Will History Repeat?: And Putin’s “dirty war” in Ukraine be his downfall?


It was on April 2, 1982, forty years ago, that Argentine dictator Leopoldo Galtieri ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands, initiating a ten week long war in the South Atlantic.  Galtieri believed that “Argentina inherited them from Spain” as justification for seizing them; in reality, he was looking for a “win” because public dissent and defiance against the fascist government’s brutality was growing.  He also made the assumption that the United Kingdom’s distance, fading military, and US refusal to get involved, would mean he could take the islands permanently without much of a fight.

Both of which sound a lot like Putin’s thinking and actions in Ukraine today.

Argentina’s “dirty war” of US-backed fascist dictatorship began in 1976.  It ended in 1983 with Galtieri’s resignation and free, democratic elections, though little accountability for the atrocities committed over those eight years.  With enough pressure, we may see Putin’s own military and inner circle turn on him.

France24‘s item on the anniversary makes zero mention or allusion to Putin and Ukraine, but the writer doesn’t need to.  The allegories and comparisons speak for themselves.

Argentina’s dictatorship dug its own grave in Falklands War

Argentina’s embattled military dictatorship was on its last legs when it sought to secure a lifeline with an invasion of the British Falkland Islands 40 years ago this week.

The gambit was initially successful as the attack was feted by a previously hostile public.

Yet the brief misadventure ultimately failed to breathe new life into the dictatorship floundering under social unrest and economic crisis, serving instead to precipitate its demise.

Eight days after the invasion of the South Atlantic archipelago on April 2, General Leopoldo Galtieri, the head of Argentina’s military junta, addressed fevered throngs from the balcony of his palace overlooking the central Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires.

“If they want to come, let them come, we will give them battle!” he trumpeted to the cheering crowds in a direct challenge to the British military as a task force traveled south to free the islands.

The public support was a coup by the junta given that just 10 days earlier, tens of thousands of Argentines had filled that same square in the biggest mobilization against the dictatorship since it took power in 1976, chanting: “Elections now!”

The junta thought that by claiming the Falklands — which Buenos Aires argues it inherited from Spain when it gained independence in the 19th century — it would be able to turn the tide of public opinion in its favor.

Unlike Putin perpetrating war crimes against Ukrainians, the Argentine regime committed genocide against its own people, in its “dirty war”: the torture of dissidents, “death flights”, kidnapping of orphans.

The catholic church was complicit.  There are questions about how involved the current Argentinian pope was, but to claim that he “knew nothing” reeks of Sargeant Schulz.  From The New Yorker, March 2013:

Pope Francis and the Dirty War

As in Spain during its Civil War, when the Catholic Church openly sided with Franco’s inquisition, and in Rome during the Second World War, when the silence of Pope Pius XII was understood as a tacit admission of Vatican acquiescence with the policies of the Axis, the role of the Argentine Catholic Church in the junta’s anti-Communist campaign was queasily intimate. In official discourses, one of Bergoglio’s predecessors, Archbishop Juan Carlos Aramburu, openly sided with the military’s stated need for a purge, in which freethinking priests and nuns were also killed. For the most part, the Church remained mute in public about what was going on. But some priests were actually directly involved in the repression, by all accounts, with military chaplains going so far as to bless the drugged bodies of suspected guerrillas marked for execution as they were loaded onto military planes, from which they were then hurled to their deaths, unconscious, over the Rio de la Plata.

There have been past accusations, including testimony from a handful of priests and bishops, that the man who is now Pope Francis was complicit, too, if in a more subtle way. He was, in the early years of the Dirty War, the provincial, or superior, of the Society of Jesus in Argentina, at a time when the Jesuits produced some of the more freethinking and socially liberal clerics in Latin America—a number of whom were targeted by military leaders during the era’s repression—and later led a seminary. The key allegation against him is that he pointed out left-leaning priests to the military as dissidents, leaving them exposed, and that he did not defend two kidnapped clerics or ask for their release. He has denied this, and says instead that he protected priests and others—just quietly, in secret.

Argentinian people want justice, not “reconciliation”.  Many families of the “disappeared” were never given answers, loved ones never buried, children never found.  Whether Ukrainian people get answers or return of those missing and kidnapped in the past month remains to be seen.

30,000 People Were ‘Disappeared’ in Argentina’s Dirty War. These Women Never Stopped Looking

Draped in lush trees and surrounded by stately buildings, Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo might look like a place to check out monuments or stop for a relaxing rest. But each Thursday, one of Argentina’s most famous public squares fills with women wearing white scarves and holding signs covered with names.

They are the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and they are there to bring attention to something that threw their lives into tragedy and chaos during the 1970s: the kidnapping of their children and grandchildren by Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship.

For decades, the women have been advocating for answers about what happened to their loved ones. It’s a question shared by the families of up to 30,000 people “disappeared” by the state during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” a period during which the country’s military dictatorship turned against its own people.

Some of the pilots who flew the “death flights” have been brought to trial, but the generals and those who gave the orders escaped trial mostly via death by old age and disease.  At least Putin’s generals have paid the cost of their crimes, having been killed Ukrainian defenders.  From Axios:

Argentine ‘death flights’ trial gets underway

For the first time, Argentina is carrying out a trial against Army members specifically for the so-called vuelos de la muerte, where thousands of dissidents between 1976 and 1983 were drugged, forced onto military aircraft and dumped into the ocean to drown.

Also from France24, a brief timeline of the dirty war.

A little more below the fold, three songs of the era, two about the war and one not.

In 1983, The Fixx recorded “Liner” on their album “Reach The Beach”, a song about the Falkland Islands war and Galtieri’s folly.  The lyrics to this song are positively biting:

Island in a forgotten latitude

And with colonial attitude

They took the chance for repossession

[. . .]

So I sailed away on their time, Liner!

Taking young lives in their prime, Liner!

Harbour, I saw a flag waving goodbye

I saw a soldier’s baby cry

“What’s it all for?” that’s what I’m thinking

Liner, it was a fantasy sea cruise
It was a bet destined to lose
Across the waves, what was he thinking?

Sea shore, he had a wet foot in the sand
He was holding U.N. plans
Across the waves, what was he thinking?

All aboard before the storm
They've never seen a place like this before

Island in a forgotten latitude
And with colonial attitude
They took the chance for repossession

Grey skies there were no palm trees in the wind
And when a saint starts hiding sins
It's all aboard whilst peace is sinking

All aboard before the storm
Crossing swords before the dawn
Seen before, back in an infant's dream
Like a rubber duck, floating in the bath

So I sailed away on their time, Liner!
Taking young lives in their prime, Liner!

Harbour, I saw a flag waving goodbye
I saw a soldier's baby cry
"What's it all for?" that's what I'm thinking

Inside, I must he lacking true insight
Because I always sleep at night
Across the waves whilst men are

All aboard before the storm
Crossing swords before the dawn
Seen before back in an infant's dream
Like a rubber duck, floating in the bath

So I sailed away on their time, Liner!
Taking young lives in their prime, Liner!

Liner! To a distant shore never seen before
All aboard before the storm

In 1987, Scottish band The Silencers released the single, “Painted Moon”, about witnessing the war from afar through the media.  Propaganda cheers your own country’s military (“angels”, “love”) while dehumanizing the enemy’s (“natives pray to the painted moon”).

The UK military was flying F-4 Phantom jets during the war.

Walking home in the rain
And blood runs cold in my veins
News from a distance shore
Blues like never before

The moon is new
The moon is full
The moon is blue
The moon is cruel
Painted moon

Coming to the rescue
Angels from another world
Love is here to stay
So the angels say
Running to the rescue
Angels flying up above
Phantoms in the bay
While the natives pray
To the painted moon

I wash my face and get dressed
And time cuts into my wrist
So who invents our dreams
The hands that hold the machine

The moon is blue
The moon is cruel
Painted moon

Coming to the rescue
Angels from another world
Love is here to stay
So the angels say
Running to the rescue
Angels flying up above
Phantoms in the bay
While the natives pray
To the painted moon

Split Enz was a New Zealand band, and their song “Six Months In A Leaky Boat” was written about “explorers” of the 15th to 18th centuries like Captain Cook.  It was recorded in late 1981, months before the Falkland Islands war.  It was pure coincidence that it was released in April 1982, during the war.

In one of the most ignorant knee jerk reactions in history, the BBC banned a song from airplay for “criticizing the UK navy’s readiness”, despite the fact it had nothing to do with current events.  It was the first song banned from UK radio since the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” in 1977.

If the timestamp doesn’t work when you press play, jump ahead to 1:15.  I linked to this video because of the audio quality.

When I was a young boy
I wanted to sail around the world
That's the life for me
Living on the sea
Spirit of a sailor
Circumnavigates the globe
The lust of a pioneer
Will acknowledge no frontier

I remember you by, thunderclap in the sky
Lightning flash, tempers flare
'Round the horn if you dare
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Lucky just to keep afloat

Aotearoa
Rugged individual
Glisten like a pearl
At the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance
Didn't stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me
I'll conquer and stay free

Ah, c'mon all you lads
Let's forget and forgive
There's a world to explore
Tales to tell back on shore
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Six months in a leaky boat

Ship-wrecked love can be cruel
Don't be fooled by her kind
There's a wind in my sails
Will protect and prevail
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Nothing to a leaky boat

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Unlike Putin perpetrating war crimes against Ukrainians, the Argentine regime committed genocide against its own people…

    According to Putin’s own words, Ukrainians are (part of) Russia’s “own people”.

  2. Jazzlet says

    I was at university in the UK when the Falklands War started, one guy put up a sign in his sixth floor window (of a twenty story tower block of student accomodation) saying “Malvinas sol Argentinas”. It almost caused a riot and he had to be escorted to safety by campus security. The Argentine junta were a nasty lot, absolutely no doubt of that, but they were correct that in the absence of any original inhabitants the Malvinas should not belong to the UK.

  3. says

    It’s called the “short victorious war”. It has been used many times to prop up failing regimes. You could even say that it’s a trope. Most well-known relatively recent examples are the russo-japanese war and the falklands war. One might even considere the japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as an attempt at one.

    Putin seems to do it every time his popularity wanes or if he has to distract people from his own failings. *And so far it has worked for him.*

    The thing is, it doesn’t always work out the way the instigators expect. None of the named historical examples went well for the people who planned and started them.
    I think there are at least two relevant factors in play here.

    First, one could say that at least in the Russian Empire (russo-japanese war) and in the Japanese Empire (Pearl Harbor) there was nobody speaking truth to power (as in “this is a really bad idea; wars tend to be unpredictable” etc). Maybe it was also the case in Argentinia, I don’t know but it wouldn’t surprise me. Military dictatorship and all that.

    Second (and maybe related) is that the instigators did not have a realistic view of their opponent’s response and capabilities.

    In my mind both factors apply in the case of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine as well. Putin clearly expected to roll over Ukraine in a couple of days. And maybe even expected Ukrainians to welcome the Russians. Which is kind of strange since the Ukrainians kicked out his sock puppet during the Euromaidan. And it is questionable if Putin’s yes-men have actually dared to tell him how bad it’s really going.

  4. jrkrideau says

    Will History Repeat?: And Putin’s “dirty war” in Ukraine be his downfall?

    Unlikely. At the moment, baring unlikely miracles, it looks like Russia is winning the “special military operation” albeit probably a bit more slowly than Russia hoped . The real question is how Russia survives the West’s sanctions. Given their effectiveness on Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela, oh well….

    The last drastic round of EU-US sanctions on Russia has managed to cost the EU billions (100’s of billions?) and turn Russia into a net food exporter. Last year or the year before it was the world’s largest wheat exporter while we (Canada) had slipped to third. I am old enough to remember us selling huge amounts of wheat to the USSR!

    The argument that Putin started the war due to falling popularity seems unlikely as before it started polls put him somewhere in the high 60 percent range. The Levada-Centre which seems to be the one most Western analyst tend to quote, says
    Nov 2021, 63%,
    Dec 2021 65%,
    Jan 2022 69%
    Levada-Centre

Leave a Reply