Now that increasing tensions are once again surrounding these islands we find an all too familiar, post-war story in journalist Tom Clifford’s “ Suicides Outpace Combat Deaths, and Benefits Access a Struggle for Veterans of Falklands/Malvinas War.” ( I have some vague memories of this distant war which began on April 2, 1982 as it was briefly covered in the USA . Our decidedly pro- Anglo coverage took the tone of a comic opera conflict with photo ops of handsome, warrior Prince Andrew flying a search and rescue helicopter over the South Atlantic. His nephew, handsome warrior Prince William is currently in the Falklands on a similar assignment, although there are no overt combat operations at this time. And, there is still some hope of peaceful resolution. Until I began working with combat trauma in Argentina and also the UK, I was unaware of the seriousness of this tragic event for soldiers and their families, for both sides of this brutal exchange.

Conflict over the sovereignty of the Falkland/Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Isles , as British Protectorates, began with an Argentine invasion force under orders from their military dictatorship known as the Junta. These soldiers were mostly young, untrained conscripts who were initially proud to be called upon to serve a patriotic cause. Most believed that they would only represent a kind of occupation force and then this conflict would be sorted out by some diplomatic process. Many had never ventured beyond their remote and rural farms, towns and villages and some had never seen snow. As they landed upon ice cold island shores, it became immediately apparent that they were totally unprepared. Dressed in sandals and other inadequate clothing, the conscripts would be soon freezing in the trenches, grappling with sub-standard equipment that they had no idea how to use. After much bloodshed, the humiliated Argentines surrendered to well trained British forces on June 14, 1982.

Although this war was short, it continues to kill veterans from both countries. In Argentina I learned that 649 soldiers died in active service and at least 400 traumatized others took their own lives. Accurate statistics are difficult to come by since many of these suicides were covered up as accidents or illness due to religious condemnation and social shame associated with these acts. Entire communities have lost nearly all of their young men to this conflict. Veterans and their families call this “a forgotten war” since few want to remember this painful episode. On the British side, 255 soldiers died on active duty while a startling 264 veterans have taken their own lives. While survival guilt may have been a major factor, as is the case with many post-war suicides, another form of guilt may have contributed to these deaths. During a visit to the UK I had the opportunity to speak with veterans of the Falkland’s War who expressed little satisfaction in their victory. As professional soldiers they were expecting “a real fight”. Many of their Argentine opponents turned out to be ill equipped farm boys, and “ instead of a fight, there was a massacre” and many British troops were ashamed of the slaughter.

This British victory was a political boost for Margaret Thatcher’s conservative party. The dictatorship of the military Junta was subsequently removed from power and Argentina returned to a democratic government in 1983. One might wonder why two great nations would continue to risk further trauma and bloodshed over ownership of these remote windblown islands . Argentina claims that they are battling some last vestiges of colonialism and the British insist that they are defending the citizens of their protectorate. While both may be true, it is also a fact that this region of the South Atlantic is very rich in natural gas and oil.

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