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Should Baroness Thatcher be tried as a war criminal?


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Posted on 6 Jan 2010 15:40:11 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Jan 2010 17:44:51 GMT
S. Flaherty says:
OK, I'll add my bit to this.

P. Symonds. I suggest you talk to your father again. The Canberra was a troopship and therefore a legitimate target. It was not a hospital ship (although doubtless there were medics aboard, your father being one.) Note that if Canberra had been a hospital ship, sending her to San Carlos Bay - a war zone - would have been ridiculous and arguably illegal.

Your comments regarding Belgrano's offensive ability are equally wrong. Ship to shore bombardment requires a ship to be relatively still or slow moving and close to shore and how likely is that, given that it makes the ship an excellent target for planes or other ships. Plus it's really only useful against fixed positions, like the AA positions you mentioned, and not terribly useful against an attacking force that is moving.

Re the Atlantic Conveyer ("How about the Atlantic conveyor... an unarmed civillian ship painted bright red excoceted outside the exclusion zone too. THAT is far more of a war crime than the Belgrano.") I don't see this as being a war crime at all. Once a ship starts carrying military supplies, it ceases to be a civilian ship, so this bit's inaccurate. She was unarmed, yes, without even a missile defence system, but the only question here is why the hell we didn't fit one? (Answer: would have cost too much and we were hoping we could get away with it.) The Conveyer had just delivered a load of Harriers to the Task Force and was in the process of delivering helicopters to the troops ashore when she was sunk. The loss of the helicopters meant that the troops had to march across the Falklands instead of fly, a considerable military setback. So could you tell me which maritime convention or rule of war the Argentines were breaking when they fired upon a ship in military service that was delivering military supplies to ground troops that were actively fighting the Argentineans?

And I'm not at all sure that she was painted red. She was flying the Red Ensign, yes, but painted red? Where did you hear that? Not that it makes any difference.

Re "using ANY sort of gas, even tear gas, to flush out troops in battle is a warcrime as was the Argentine planting of unmarked mine fields. THAT is clear cut and I can give you chapter & verse of which parts of the Geneva convention those acts breach." OK, I'll bite. Go on then. You'd be hard put to find anything in the Geneva Conventions as they're mainly about treatment of civilians and prisoners. Perhaps you meant the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, an annex to the Geneva Convention? (Which does state - in Protocol II, Article 7 - that the planting of mines without keeping adequate records is a war crime - not the planting of unmarked minefields, note, which is legal.) Thing is, this didn't come into effect until 1983. A lawyer's argument, I know, but still true.

And I'm not aware that the Argentineans ever used gas, even tear gas. Perhaps you could quote me your source for this?

Having said all that, onto the Belgrano...

There are two things here: military and political. From the military point of view, Belgrano was a target, exclusions zones notwithstanding. From an admiral's point of view, any ship the enemy loses is one less that he has to worry about and so all ships are legitimate targets. This seems to be the POV of most people defending the sinking of the Belgrano and it's right - as far as it goes.

Politically, however, the sinking was unacceptable. I remember, at the time, thinking that this meant that war was inevitable, a feeling confirmed by the sinking of HMS Sheffield two days later. Looking back on the past we see a certain inevitability about it, but it's our own construction. Things didn't have to turn out that way. We weren't at war till the Belgrano was sunk, not really. Yes, the Argentineans had invaded, but nobody had been killed yet (bar one Argentine conscript) and it seemed unreal that we would fight a war over a group of islands nobody had heard about till a month previously. Surely some sort of peace deal would be worked out, the task force itself was only a bargaining chip towards this (when it was launched I, and most people I knew, didn't think it would actually do any fighting.) After we retook South Georgia without any casualties (on either side) I figured that would be the template for the Falklands. They'd rattle their sabres, maybe a few shots would be fired and then they'd leave under some sort of UN ceasefire. And I still think something like this could have happened.

The sinking of the Belgrano changed that. From that point onwards the war was inevitable. As were the thousand or so deaths that came with it.

So militarily, yes, the Belgrano was a legitimate target. Politically though - I think the military threat she posed was small enough to have let her go, just to enable the possibility of a peace plan being agreed.

Thatcher thought otherwise. Not a war crime, but a criminal misjudgment at least. At most, she sacrificed the lives of others for her own political gains.

Posted on 6 Jan 2010 17:35:47 GMT
[Deleted by Amazon on 30 Dec 2011 23:47:50 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2010 18:07:06 GMT
S. Flaherty says:
W McIntosh

Re the Belgrano's bombardment capacity. The idea that the Belgrano could be parked in Stanley during the day and not sunk by our planes is a mite strained, don't you think? Or that we, perhaps using the planes elsewhere, wouldn't park Conquerer just outside to sink her when she came out? Or that we'd even consider landing troops at San Carlos with a ship that close? (We didn't land anything till we were sure that all the Argentinean ships were in port in Argentina, over 200 miles away, and were likely to stay there.)

The admiral (I can't remember his name now) would not have committed his ships to the amphibious attack until he was sure the navy had been neutralised, as it was. Likewise, the land commander would have been reluctant to send a troopship anywhere near where an enemy ship was likely to turn up. This is why the admiral was so keen to sink the Belgrano of course - he was thinking that if he didn't neutralise it now, he'd have to at a later date BEFORE he could land any troops. So shore bombardment doesn't really come into it.

Bear in mind that we had naval superiority. If Belgrano hadn't been sunk and had sailed from Argentina, perhaps at night, and come close enough to bombard troops, it wouldn't have done so for very long before being sunk by the Task Force. The rest of the Argentine navy didn't dare risk it, so why would Belgrano have been any different if we hadn't sunk her?

We used ship to shore bombardment against fixed Argentinean defences that had been reconned by our troops. Even so, we almost lost HMS Glamorgan to an Exocet. How much harder, then, for the Argentineans to do it in the teeth of an enemy navy that was far superior to what they had and against an attacking ground force whose positions they weren't even sure of? Any possible gains would have been small and paid for with the almost certain loss of their ships. That's why they stayed in port. As Belgrano would have, had she not been sunk.

Posted on 6 Jan 2010 21:03:19 GMT
It wasn't a war, it was a conflict.

Thatcher was many things but not a criminal.

Posted on 7 Jan 2010 03:47:24 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Jan 2010 17:01:27 GMT
P says:
S Flaherty, I agree with W McIntosh that you have contributed a nice post, especially your distinction between the military and the political objectives/consequences of the sinking of the Belgano.

I am one of the those who have defended the decision to sink the Belgrano from a military POV. I adopted this position first and foremost from my irritation at those (including the person who originally chose the title for this topic) who felt that since they disagreed with the sinking of the Belgrano that it was a "war crime". Since then I have kept repeating the simple point that it was NOT a "war crime" - that the exclusion zone had no relevance to the legal status of the Belgrano, and neither did its course or the intentions of anyone as to what it might or might no do later in the conflict. This is partly simply irritation at the poor understanding of what might and might not be considered a "war crime".

More substantially it is my belief that the nature of a legal system is undermined if people do not understand the difference between something they think morally wrong, and something which is against the law. I have myself said of the actions of various politicians that what they have done is "criminal", but mostly I have used that word loosely in conversation. I do not expect that the politicians concerned should actually be put on trial for the crime of being a bunch of incompetent, self-seeking, power-mad, vain, dishonest idiots. When they take bribes, try to pervert the cause of justice of sell state secrets to a foreign power THEN I think they should be put on trial. There may be other things which should be crimes, but while they are not, then we cannot and should not talk of "trial as a war criminal." It is probable that few of the people who use these phrases loosely really expect the people concerned to be sent to The Hague, but a few people do, and it is against those that I am particularly arguing.

I find that the more I go into this matter the more sure I become that the sinking of the Belgrano was in fact a thoroughly sound military decision. If the Belgrano had at any time and in any role re-entered the conflict after the Royal Navy had decided to let her go, then heads would have rolled for military incompetence. I don't think that the British commander who sank her sat down with her specs and tried to work out what exact role she could have played in the conflict, if she were not sunk. The Belgrano was a potential threat to the task force - even if only as a decoy. The commander sought guidance from further up the command chain, and they too took what was, from a military point of view, a thoroughly sound decision, and one completely the law governing this sort of conflict. All of this you concede, I think.

You point out, however, that there was an important political (and, I would add term, diplomatic) dimension to the decision to sink the Belgrano. I agree with you that this dimension was present and important. Most especially it accounts for the ways in which the British government tried to fudge the issue of the location and bearing of the Belgrano. They wanted to have whole-hearted support at home, and clean hands abroad. This is understandable, but doomed to failure, and the foot-shuffling and prevarication that went on ultimately harmed rather than helping their case. In my belief they should have said, "The Belgrano was part of the force carrying out an invasion of British territory. We told the Argentines that if they didn't withdraw they would face the use of lethal force. They didn't withdraw, so we did use lethal force."

Your case, and that of others, is that the sinking of the Belgrano made active armed conflict inevitable, and that without there might have been a diplomatic solution to the Falklands issue which did not involve the lives of young men on both sides.

At this point, we have reached the "what if" moment. You believe that the UN or the Peruvian peace talks might have got somewhere. I did not believe that then, and I do not believe it now. This proposition, being about a hypothetical situation, is one where neither of us can win the argument. I will say that I think that there is some merit in your case, but that I am not, ultimately convinced. My reasons are fairly simple.

The positions that everyone held were not as badly entrenched as (say) the Palestine issue, but I have not seem very many places where UN-sponsored peace talks have pulled everyone back from the brink of war. The UN had to try, and doubtless the Peruvians were sincere in their efforts to broker a peace, but they had little going for them, and much against.

My specific proposal is that if a diplomatic solution was achievable, then Haig would have have achieved it before the Task Force arrived in the South Atlantic. Haig was in the useful position of representing a government (the Reagan administration) which really wanted to on good terms with both sides.

By his own account Haig managed to get peace terms from the Thatcher government which he tought he could sell to the Junta. He met with delays; Galtieri would agree, but then say that he had to talk to the others. Haig said that the problem dealing with the Junta was that nobody could Yes and anybody could say No. They would agree, and then back out.

If they had not been prepared to make peace with Haig as an intermediary , then I do not see why they would behave differently with the UN, or the Peruvians. The Junta did not believe that Britain would fight, or that, if they did try to fight, that they could win. They thought that had achieved a historic victory by getting the islands back under Argentine rule, and that they had no need to fear the British. I do not know the exact moment when they realised their mistake, but I am certain that it was not before a single shot had been fired.

Furthermore, after the Argentine flag had been raised in the islands, they could not have accepted anything which involved handing the islands back to British rule. That would have been politically disastrous for them, given the place the "Malvinas" issue has in Argentina, and given the gung-ho patriotism they had created in an attempt to reverse a steady decline in popularity.

The British government had also now painted itself into a corner. It would have involved a huge sacrifice of national pride if the Task Force had turned round and come home, leaving the islands under Argentine control without at least trying to re-take with force what had been seized with force. Thatcher was trying to insist on a plebiscite amongst the islanders about their future, and that result was not likely to favour continuing Argentine rule.

I believe that, even during the Haig mission, and certainly later, that the Junta had a very simple attitude, "A little time, and the Malivinas will be our again. We will have put right an old grievance, and done it in the most satisfying way - by proving that our armed forces are better than theirs." I am certain that the lives of the young conscripts barely entered their calculations - look at their human rights record. They had everything to gain, and nothing to lose by fighting - given that they were a *military* Junta and were confident of victory. Only achieving the unconditional handover of the islands could they have achieved as much by diplomatic means.

It is my belief that conflict involving guns and the loss of human life became inevitable as soon as the British government decided that [a] they would not accept the Argentine occupation of the islands as a fait accompli and [b] re-taking them by military force was the only way to get them back. After that a shooting war was inevitable, and only a clear defeat of the Argentines, or a prolonged and unpopular stand-off for the British was going to end the matter.

I have considered this matter carefully and I believe that the last chance for a non-shooting solution went down long before the Belgrano.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jan 2010 04:20:12 GMT
try her as a war criminal and everything else she is guilty of, what a nice idea.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jan 2010 04:44:53 GMT
Withnail says:
This whole thread started because I said on another board, as a throw away comment, that the Falklands war was a useless waste of life (or words to that effect). Liam took this and spinned it into me saying that Thatcher was a war criminal - I challenge anyone to find me making that accusation.

I certainly know a lot more about the Falklands War thanks to reading this discussion board. However, regardless of everyone's point of view as to the legality or otherwise of sinking the Belgrano, I am still left with the same opinion I started with.

900 people died in order to defend the soverignty of 1,800 people. That equates to me as a human tragedy. As the discussion started as a discussion about the Thatcher Govt., I see no reason to change the view that she holds a responsibility for this tragedy.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jan 2010 11:36:57 GMT
S. Flaherty says:
P V Sutton

I disagree, as you might have guessed.

Re the Peruvian peace plan, the Argentinians accepted it provisionally with some mods on the 2nd of May. On the 3rd of May, after the Belgrano was sunk, they rejected it outright, citing the Belgrano as the reason.

We accepted the Peruvian peace Plan (after the Belgrano was sunk.)

We were that close to a settlement. There was a peace plan acceptable to Britain and to the Argentinians (with some mods.) All that was necessary was to argue about the mods. And the presence of the Task Force and the bombing raids and the retaking of South Georgia were all pressures on Argentina to accept the plan (which they had, provisionally) and to limit their mods. I'm sure something could have been worked out.

But Thatcher sank the Belgrano and so this went into the "what if?" of history.

Note it changed our history too. I don't think Thatcher would have won the next election without the war. At the time of the Belgrano, people were still mad at the Tories for losing the islands. By the end of the war, they were praising her for geting them back (conveniently forgetting her mismangement that lost them in the first place.) Who knows what would have happened had she not fought the war?

Posted on 7 Jan 2010 14:03:32 GMT
Bryony White says:
I found this discusion by accident and have skimmed through the majority of posts and the thing that strikes me most powerfully is how quick people are to condemn others for decisions made in difficult circumstances. Usually they are circumstances of which the majority have no personal experience. Link this to the polarised views many have of Mrs Thatcher and you have conspiracy theories a plenty.
It would be better if most people engaged in this discussion actually did some relevant research into the subject before they began typing ,as it appears that with a couple of notable exceptions that is not the case.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jan 2010 15:35:39 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Jan 2010 15:39:21 GMT
S. Flaherty says:
Bryony

I admit to having a polarised view of Thatcher, but I don't think that makes me unusual. I'm not accusing her or the tories of a conspiracy - she lost the islands due to incompetence and her decision to sink the Belgrano, whilst I disagree with it, was based on sound military advice.

But, as I said in my post, she should have taken more than military advice, should have considered the diplomatic factors. That was her job, to take military considerations into account but not to hold them paramount. I am aware that this is difficult, but she was PM, difficult decisions are part of the job. And I think she did have one eye on her reputation - a negotiated settlement that gave us the islands back without a shot being fired wouldn't have gained her the glory she got from the war.

The Peruvian peace plan was sent to London 14 hours before the sinking of the Belgrano. Thatcher claims not to have read it when she gave the order, which is criminally incompetent. If I were conspiracy minded, I would say she read it and ignored it when she gave the order. It is a possibility. And that's as far as I go regarding conspiracy theories.

Posted on 7 Jan 2010 22:46:32 GMT
Bogget says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 22:32:24 GMT
how can u forget barroness thatcher. war criminal, and destroyed all our industry

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 22:33:58 GMT
right wing crap

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 22:36:36 GMT
well if not a war criminal! she certainly was to this country, she sold the lot, nazi or what?

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 22:41:19 GMT
scargill was the main traitor of the miners, agree

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 22:46:36 GMT
U Put things very clear and in perspective. well done.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 22:50:08 GMT
u got a lot to say lol

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 22:51:34 GMT
come on she,s a war criminal, and she killed our country, sold evrything

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 22:56:46 GMT
short sighted, god help us with another tory government

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 23:02:25 GMT
how can any working man or women, vote for the party, who will tax us regardless of income, thatcher did it poorrer the more tax

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 23:09:47 GMT
the sinking of the belgrano was typical of the thatcher government, as she didn,t care for the life of any1, which came to be prooved in the demise of the coal, iron, water,electric, gas, she has ruined this country, and god help us we may have another tory in charge

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 23:16:42 GMT
ok wars ok if british terriotory and its right wing, and theyr,e turing there back lol

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 23:18:53 GMT
why do we still deal with france as they supplied the excocet missiles

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 23:20:13 GMT
man after my own heart

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jan 2010 23:25:10 GMT
lol as u say god has judged
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Discussion in:  politics discussion forum
Participants:  68
Total posts:  183
Initial post:  10 Dec 2009
Latest post:  7 May 2013

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