It’s 40 years since the Argentine junta invaded the Falkland Islands and Britain’s first female Prime Minister launched a war to get them back. I often wonder, says Charles Moore in The Spectator, what would have happened “if Margaret Thatcher had been a man”. Nearly all the men of her generation were war veterans, and therefore understandably cautious about heading back into conflict. “As a woman, she felt differently.” She looked at military action “not professionally, but morally”, which made her “unforgiving of aggressors” and “maternally furious” at the wicked Argies who killed “our boys”.
She also made a strong connection between Britain’s honour and her own political success. If Britain had lost the Falklands on her watch, that would have been her political end. As she often said: “There’s no second chance for a woman.” So Mrs Thatcher, with a portrait of Nelson hanging in her office, “scarcely went to bed” for the whole 10-week war, generally preferring to sleep – if at all – “in a chair, dressed in her ever-neat clothes”.
Her love for Nelson, “the most romantic of all British patriotic heroes”, makes perfect sense, says Dominic Sandbrook in UnHerd. From start to finish there was something “oddly 18th-century” about the Falklands campaign, which revived Britons’ self-image as “buccaneering, free-trading, maritime people, sometimes boorish, often vulgar, but always staunch in the defence of freedom”. Some people hated it – a certain Jeremy Corbyn spoke for a sniffy minority who thought it a “Tory plot to keep their money-making friends in business”.
But deep down, nearly everyone felt its emotional pull. On the morning British forces set sail, the Daily Mail interviewed a veteran of the First World War. “I thought England was done for, spineless, a doormat for the world,” he said. “I’d pass the war memorials or see Nelson’s Victory and wonder what it had all been for. But I was wrong, thank God. We are still a proud country, and we’ll still protect our own.”