Monday, June 14, 2010

An Uneasy Truce

Magnet # 268:  Falkland Islands Seal Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  The Schulz Family

The Falklands War came to an end on this day in 1982 with a victory for the United Kingdom. It began just over two months earlier when Argentina invaded and took control of the islands.  Considering that the British had controlled the area for nearly a 150 years, they didn't take the attack lightly.  But England still allowed the United States to intervene and try to mediate a resolution between the two nations before striking back when Argentina proved to be unreceptive to diplomatic solutions.  The war would only last 74 days but it would be a difficult and fierce fight.  It took place on land, air, and sea and the British were soon able to sink the Argentine ship the ARA General Belgrano, a move which caused nearly all the rest of the Argentine fleet to retreat to port for the war's duration.  But they were still able to sink a British ship, the HMS Sheffield, with an air attack days later.  Nonetheless, British forces were soon landing at strategic points over the islands, and the Argentine's own bombs often failed to go off, further assisting their opponents.  By June 11th, the British were able to set out on their final action in the conflict - taking back Stanley.  After two phases of attacks there, the Argentines were finally forced to declare a cease fire and later surrender.  The war had ended with 649 Argentine deaths and 258 British.

Oddly enough, when the Europeans first encountered what would become the Falkland Islands, there were no inhabitants there, but it appears as though people had once lived there.  The area consisted of two major islands that would be named East and West Falkland and around 200 smaller islands.  It's not certain which nation first reached the islands, but it was France who established the first settlement there at Port St. Louis.  Just a year later, the British would claim another island there, creating Port Egmont and never realizing that the French had a prior claim there. Spain soon took control of the French holdings and attacked Port Egmont, but a treaty between the two powers was later established, giving both claims there.  When the American Revolution broke out, Britain was forced to withdraw from the area, but they left a plaque there to stake their claim, a move that the Spanish later did themselves.  It was then that what would become Argentina turned its attention to the islands, founding their own settlement and a penal colony, which the United States would wipe out after Argentina seized their hunting ships.  In 1833, the British returned to assert their control over the area, building bases there, but the Argentines never accepted their loss of the islands.  When the United Nations was formed, they joined with the hopes of taking back the Falkland Islands, but were told its citizens would have to vote to remove the British.  Considering nearly all of the residents were descended from the British, this was unlikely to happen.  Finally, Argentina abandoned more peaceful ways to take back the Falkland Islands and invaded when the United Kingdom began reducing its military presence in the area.  And although they lost, even now the Argentines still pursue the islands, even adding its claim to it on their constitution.  Politicians in the nation have run on the promise of taking them back.  But just over a year ago, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made it clear that neither his government nor that of the Falkland Islands have any intention of surrendering the area to Argentina.  Clearly, emotions run deep on both sides over this area whose economy is mainly centered around farming, fishing, and tourism.  The war may be over, but the strong feelings regarding these islands by both the British and the Argentines means this matter is far from being settled. 

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