Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

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Lessons from my past

Here is one of the reasons why I know? - am pretty certain? - hope? - I am right about the war.

Back in the early 80s, the Thatcher government was in trouble. It had come in on a wave of enthusiasm after a Labour government that was not as bad as history relates had done things which could be represented as screwing up royally - a lot of public sector strikes and so on. Thatcher in her first term was not quite confident to be the utter mad ruthless bitch she later became and people were not frightened of her. Mostly.

And then the Argentinian junta, itself none too popular because murdering thousands of your people will do that, decided to grab some islands that people had been arguing about for the previous two centuries. The people that lived there were British and so were the sheep - the Spanish had owned them for a few months back in the 1780s and the British had taken them as booty in some war. Argentina has always needed something to moan about the Brits over - building other people's railways for them will do that - and the Falklands/Malvinas were a good example of just such a thing.

The Argentinian generals miscalculated that the British would not spend the money needed to send a fleet to seize back islands that most British people did not even know we owned in the first place. They particularly did not realize that Thatcher was not only up for a war - it was her chance to change destiny.

She had this theory that people thought that the British were soft and decadent, and that a ruthless campaign would prove otherwise. It was not just that the Falklands got taken back, and quite a lot of Argentine conscripts got killed in the process; it was that she prosecuted the war with as much aggression as possible. Specifically, the Argentinian ship, the General Belgrano, was running away - and she ordered it sunk, with all hands. ( And the Sun tastefull headlined the story next day - the deaths of hundreds of men - 'Gotcha!')

What followed was an election in which Thatcher got a landslide - she was popular as never before and for a decade walked on water. A decade in which she destroyed not merely the militant miners' union, but destroyed the mines and the communities that depended on them; a decade in which she dealt with the problem of elected Leftwing city authorities by abolishing them; a decade in which she sold off utilities which never worked especially well, but work less well now. And damaged the health service with a lot of reorganizations that never worked because they were not meant to. And OK, telephone privatization improved things, a bit, but it was the only one - partly because it retained its monopoly and much of its management instead of being set up for loot and pillage like the water companies and the rail service.

And in due course she met her destiny, which was hubris and the poll tax and cars burning in the streets and scandals about helicopters and a lot of men in gray suits deciding she had become a liability and they never liked her anyway. And then she spent the next decade making sure that every Tory leader who followed her got betrayed in his turn and destroyed her party. But that is another story and a much funnier one.

The thing is, back then, we did not know any of this was going to happen. And it was possible to be conflicted.

No-one I knew personally was murdered by the Argentinian generals. But friends of friends disappeared and were thrown out of planes and all the usual horrors - and their children handed to elderly torturers who needed someone to adopt. Argentina was a nasty place in the seventies - a killing field.

And some of us thought well, on the one hand, we don't believe in war as a way of resolving disputes, but on the other hand, well, they started it. And the general feeling of the international community was that Britain had it coming because hello!? imperialists, which was kind of unfair because we weren't oppressing anyone much that decade. There was also the temptation to think - oh well, Thatcher is awful, but the generals are worse and if they lose a war to us, they are history. The Falklands war was supported by all parties and even a lot of the Left thought oh well! we can't support it, but with luck it will kill some Fascists a long way away.

And it did all of that, and in some respects Argentina was better off as a result. The real problem is what it did to this country - probably permanently. One of its minor effects was that elements in the Labour Party took Nietzsche to heart and decided to become the dragon and the abyss of the Thatcher they were fighting. Another was just that Thatcher had years and years to trash everything she did not like about this country.

I am sure that the US will win its war with Iraq and that getting rid of Saddam will be quite a good thing all round. I am also sure that the victory will corrup the victors and that you will be lumbered with a popular Bush and his cronies for a very very long time in which they will have a chance to trash everything in the US and the broader world that they don't like. Which is a lot, actually.

Back in the Eighties, someone quoted, a propos of victory, now they are ringing bells, but soon they will be wringing their hands. That's the sort of thing I mean.


Oh and I did the representative democracy thang and queued for hours outside the House and watched some especially idiotic demonstrators chanting slogans that are on my side of the question but that does not mean I agree with them. I met my MP and congratulated him on his principled opposition to the war and to Blair's leadership and then I went away again. I know there would have been more point if I saw my MP and persuaded him, or had a row with him, but sometimes you have to lobby an open door, just because it is the right thing.

One banner outside talked about the Law of the Jungle and I score pedantry points because I asked its carrier what it meant. And he said well, dog eat dog sort of thing, and I said, actually the Law of the Jungle is a quotation from Kipling, and it means precisely the opposite.

And quoted - from memory - so perhaps not absolutely accurately:
'This is the Law of the Jungle - ye may read it forwards and back.
The Pack is the strength of the Wolf and the Wolf is the strength of the Pack'

Then I went off to a private view and looked at paintings of Rome and felt terribly civilized for half an hour. If any of you are in London, go to the Francis Kyle gallery in Maddox St. These are really conventional representational art, but some of the oils, and several of the water colours, are just terribly classy. There are two really good Wyeth-ish paintings of fields and cypresses by the road that have a sun-drenched vividness that hurts - and Julian, who is a friend of my friend Amanda, and Virginia Woolf's great-nephew - has a gorgeous view of a Roman suburb with people digging ditches and an odd vertiginous rooftop nude with boyfriends and chimney stacks teetering below. It is kind of like the way perpsective goes on me when I have a migraine coming.

The really interesting paintings though were a distorted view of the Pantheon - which is this interesting temple with a prefabricated metal dome. They strung panels on a wire frame except for at the top which is a hole which lets light and rain in - it is a building unlike anything for a thousand years and more afterward. There is also a glorious triptych which is not a view of anywhere in particular - it is just Rome. An interior wall, with brightly lit paintings on it some of them classical and one a man in a white suit and panama, and they are lit as if by sunlight, but beyond them, visible through vast doorways that stretch on in the gaps between the paintings, is Rome in the distance in a bright light that is the same and yet different. And small people sit under the paintings or trot through the doorways.

It is like a dream version of a Victorian painting and so happy it is vaguely sinister. I almost wished I had thirty thousand and change and owned a room big enough not to be swamped by it. Any room would be dominated.

Oh look, Roz has cheered up, they all say. Not really - it's just the cold going away and Mr Haydn on the stereo. I am still desperately concerned, but somehow smiling a bit.
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