The Official History of the Falklands War

Lawrence Freedman describes how he came to write the official history of the Falklands campaign and tells us what he learned from the experience.

I became a Professor of War Studies on April 1st, 1982. On April 2nd I had a war. Like most people, including the government, I was taken by surprise by the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and was unsure how to respond. At first I reckoned I had enough basic military knowledge to comment sensibly on events but quite soon I realized that I did not. My expertise was in the rarefied and, in this case, essentially irrelevant world of nuclear strategy. My grasp of the technicalities of warship design or the nuances of army tactics was poor. With little hard news coming back from the South Atlantic I drew the salutary conclusion that I had little to contribute to public discussion on the conflict’s course and likely outcome. My first thought was that if I was going to be a Professor of War Studies I should make an effort to understand the wars that were actually being fought rather than those that existed only in the fevered imagination of nuclear strategists.

I therefore followed events avidly, and by the end of the decade I had written two books on the Falklands. The first was a brief overview. The second was written in collaboration with an Argentine analyst, Virginia Gamba, and brought together material from both sides. It demonstrated the interaction between the calculations of the two sides that led to the war and the failure of diplomatic efforts to prevent its escalation. It also told, for the first time, the full story of the sequence of events that led to what was seen as the major act of escalation – the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano. I had decided to return to the story again on the eve of my retirement in 2012, when the full archives would be released as a result of the application of the thirty-year rule. This plan had to be brought forward when I was asked in 1996 if I would like to write the official history of the Falklands campaign.

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