Seychelles.

When this 'ethnic cleansing' was finally declared illegal two years ago, you might have thought that the Blair government would ensure that the islanders would see justice. Not so. Last week the islanders had to go back to court to seek compensation and the return of their property.

We can only hope that they win, but there are two factors working against them: (1) they have brown skins and (2) the US want Diego Garcia in order to supply its imperial wars in the Gulf.

Whether it's the hundreds of families who lost people in the Falklands War, the brave islanders from the Indian Ocean, or the families of the thousands who would die in a new Gulf war, it is clear that our rulers, Tory or Labour, don't care what misery they pile on innocent people.

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Article information

Sat 9 Nov 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1825
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