Thomas Sowell

It is ironic that the current Middle East conflict is taking place on the 20th anniversary of the Falkland Islands war because both involved the same key factor -- war brought on by pacifism.

In both cases, a weaker force attacked a stronger force, secure in the knowledge that "world opinion" -- and especially vocal pacifists -- would prevent the stronger force from retaliating to its fullest extent. Just as the Palestinians launched terrorist attacks on Israel, so the Argentine military leaders attacked and took over the small British settlement on the Falkland Islands -- not far from Argentina but thousands of miles from Britain.

The Falkland Islands, which the Argentines called the Malvinas, had already been in British hands for almost a century and a half. The Argentines had claimed, all that time, that the islands rightly belonged to them. Why then did they attack in 1982 but not -- say -- in 1882?

First of all, the military junta ruling Argentina in 1982 was having internal problems, and a good little war with an easy victory against a virtually defenseless settlement of Britons, would be a welcome distraction, as well as solidifying popular support for the regime. Moreover, given the state of "world opinion" -- which is to say the fashionable attitudes among the media, the pacifists, and the United Nations -- it was considered a safe bet in 1982, while it could have been suicidal in 1882.

Back in the 19th century, invading a British possession would bring certain retaliation, not just a military recapture of the islands by the British. In 1882, such an attack could mean British troops landing in Argentina itself, perhaps demolishing Buenos Aires and hanging those who had launched the aggression.

By contrast, in 1982 "world opinion" deplored any attempt by Britain even to recapture this little outpost of imperialism in the South Atlantic. Even such a staunch ally as the United States cautioned Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher against retaking these insignificant little islands.

After all, the United States had given away the Panama Canal, which Americans had built and bled for, back in the early 20th century, but which President Jimmy Carter turned over to Panama, in a grand gesture of noblesse oblige, to the applause of "world opinion."

Margaret Thatcher wasn't buying any of this. She dispatched a naval force that stormed the Falkland Islands and recaptured them. But even tough Mrs. Thatcher did not send troops into Argentina, as any 19th century British Prime Minister would have done.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate