In this lesson, we will learn about the historical background of the Falkland Islands War, the timeline of events of the war, and the consequences of the war for Argentina.
Argentina vs. England
In 1986, England played Argentina in the World Cup knockout stage. In this heated match, Argentine superstar Diego Maradona scored two goals: one brilliant goal and another highly controversial goal. This second winning goal was the infamous 'Hand of God' goal in which Maradona punched the ball into the net with his hand and the referee did not see it.
This game between Argentina and England isn't just legendary because of these two goals. This World Cup match was famous because it came just four years after Argentina and England had engaged in the Falkland Islands War, a major conflict between Argentina and England over tiny islands 300 miles off the coast of Argentina. This war was so contentious that the two sides even argue about the name of the islands, with British calling the islands the Falkland Islands and the Argentines calling the islands Islas Malvinas.
In this video, we will examine:
- The causes of the Falkland Islands War
- The timeline of events in the war
- The long-lasting effects of the war
Early Land Claims
Have you ever seen two kids fight over a toy? Almost all the time, both will claim that they had the toy first. The same can be said of the countries that have tried to claim the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands lie 300 miles east of Argentina in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands consist of two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, and more than 700 other small islands.
The irony of the Falkland Islands War is that at first no country really wanted to settle the island. During the age of colonization, many different countries laid claim to the Falkland Islands, including Spain, France, and England. But none of them really wanted to settle the islands. For example, the islands were first discovered in the late 1600s by the English captain John Strong, but Strong and his crew made no permanent settlement on the islands. In 1764, Louis Antoine de Bougainville created a settlement on East Falkland in the name of France. Two years later the British established their own settlement on one of the smaller islands.
But by 1766, France decided to not pursue a permanent settlement on the islands anymore and gave their claim to Spain. Both Spain and England stayed on the islands for ten years before they both decided to leave the islands. Although England did not establish a permanent settlement, it still claimed the islands as its own. Apparently, everybody wanted to claim the islands, but nobody wanted to settle them permanently.
Argentina Claims the Islands
The big problem came in 1816 when Argentina declared itself an independent country from Spain. Based on their understanding that the islands were part of Spain, Argentina also claimed that the islands were part of their independence declaration. From 1816, Argentina made various attempts to settle the islands, but the ventures were mostly small and consisted of establishing farming on the islands.
Great Britain Takes Over
In 1832, the British reasserted their territorial claim to the islands. Argentina objected to the occupation, but had not established enough of a permanent settlement on the islands to make a difference. Britain this time made a larger commitment to settling the territory, constantly ignoring Argentina's claims. The islands turned out to be strategically located during the First and Second World Wars, allowing the British a station to maintain control of the South Atlantic.
Since 1832, the Argentine government had consistently tried to negotiate with Great Britain over the control of the islands. Juan Peron, Argentina's famous president, asserted that the islands were part of Argentina. Britain ignored the claims.
War Breaks Out!
Finally, in 1982, Argentina gave up trying to create a peaceful settlement with Great Britain and launched an invasion of the islands. Although there were British Marines on the islands, they were far outnumbered by the Argentine military. Argentina was able to expel the British from the islands and assert control by stationing over 10,000 soldiers.
Argentina's leaders had calculated that the islands were so insignificant to Great Britain that the British would not respond. But British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took the step of declaring war on Argentina. A British submarine torpedoed an Argentine navy cruiser, hurting Argentina's navy. From there, the war was mostly between Britain's navy and Argentina's air force. Outside observers, including the U.S. and United Nations, tried to broker a peace between the two sides, but were unsuccessful.
The Argentine air force was able to sink four British ships, but the British navy proved too strong in making their amphibious assault on the islands. After gaining a foothold on the islands, the British military was able to sweep through the Argentine defenses and gain control of the islands. The British took 10,000 Argentine soldiers prisoner, of which all were eventually freed. About 750 Argentines were killed in the attack versus 250 British soldiers.
Consequences of the War
In the grand scope of history, this was a relatively minor war. But Argentina's utter defeat had major consequences for that nation's internal politics. The defeat was considered a national shame for Argentina, and since the government was run by the military, the military's legitimacy and reputation took a severe hit. The next year, the Argentine military was forced to give up power, converting the Argentine government to a democracy.
After understanding the events of the Falklands War, it is easy to see why Argentines were so happy to defeat England in the 1986 World Cup. Since the Falklands War was definitively won by Great Britain, the World Cup match offered Argentina some consolation for their disastrous defeat four years earlier. As Maradona himself once wrote, 'It was as if we had beaten a country, not just a football team… Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas War, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there, killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.' As you can see from this quote, passions run high on both sides of this issue.
As we have seen in this video, the Falklands War was a war between England and Argentina over competing claims of the Falkland Islands. Both Great Britain and Argentina have made historical claim to the Falkland Islands. After 1832, Great Britain retained control of the islands despite Argentine objections. In 1982, Argentina launched an invasion of the Falkland Islands, temporarily taking control of the islands. Although they suffered an initial defeat, Great Britain stormed back and gained control of the islands. After losing the war, Argentina's military government lost power, paving the way for Argentine democracy.
Once you are done with this lesson you should be able to:
- Recall the history of claims over the Falkland Islands
- Explain the context of the Falkland Islands conflict
- Summarize the Falkland Islands War and its lasting effect on Argentina