A state of war now exists between our two countries

Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Camping in the Forest of Dean during a chilly April in 1982 was not my idea of fun. Some people like to be at one with nature. I’m not one of them. I like my accommodation to have stars (the more the merrier), central heating and a bed. Preferably with some soft down pillows that you can just sink into.

When we arrived, there was a list of jobs waiting for us. The first thing to do was to put up the tent. It was massive. We were not. It was a struggle. Then we had to make a drying rack out of whatever we could find. If you know we’re going to need a drying rack, why not pack one.

Then one night, everything changed. The word went out. Something big was about to happen. We crowded into the only tent with a radio. The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, made a live broadcast. Her tone was sombre. Her words were deadly serious. The Argentinians had invaded the Falkland Islands. Britain would put together a task force to retake them. “Where are the Falkland Islands?” someone asked. “Just off Scotland.” someone replied sagely. It felt like the most momentous event ever.

After the radio broadcast, some gurus came on and discussed what that meant. We then learned that the Falkland Islands were not just off Scotland. They were a very long way away indeed. Our task force had a very long journey ahead. It would be weeks before they arrived. America tried to broker a peaceful deal between the two countries in the intervening time, but to no avail.

War should always be a last resort, but there was a certain purity of purpose about the conflict that has sometimes been missing from later engagements. Argentina invaded because they though they owned the islands. We retook the islands because we disagreed. You could argue about who’s right and who’s wrong, but there is no doubt about why each country behaved the way it did.

Apart from the abortive diplomacy efforts by the Americans, there were only two parties involved. There was a definite trigger and the conflict came to a definitive end with nearly a thousand people dying in the process. The argument still rumbles on because both sides feel they are right. Funnily enough, a state of war was never officially declared.

A small garrison remains there to this day. The cost of this presence equates to over $30K per year per islander. If we spent as much for everyone in the UK, our defence budget would rocket by nearly $2 trillion!

I wonder if we had this clarity of purpose about the Iraq and the Afghanistan conflicts, would they have taken so long and cost so much? Would they have achieved more?

Would they have even started?

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A brief history of warfare

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 44th week, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over time, the human race has devoted a lot of energy to finding creative new ways to hurt or kill each other. Back in the dragging women back to the cave by their hair days, sticks and stones were the order of the day. Plentiful and easily fashioned, these devices would do the job but it would be messy and time consuming. Not only that, but if both of you are similarly armed, regardless of the victor, it’s highly likely you will both be hurting afterwards. Sooner or later, one bright caveman realised that if you took a very small, sharp stone and attached it to a stick, it could be thrown some distance with accuracy. Once the spear had been invented, cavemen no longer had to fight at such close quarters.

Sharpened flints were all well and good, but they were a bit crude. When metals were discovered, weapons could be much more strong and finely constructed. The sword became the order of the day. Some of them were sharp and some of them were heavy, but they were all effective. In response to this, metalworkers developed armour and shields. In order to breech the armour, bows and arrows and crossbows came about. Nothing struck fear into the heart of a warrior in plate mail armour than a crossbowman.

For a time, occupiers built castles which were a hardy defence to most of the weapons of the day. With the advent of gunpowder and cannons, the balance of power changed yet again. The walls could be easily breached and deadly missiles could rain down into the interior of the castle. Muskets and rifles reduced the skill level required of the average foot soldier and increased his range.

During world war I, there were a number of advancements. Aeroplanes were used for reconnaissance and later for bombing missions. Once the bombers became enough of a nuisance, fighters were developed. The most famous of which being Baron von Richthofen in his glorious red Fokker DR1 triplane. Trench warfare was the order of the day. The only way to advance was to assemble a large number of men and go “over the top”. With the advent of the machine gun, such tactics were stopped in their tracks. A well aimed machine gun operated by a handful of men could take out hundreds of soldiers. In order to counter this, the tank was developed. Because it was bulletproof and had caterpillar tracks, the tank could advance with impunity.

By the time world war II started, aircraft could fly much further and could carry a lot more. It is hard to believe now, but at times during world war II, it was routine for London and Berlin, both European capital cities, to have many tons of high explosives dropped on them on a nightly basis. When you think that the slightest innocent casualty in a war today causes an outcry, it’s a sobering thought. With the advent of the V1 and V2 rockets, missile technology was well and truly here to stay. When the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan, the scene was set for the cold war.

Fast forward to the first gulf war and the tales of cruise missiles flying down streets and navigating through towns were absolutely mesmerising. By the time we got to the second gulf war, laser guided missiles meant that explosives could be delivered with pinpoint accuracy. With all this technology, sometimes the most effective weapons are the most simple and Improvised Explosive Devices (or IEDs) have been used to murderous effect by the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Weapons get more sophisticated by the day. Bullets can now go round corners and there is enough destructive power in the world’s nuclear arsenal to lay waste to our wonderful planet several times over. It is no wonder that Albert Einstein said that he had no idea what weapons would be used in world war III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.