Frustrations of lost war

    Falklands War: You can take the soldier out of a war, but not the war out of the soldier.

    Forty years after the Falklands War – or, if you are Argentinian, Guerra de las Malvinas – most people have forgotten all about the brief but bloody conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina over a group of wind-swept and rocky islands in the South Atlantic.

    But not Marcelo Wytrkusz, a taciturn mechanic whose car repair workshop has walls decorated with stencils of the Malvinas Islands and his old combat helmet from the war hanging from a nail in one corner.

    Port Desire Juan Manuel Bugarín
    Port Desire, a film by Juan Manuel Bugarín

    Sheen of history

    In Juan Manuel Bugarin’s poignant Port Desire, Marcelo dreams of sailing back to the islands, planting an Argentinian flag, and ripping up his passport. It is a fantasy of reclaiming a piece of rock that the Argentinian dictatorship of the 1980s only invaded to distract public attention from its nasty habits and a failing economy.

    In the United Kingdom, the Falklands War has already gained a sheen of history; on Armistice Sunday (November 13th this year) – when the British pay their respects to the dead of the two world wars of the 20th century and other conflicts since – columns of men in their 60s and 70s marched down Whitehall in London, their chests emblazoned with medals, as the new King (Charles III) looked on.

    It’s easier for the ‘victors’ – their memories of sacrifice are assuaged by the fact that they were welcomed as liberators by the hardy sheep-farming islanders, who considered themselves British and wanted to remain so.

    Of course, it is a fantasy, but it is one that somehow gives his life meaning.

    For Argentinians

    For the Argentinian veterans – most of whom were just young conscripts sent to fight against hardened professionals – coming to terms with defeat and the loss of their friends in combat has been a lifelong process.

    Marcelo just cannot let go of the seminal moment of his youth. He obsesses over the idea of repairing his boat to sail across to the islands – despite the fact that the Argentinian navy won’t give permission and a British frigate could intercept him.

    Of course, it is a fantasy, but it is one that somehow gives his life meaning.

    Port Desire Juan Manuel Bugarín
    Port Desire, a film by Juan Manuel Bugarín

    Opportunities to understand

    For those of us old enough to remember the Falklands War from the British side, Port Desire is an opportunity to seek to understand what this experience has meant for the Argentinians. At the time, I was very much against the war – regarding it as an imperialistic opportunity for a bellicose Prime Minister (#Margaret Thatcher#, aka ‘the Iron Lady’). The war began in early April when Argentinian troops landed on the Malvinas. Nothing much happened for a while; the logistics of putting together a British naval flotilla to transport troops halfway across the world lasted until June.

    At the time, I was a volunteer on a kibbutz in Israel. I’d been to Cairo for a couple of weeks and returned to be told by one wag that the British had invaded New Zealand. When I heard it was the Falklands, I still thought it was a leg pull. I sought out Eliana – a young Argentinian woman who was the lone volunteer from that country at our kibbutz. When I joked that the British would be marching through the streets of Buenos Aeries soon, the sour expression on her face was enough to have me understand that this insanity was happening. Others among the British volunteers refused to speak to her. I was aghast and did everything to support her, later sending her letters in Argentina via a friend in Spain.

    Back home in England in the summer of ’82 and working as a bar manager at a holiday camp, I had to listen to bar stool bores who had fought in the Second World War giving their opinions about the conflict. The war came home to Dorset all too soon; the holiday camp’s receptionist lost an uncle in an Exocet missile attack on a British troop ship.

    Marcelo’s pain is both emotional and physical. You literally cannot take him out of the war when he still has a piece of British shrapnel embedded in his back.

    In many ways, although Marcelo comes across as a sympathetic character, his obsession with the past is simply sad. He has a loving wife and three bright and engaging kids. One just yearns for him to live in her and now – not in the dismal days of the early 1980s.

    What about a subscription, for full access and 2-3 print copies in your mail a year?
    (Modern Times Review is a non-profit organisation, and really appreciate such support from our readers.) 

    Nick Holdsworth
    Nick Holdsworth
    Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

    Your mother should know

    PHOTOGRAPHY: Three women and a war seen through their eyes.

    Freedom, limited

    RUSSIA: The authoritarian stranglehold of the Kremlin closes in across national holidays in contemporary Russia.

    Lasting records of an overnight country

    JOURNALISM: Following the team behind the most widely circulated daily newspaper in Kabul as it is recaptured by the Taliban.

    Leaders of the unfree world

    BIOGRAPHY: One of the longest-serving German chancellors ever, Angela Merkel's eventful tenure as a woman in a bastion of masculinity made her an anchor for Europe.

    Get out

    RACISM: A row of tamarisk trees along a huge golf course in Palm Springs begs the question, can a tree be racist?

    Wall talk

    IRAN: The fortunes of three generations of an upper-middle-class Iranian family tracked across forty years of turbulent Iranian history.
    - Advertisement -spot_img

    You might also likeRELATED
    Recommended to you