Twenty-six years ago, a group of us held the two-day ‘Belgrano Enquiry’ at Hampstead Town Hall, the nearest there has ever been to an independent enquiry into the matter. The issue is coming to the boil again today, as Britain drills for oil down in the South Atlantic. Every few years, Britain spends a million pounds per Falkand islander, protecting them. By 1986 Britain had spent nearly four billion on defending the Falkland islands. No-one asked the British people if they wanted to continue spending this much forever. One may agree with the Assessors to the Belgrano Enquiry, who concluded in 1988: ‘The Government now has no policy for the islands which makes any political, economic or military sense.’ (UW, p178).
There is a moral issue involved here, and let’s quote the Argentinan historian of this was Mr Moro, after he has told his story:
It is now up to honorable Britons to delve deeply into the true reasons underlying the sinking of the General Belgrano and present such evidence as does exist – if they have the freedom, and the necessary inclination and forthrighness, to do so. This is as it should be, not so much in recoil at an unnecessary war act as to enable us to go on believing in the set of values that have been the hallmark of our culture. The civilisation we have all created should not serve as a safe haven from whence powerful countries may subject weaker or defenceless peoples to their every whim and bidding.’ p.165, History of the South Atlantic Conflict.
30 years on, March 2012, here is a Rich Planet interview by N.K. on the subject.
The UN Resolution 2065 in 1965 viewed the sovereignty of the Falklands as ‘disputed’, and affirmed that the UK governance was an instance of ‘colonialism’ which needed ‘bringing to an end.’ It stipulated that the ‘interests’ of the islanders should be taken into account – it did not say, their ‘wishes.’ The OAS passed a motion in April 1982, that sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands belonged to Argentina, and America abstained, not voting against. So a lot of people have found nothing self-evident about British claims to sovereignty.
Nowadays, the words of the UN Charter seem rather idealistic:
- All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
- All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state
The story as we tell it here, concerns the fabrication of lies around a central event, which torpedoed the nearly-ready peace plan. Continual untruth became necessary for years afterwards, but what was it that could not be told? Britain could not have fought that war without US support on many levels, and to get that it had to appear to be willing to negotiate.
Today, we are familiar with far greater government mendacity for the sake of war, and far larger slaughter thereby involved, and maybe one needs to read journalist Neil Mackay’s War on Truth concerning the pathway of fabrications which took Britain into the Iraq war, for those with the stomach to do so.
If there is a message from the Falklands story, or that part which here concerns us, it is that ‘national security’ is a dangerous thing, whereby warmongers can hide their acts and motives and misrepresent matters as they choose.
Our Enquiry was described thus:
‘A small group of people, with differing political backgrounds, came together, sounded out opinion countrywide and decided, because of the failure of Parliament to debate the issue, that an Enquiry was needed….
The Enquiry was held at Hampstead Town Hall on the 7th and 8th November 1986 and consisted of eight sessions… at which witnesses presented their evidence and were then questioned by the assessors and also answered questions submitted by the public.’ (RoA 3)
Duncan Smith of our Belgrano Action Group wrote:
‘Basically the Enquiry will present a historical drama which will attempt to establish truths that have, so far, been largely hidden and to show their relevance to current problems of international law, defence, and peace. The specious plea of ‘self-defence’ which was advanced by the U.S. and British Governments to justify the raid on Libya shows the importance of examining the similar excuse given by Mrs. Thatcher in the case of the Belgrano sinking. As part of its support for the International Year of Peace the Borough of Camden has given valuable help to the Enquiry and the Mayor will open it on 7th.’
As to why we were arranging that Enquiry, we wrote:
‘The Falklands’ conflict, it can be argued, transformed the most unpopular British Prime minister since polls began into one surrounded by a mantle of triumph and glory who could then remain in office for longer than anyone else this century. It is the duty of citizens to be concerned about the extent to which they were deceived in this process.’
As Clive Ponting wrote in his Foreword:
‘A series of lies led to a two year long systematic cover-up designed to stop parliament and people from finding out the truth. When I revealed the truth to an MP I was immediately prosecuted in a trial which the Government ensured was held partly in camera…Key documents have gone missing or not been revealed. The log book of HMS Conqueror, the submarine that sank the Belgrano, had been lost in circumstances that have never been explained and even a month long enquiry by Scotland Yard has found no clues. The crucial diplomatic telegrams over the weekend of the sinking have been concealed. Even when I wrote the Top Secret intelligence report now known as the ‘Crown Jewels’ I was not allowed to see these telegrams. … No wonder that Michael Heseltine thought there might be a ‘Watergate’ in here somewhere.
He concluded his intro with a thought with which we are all too familiar: ‘In Britain … there is no mechanism for holding an enquiry which the government does not control.’ Also, pessimistically, ‘Meanwhile the truth still lies buried.’
Here we, as two of the four original members of the Belgrano Action Group now remaining, do our best. All of Tam Dalyell’s archive material has now been transferred to the library of Churchill College, Cambridge.
Fortress Falklands costs the British taxpayer 300-400 million pounds per annum: could this not be spent in more pleasant ways? Soon after the war, more deaths by suicide were found amongst the war-veterans than had been killed in the conflict (Freedman, 732), and that is part of the ongoing price of this war: it seems that the soldiers could not easily visualise Argentines as being ‘the enemy.’ Twenty years later a group of two thousand war veterans were claiming before the High Court inadequate support for their still-ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder (Ibid). Case dismissed! (Worthy, surely, of a Steve Bell cartoon?) If there is art to maintaining peace, it must surely involve raking over the embers of old wars and ascertaining, if they could have been avoided.
Timezones, and the time to consider the Peace Plan
In her brilliant and classic confrontation with Margaret Thatcher, Diana Gould alluded to ‘fourteen hours:’ ‘Mrs Thatcher had 14 hours in which to consider the Peruvian peace plan which was being put forward to her, during which the orders [to sink the Belgrano] could have been rescinded.’
Hewre is a video about those 14 hours. Jose has the peace plan formulated midnight in Peru.( = 11 pm May 2nd in South Atlantic). The Belgrano was sunk 1400 hours South Atlantic time, that gives 14 or so hours. That video also reviews the Doana Gould-Thatcher interview. In it, Thatcher says to Diana Gould: ‘One day, in about 30 years’ time, all of the facts will be published.‘ That’s now folks! Will they do this? Don’t hold your breath.
- London, British Summer Time +1 hour
- GMT 0 hrs
- Buenos Aries, Argentina -3 hrs
- Washington, Falkland Islands -4 hrs
- Peru -5 hrs
To become familar with these time zones, we recommend working though Diana Gould’s original letter to the BBC, whereby she obtained her famous interview with Thatcher – the excerpt we have reproduced gives the crucial argument. You may find it worth doing that, before attempting to peruse other pages of this site.
Key British Locations
- Whitehall, MOD headquarters – did not have a lot of power, because of the paucity of information coming out of Northwood.
- Checquers – where the War Cabinet met (political control of the war)
- Northwood – Allied maritime Command HQ where the military met (NW of London, just south of Watford) All of its communication with London was via the Chiefs of Staff.
- Cheltenham – GCHQ, decrypting of messages
- Task Force, South Atlantic: the Commander on the spot there was, Sandy Woodward. His messages to the fleet were relayed via Northwood. He did not have control over the submarines, they were controlled at Northwood.
- Thatcher’s Torpedo (TT) Tam Dalyell 1983
- The Sinking of the Belgrano, Gavshon and Rice (G&R), 1984.
- Events Surrounding the Weekend if 1-2 May, 1982, Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), 1985.
- The Right to Know, the Inside Story of the Belgrano Affair, (RK) Clive Ponting, 1985
- The Falklands/Malvinas War, Virginia Gamba, 1987.
- The Unnecessary War (UW) The Belgrano Action Group, 1988
- Report of the Assessors on the Belgrano Enquiry (ROA), 1988
- Readers may also enjoy the chapter in Al Haig’s memoirs, Caveat.
- The History of the south Atlantic conflict The War for the Malvinas, Ruben Moro, 1989
The book The Unnecessary War, was based upon the Enquiry.