This time from occasional reader Tomas, who’s visiting in Argentina:
So I’m down here, in lovely Argentina, living for a while. Things being elatively cheap down here, I decided last year to try for my private pilot’s license. This past April second was the big day; I took and passed both the written and flying part of the exam. But who would have thought that the cool part of the exam actually taking it?
Turns out, down here at least, that the Air Force is in charge of all things related to civil aviation. So they send a full bird colonel down to my little flight school to admin the exam. April 2nd is a big day down here – it’s the anniversary of the Falklands War. So i’m about to go flying on April 2nd with a full bird colonel, who, I learned that day just minutes before the guy arrived, had flown several combat sorties during the Falklands War in A4s.
I did some research on the guy – the air force’s website has a good section on the war where they tell you in great detail every sortie flown on every single day of the war. Sure enough, this guy was there, and it turns out that during one of his sorties, he and his wingman sunk the HMS Antelope, which I understand was a pretty modern frigate/destroyer for the time. And they sunk it using MK17 bombs, which I guess aren’t laser guided or anything like that – they flew just above the water, straight for the ship, popped up a few yards away, released their payload, and start saying Hail Mary’s on their way out…old school I figure.
I have to tell you, it was pretty damn cool to fly with a guy like that. Not to mention that he even complemented me on my flying!
All the best,
Our politics and culture are deeply tied up with that “sceptered isle,” so we tend to view the Argentines as the “bad guys” in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict even before we label them the aggressors. And while I’m very comfortable with the idea of the Falkland islanders retaining their right of self-determination as British subjects regardless of their physical proximity, it leaves us with a curious reticence to acknowledge the valor of the Argentinian Air Force who really faced huge odds against a modern air service in obsolete gear, using weapons ill-suited to the purpose.
It takes stones to fly a Skyhawk at 20-30 feet above the water for a hundred miles, and pop up into an opposed attack against a well-defended warship to cast low drag ordnance whose frag and blast pattern will – because of your delivery profile – envelope your own craft. The kind of valor that we ought to be able to recognize even as we detest the cause in which it serves. We’ve gotten out of the habit of that sort of thing.
Maybe it’s cultural.
From the warrior ethos standpoint, the military code of “bushido“demonstrated to us in World War II had much to recommend it. It is gratifyingly stern and self-abnegating, and those who hewed to it were capable of great acts of courage, fighting and refusing to surrender even against vastly superior odds. On the other hand, it did mean that prisoners were treated rather rudely, it being thought disgraceful that they hadn’t died fighting, apparently. This obviously conflicts with the Western romantic view of graceful treatment of a grateful, but vanquished foe. Contemporary views on the Japanese military were repellently racist even without the ammunition of prisoner treatment and the Rape of Nanjing, however – it wasn’t until some thirty or forty years after the war that a more nuanced and textured cultural understanding begand to develop.
I was at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park a couple of weeks ago and wandered through the Battle of Britain section – always my favorite. There’s just something about those plucky Brits beating back the Teutonic hordes that sings to the soul of a fighter pilot – a desperate, swirling battle with the odds stacked against you and the outcome very much in doubt. It helps that there’s an American connection too – in yet another strange reflection of how the culture has changed over the years, prior to America’s entry into the war, hundreds of US citizens broke the law by fleeing to Canada… in order to join the RAF and fight.
Times change, I guess.
Anyway – and I might get beat up for this – I felt a little nostalgiac for a time when you could hate the enemy, and loathe his cause, but nevertheless begrudge him a kind of respect for his own courage and devotion. The German fighter pilots were well-trained and had good equipment, but they took appalling losses – not least because of Goering’s insistence that most of their missions be tied up in “close escort” with lumbering bombers – a tactic which left them low, slow and vulnerable to the RAF’s Fighter Command.
That takes the kind of courage, discipline and devotion which is admirable even in a hated enemy, fighting for a detestable cause. Somehow it’s hard for me to imagine, 20 or 30 years on, feeling the same way about the foe we are now engaged with.
Maybe it’s cultural.