The Falklands War, Sir John Keegan has said, marked the point at which Britain’s ‘late twentieth century renaissance as an international power may be dated’ (231, p. xiii). If this is so, it is in one sense hard to understand. It was a small war fought at a great distance from the European Continent, whose proximity to the British Isles obliged the United Kingdom to engage in two world wars. It can be seen as an aberration, a diversion from the real needs of British defence policy, or even as a re-enactment of the colonial wars that should have disappeared with the dissolution of the British Empire. But its importance lay not in the theatre of war, nor even in its cause, the clash of sovereign claims, but in its political control and operational techniques. It was the first British campaign since the Second World War in which all her armed forces combined against a regular, if not especially effective, enemy: airplanes, ships and soldiers met in formal combat, so different from the wars of imperial retreat or the political complexities and murky killings of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations. The relationship between politicians and public, civil servants and ministers, soldiers and civilians were tested in real war conditions. The services fired their weapons, old and new, against an enemy equally well armed, and in some respects using superior arms.
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D. George Boyce
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