The Falklands War.
This is a very short period of history that happened comparatively recently that I know very little about, and so I am always on the lookout in libraries and second-hand bookshops for books about it. In one such excellent shop (in Australia!) I recently found a copy of this book, 74 Days: An Islander’s Diary of the Falklands Occupation. With a foreword by Margaret Thatcher, then the UK Prime Minister, this looked to be an important book.
I’m so glad I bought and read it.
Whilst I am generally familiar with the shape of the military engagements, this is the first insight I’d had into the Falklands as a place to live, before during and after the war/occupation. John Smith, the author, writes well, with humour and insight, in a way that made reading this rather more like an action novel than someone’s diary!
For those of us who have never been unfortunate enough to live in a country occupied by a foreign power, this book is a sobering insight into that experience. Whilst the privations suffered by the Falkland Islanders are not as severe as those in other warzones, or areas affected by civil war in the modern era, 74 Days does a good job of explaining what it is like. Particularly haunting – in that I remember the moments poignantly, two weeks on from reading the book – are the many small realisations: a broken flagpole, photographs taken down, etc. The war was a large scale, international event – yet the people on the ground experienced it on a different scale.
Further, for those of us reading and thinking in the 21st century, 74 Days also offers a pause when thinking about the news cycle and the inter-connected world we live in. John Smith and his family/guests were experiencing the war in real time – often ahead of the BBC News reports that they were permitted to see! In an age of instantaneous communication, it would be fascinating to compare it to the experience that would be had with social media, assuming that it wasn’t blocked as in China.
If, like me, you are interested in recent history, or military history beyond the mere military activities, then 74 Days is an excellent read. John Smith is an engaging and sympathetic writer – and his description of the people, flora, fauna and geography of Stanley and the Falkland Islands is brilliant, as are his sobering, kind observations about the young Argentinian soldiers, who were mostly conscripts. One of my favourite reading surprises this year!