“Why all the fuss about the Malvinas, all the indoctrination which starts at school claiming the Islands, and not a word about the province of Formosa which should be returned to Paraguay and we took as spoils of the Triple War in 1870?”, asks Argentine writer Federico Jeanmaire, a well-known author of several best sellers.
Jeanmaire latest title is “Wërra”, the German tribes word for war and pinpoints his book on the failed Operation Chariot of British commandoes, in March 1942 when, after a year of meticulous planning the attempt to destroy the dry dock of Saint Nazaire in north west France, which was also an outpost of German U boats, failed with the loss of 169 commandoes, 290 German soldiers and some twenty civilian locals.
The Argentine writer spent a whole year in the French city going through archives and collecting information for his book, which also led him to meditate on bellicose jargon, war, conflict, heroism, patriotism, bravery, courage, war propaganda and who gives the orders, mingled with experiences of his own life and of Argentine history.
Midway through the book Jeanmaire comes across the story of a British lieutenant and a German captain who became friends during the operation, and so did for the rest of their lives. Partly on this and his evident aversion for war, Jeanmaire ponders if disobeying who gives the orders is not the bravest thing to do at war, as well as finding out about the use of amphetamines and other drugs among soldiers to turn them brave, brave to kill, and to die. A war practice from ancient times, Greeks, Romans, Vikings to our days. “This is evidence that man, by nature is not a brave being”
Surprised also at an old man from St Nazaire, bent over by years who stood up, saluted with his military jacket and medals on the anniversary of Operation Chariot, and the plaque dedicated to the British commandoes, so small that it only had their last names.
He also recalls family experience as the son of a frustrated military officer in the province of Buenos Aires, who was named mayor of their hometown on two occasions in coincidence with military coups in Argentina, and who would never miss the US TV Series “Combat”, until the leading actor Vic Morrow died in an accident in the set. Likewise his grandfather whose hobby was to carve toy soldiers out of wood.
Jeanmaire then reflects on the South Atlantic conflict, and patriotism, “what seems ridiculous is going to war after so much educational fuss and indoctrination about the Malvinas belonging to us and that they were taken from us”. But not a word is said or taught that Argentina should return the northern province of Formosa to Paraguay, occupied when the Triple Alliance conflict, 1864/1870, “a territory we took and have kept since”.(*)
“Government education works on patriotism, bravery and that occurs all around the world. Maybe the Malvinas are Argentine, or maybe not, but what is all that educational fuss about the Malvinas, not a single school is going to teach us we must return Formosa to the Paraguayan people. Behind the marketing of motherland and patriotism there is something dark” underlines the author of “Wërra”. “Today I am in Baradero, my home town with my mother whom I hadn’t seen for seven months because of the pandemic, and I feel this is my fatherland, my town, where I was born, where I grew, not much more…It’s the way I am, drinking mate in the morning, the way I speak… that is my fatherland, and not much more”
“If we can achieve a more fair and just country, I believe the issue of Malvinas would disappear as a question of sovereignty, because we simply couldn’t care anymore about it, or because the British would hand them over” argues the Argentine writer.
The so called “Malvinization” is incomprehensible, ”I have been at book fairs all over the world where Argentina was the guest, and in many of them at some point, someone had to talk about Malvinas, and I couldn’t talk about Malvinas. During the dictatorship (1976/1983) I was living in Spain and it was a time of many Basque ETA bombings and killings. At the time a promising political figure, later president, Felipe González said something very impressive: nobody has asked why the Basques on the Spanish side want to become independent, and the Basques living in France don’t?’“
Jeanmaire adds that in effect if Argentina was to become a more fair and just country, with not so large differences and people could enjoy dignified lives, the Malvinas issue as displayed today would disappear. The Malvinas claim is present in all social classes and in the most diverse political circles, horizontally it reaches all of us, and this is the product of education, because if not, it could never happen. Education is decided by politics and then dictates policy. In Argentina the Malvinas issue took off when the Centenary of Argentina, 1910, as one of the pillars of nationality, ”because we didn’t have many more”.
(*) The Triple Alliance war was the deadliest and bloodiest conflict in pots colonial South American history. Brazil and Argentina teamed up, included Uruguay, and massacred land locked Paraguay and its population. It is estimated that anywhere from 85% to 90% of the male population were killed by Brazilian and Argentine forces. Uruguay dropped out in the midst of the conflict. In the spoils of the conflict, Paraguay lost all disputed territories from the time of the Spanish colonization, including the province of Formosa to Argentina.
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Original publication by MercoPress on Thursday, October 29, 2020.