Today is the thirtieth anniversary of Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands. Much will be written about those days but I wanted to put the matter into its historical context, and in my view this is so important that it dwarfs the underlying issue of whether the islands are the Falklands or the Malvinas and who rules over 12,000 sq km of unplantable land and 3,000 people, together with a lot of sheep and penguins. Incidentally I was intrigued to learn that 0.6% of the population are Japanese amounting, I suppose, to 2 people if we don't take into account their size.
What I remember from those days is that once it was believed that we might be able to mount a taskforce there was such a public outcry to do so that Mrs Thatcher would have had difficulty saying no. But - and I think this is the key - most people still didn't expect her to do it. The origins of that pessimism lie in the years of post war decline. Having handed back what remained of the Empire we began our economic decline. Underperformance, socialism, overmighty trade unions and debt gave the country a smell of decay. One government after another had been weak. No one was proud of Britain.
I was born just before the Suez debacle, when America told us we were living in the 1950s not the 1850s. Apart from winning the World Cup in 1966 and the brief Cool Britannia years of the Beatles and Carnaby St, in my lifetime Britain had never won anything or seemed good or talented or brave. I was in my mid twenties and when one went abroad one was embarrassed to admit to being British. I, like most of my friends, often considered leaving.
Then this happened. The taskforce seemed to take an awful long time to get there - people wanted a battle, they wanted results, even if they had hitherto never had a clue where the Falklands were. It seemed to take ages but I read we landed on the Falklands on 21st May. As the ships, which included the liner Queen Elizabeth II, sped south, there was no talk of anything else. In pubs and in homes people followed our boys as they would follow the football team progressing through a tournament. We had forgotten that perhaps the one remaining area of British excellence lay in our armed forces.
The nationalism was riveting. People sported T-shirts marked 'QE II in the Falklands - the Empire strikes back'. Private Eye's spoof tabloid headline 'Kill an Argie, win a Metro' was not too far from the truth.
We regained the Falklands in mid June and people felt great. Mrs. Thatcher seemed like Churchill and was easily re-elected in 1983 and 1987. For those few days, and arguably until the economy was brought to its knees in 2008, Britain felt comfortable in its own skin.