Mother of 904 dead? (And a nice big bounce in the polls).
I was 16 when the Falklands conflict started. A disaffected youth who’d been in and out of childrens’ homes, complete with Crass t-shirt and Clash record collection. Only a year earlier, in 1981, the UK had almost been set alight in riots that made the 2011 disturbances look like pale comparison. Mass unemployment was taking hold in a way that had never been experienced before – this time as a direct result of government policy. The Sex Pistols cry of “No Future” was not only a reality but our collective faces were being rammed repeatedly into a huge brick-walled dead-end.
Yet there is little doubt that before the Falklands War there was huge disquiet about Thatcher’s brand of government – she was in BIG trouble.
This link here gives an overview of the polling numbers from 1979 to 1983 revealing that in Feb 1982, only weeks before the war, the Tories were in third place and down to 27.5%. As the graph below shows Thatcher’s 1983 electoral victory was built almost entirely on her Falklands bounce.
We shouldn’t forget the desperate coercion used to keep this Falklands bounce on track. At the time any dissent against the war was highly problematic for those engaging in it. I had friends beaten badly for daring to make anti-war comments whilst I was personally threatened on numerous occasions just for appearing to be part of a group that expressed dissent. The press, media – the good old BBC – all joined in the festival of jingoism and blood lust. Unlike today there was no space to coalesce dissent in the written word in social media and the alternative music scene provided one of the only outlets where resistance could be expressed.
Quite possibly the most provocative anti-Thatcher songs of the period were by underground punk act, Crass. They released in 1982 “SheepFarming in the Falklands”, “Gotcha” and the acerbic Thatcher-takedown “HowDoes it Feel to be the Mother of 1000 Dead?” (Crass got their numbers wrong by the way). These songs didn’t get any airplay at all and, at the time, Crass appeared to be subjected to some form of harassment by the British establishment with Tory MP Tim Eggar attempting to have the band prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act.
Yet, Crass singles sold in their 100s of 1000s with them repeatedly reaching the top of the “Indie Charts”. Dissent was out there. And Crass lyrics were far more explicit and direct than any Wizard of Oz song. Here’s a sample from “How Does it Feel?”
Your arrogance has gutted these bodies of life, Your deceit fooled them that it was worth the sacrifice. Your lies persuaded people to accept the wasted blood, Your filthy pride cleansed you of the doubt you should have had. You smile in the face of the death cause you are so proud and vain, Your inhumanity stops you from realising the pain That you inflicted, you determines, you created, you ordered It was your decision to have those young boys slaughtered.
As most commentators will tell you the Falklands War defined Thatcher. And with any war comes casualties and deaths. In the South Atlantic 904 men lost their lives and almost 2500 suffered injuries. Yes, we can argue that it was for the liberty of the Falkland islanders and that one great side effect was the end of the Argentinian military dictatorship – this is all well and good.
But was this Thatcher’s intention? Yes, I’m certain Thatcherite notions of “liberty” played some part in her rationalisation for war. However, I’m also certain that Thatcher realised that if she folded in the face of the Argentinians she was finished as a political force. Therefore, for Thatcher, any compromise that avoided conflict was just not possible. The unavoidable truth is that Thatcher’s 1983 election victory was built on the deaths of 904 young men. The next argument is, of course, was such slaughter worth it?
This post was originally published at http://momentofcrisis.blogspot.co.uk