How much have we learned from defeat in war?

The Cuban José Raúl Capablanca won his title of world chess champion defeating the German Emmanuel Lasker in 1921 –his successor, the Russian Alexander Alekhine, defeated him in Buenos Aires in 1927 in a match that lasted three months–, one of his possessions remained with me. Engraving: “I learned little from the games I won, but a lot from the losses”. How much have we learned from the defeat in the Malvinas war? Not as much as we should. I was a participant and witness to the main combats, and I had access to important decisions and documents, including the Rattenbach Report. In this sense, I think it is convenient to remember two concepts that are necessary for a better understanding: strategy and tactics.

Strategy and tactics. The strategy is the art of the struggle of wills to resolve a conflict, and more precisely, the use of the national potential by the government of the Nation -during peace and war- to achieve its geopolitical objectives. Tactics is the conduct that is carried out at command levels below the strategic level, which is synthesized in rules and procedures to which combat operations must adhere. For the French general Maxime Weygand: “Strategy implies freely disposing of all forces, in a wide domain of space-time, with a view to a distant goal that is precisely a tactical situation. The tactic presupposes that the troops are in contact in a defined situation in space-time (Guitton, J, Thought and war, Naval Publications Institute, p. 57). Allegorically, we can compare the strategist with the architect who projects a house, and the dramatist with the mason who builds it. For the American Edward Mead: The different strategy of tactics in much the same way as an orchestra differs from its instruments taken individually. For the Swiss-French general Antoine H. Jomini, tactics is the art of fighting on the ground where the clash takes place. As an example, we accept that when San Martín conceived his brilliant Continental Plan it was a strategy, but when he led the battles of Chacabuco and Maipú, he was a tactician.

In the Malvinas conflict, the strategic decisions made by the Military Junta (General Leopoldo F. Galtieri, Admiral Jorge I. Anaya and Brigadier Basilio Lami Dozo) have been described by General Carl von Clausewitz as “an insult to the principles of the strategy”. I will limit myself to expressing only some of them:

There was not a complete and accurate assessment of the foreseeable British reaction, the United Nations Security Council (UN), the then European Economic Community, the North Atlantic Organization (NATO) and the Organization of American States ( OAS). Especially, taking into account that the civil-military dictatorship was heavily discredited in the international context due to the violation of human rights, that we would suffer embargoes by some countries for the purchase of weapons, that it would not use a good relationship with the Non-Aligned countries and that the conflict with Chile was ongoing, and probable support from the Chilean dictatorship for the United Kingdom was not ruled out –as it happened.

Two assumptions were made, probably due to diplomatic advice: the non-reaction of the United Kingdom and the support or neutrality of the United States. That was to ignore the history of both countries.

The Nation was led into a war – neither thought nor planned – with a First World power, a member of the UN Security Council and NATO. Prioritized –with premeditated intentionality– a circumstantial, subordinate and bastard objective, such as the need to revitalize and prolong the weakened and discredited dictatorship, with a unifying feat, and with a feeling of something unquestionably Argentine.

After April 2, the concrete and few opportunities that were available to achieve an honorable solution to the conflict were wasted.

The Army competed with less than 10% of its operational and logistical capacity, the Navy perhaps with less, and the Air Force, at a price that was acceptable.

Accusation cross. Anaya removed the Surface Fleet without attempting to challenge the UK for control of the sea. Decades later, he stated: “He had nothing to regret (…) The military alternative turned out to be suitable for the pursued political goal (…) The political situation left no other alternative.”

Lami Dozo said: For me, the surrender of the Malvinas Garrison was a very big surprise (…) The classification of improvised war does not obey historical reality (…). Twenty years later, in an interview, he added: If I could, I would put Galtieri and Anaya on a spit and burn them, for not assuming their part in the defeat” (Clarín, Zona supplement, March 31, 2002, p. 3 ).

Galtieri invaded dangerous level jurisdictions with clumsy decisions, without consultation and errors due to the passivity and approval of the high command of the Armed Forces, mainly in the Army. On June 15, 1982, at a meeting of generals in Buenos Aires, he blamed most of the defeat on the tactical commanders (heads of units) who worked in Malvinas (Bignone, B, El último de facto, Ed. Sudamericana , page 23).

At the time when the final battles were taking place, he said: Supported by Spanish America and many other countries of the world, Argentina is ready to continue the war for many months, or years, if necessary (The Times, London, June 10 of 1982). His insane statement contrasts with what was expressed two days earlier by the New York International Herald Tribune: Support for Argentina in Latin America is as wide as the Río de la Plata, but only one centimeter deep. Finally, in a gesture typical of his personality, he stated: “Society owes me a parade in my tribute.” He didn’t have a parade. But at his funeral, on January 12, 2003, the Army –with the consent of the constitutional government– gave him the highest honors and described him as an exemplary soldier”. Andrew Graham-Yooll referred to this: The full military honors received by the late dictator Leopoldo F. Galtieri are not consistent with a true 21st century army, determined to overcome the misfortunes of the past century” (La Nación, January 19, 2003).

Mar. no high command of the armed forces set foot on the islands from the moment the war began, on May 1, 1982. Galtieri, Anaya and Lami Dozo could well enter the Long gallery of military necessity (Thomas, H, The Suez affair, page 183). In 1987, they were sentenced for their work in Malvinas –by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and by the Criminal and Correctional Chamber of the Federal Capital–, to 12 years in prison, dismissal and discharge. President Carlos S. Menem pardoned them in 1989 (Decree 1005/89). They died maintaining their rank and military status.

Once again, military history proves that in order to win a battle or a war in an insular zone it is essential to have superiority at sea and, if this is also given with aircraft carriers, it also ensures air superiority.

*Former head of the Argentine Army. Falklands War veteran and former ambassador to Colombia and Costa Rica.

You may also like