Jewish World Review April 16, 2002 / 5 Iyar, 5762

Thomas Sowell

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Another war created by pacifism | 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.

She understood the double standard that would have condemned any punitive military action against "innocent civilians" in Argentina, even though those supposedly innocent civilians had cheered on the attacks against the Falkland Islands, just as the Palestinians cheered the campaign of terrorism launched against Israel.

Although this happened during the Reagan administration in the United States, those who shape public opinion at home and abroad had still not gotten over the fashionable attitudes from the Carter administration years that the West should retreat gracefully before the emerging forces of the Third World, as well as accommodating the advancing might of the Communist world.

Much the same set of guilt-ridden and defeatist attitudes among the Western democracies had set the stage for Hitler's aggressions that brought on World War II. At the end of that historic carnage, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that never was there a war that would have been easier to prevent than the one that had just devastated great regions of the world.

Here too, the military potential of the West was greater than that of the nations which launched aggression. Had that potential been mobilized earlier, an ultimatum to Hitler would have made clear that it would be suicidal for him to proceed. As Churchill put it, at one point a memorandum would have stopped him.

Instead, the Western democracies wrung their hands and tried to appease Hitler, as he continued building up his military machine and picking off countries one by one. By the time it became clear that he was not going to stop until he got stopped, it was too late to prevent World War II. The unprepared West came agonizingly close to losing that war -- and civilization along with it.

But who pays attention to history these days?

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate