This is the second part of an on-going literary piece about the Falkland (Malvinas)
Our British Editor, James Neilson makes a surprise return from
Jim is furious with me. Fuming. His eyes are narrowed, his pipe is clenched tight in his teeth and he is red in the face. He’s holding the paper signed by him placing me in charge of the newspaper and of policy in his absence, the paper by which I have become interim Editor-in-Chief. He has removed it from the bulletin board where I pinned it up in the editorial department as soon as he decided to hightail it to
Up to now, we’ve always had a clear understanding. When threats from the military regime ran former Editor Robert Cox out of the country three years ago, Neilson was Associate Editor and was promoted to Editor (with Cox remaining on the masthead for some time as Editor-in-Chief “in absentia”). Back then, in 1979, Jim asked me to be his second, to run the editorial department and do a share of the writing on the editorial and op-ed pages. Up to now, it has gone like clockwork: I run the editorial department, do the public relations stuff, sort out the everyday problems and write when I can; he shuts the door to his office and writes his columns and five of the unsigned editorials each week (I write the other two, plus a regular business column, plus an irregular social issues column, plus whatever other op-eds I have time for) and takes final responsibility for setting policy. We work well together and don’t get into each other’s way. We are – as my commanding officer back in the Army used to be fond of saying – familiar but not chummy. We respect one another. We have a good working relationship and we share certain key convictions. Period.
But momentarily, the relationship has soured. Neilson feels hurt, angry, upset. He feels I’ve tried to displace him, steal his job. Why, I ask him, does he think I asked him to sign that paper in the first place. He says he figured I wanted to keep it on hand in case anybody questioned my authority. I say if he knew me at all, he would know that I don’t work that way. That would be the understated English way of doing it. I’m a pushy, aggressive, frontal Yank. I don’t want the question of who’s in charge even arising. If he wants quiet and discreet, as he should already know after years of working with me, he’d best get some other sucker to fill the volatile slot of Editor of an English-language daily in
“They’ll be coming after you next,” he says, rather peevishly and, I feel, rather threateningly.
“That’s comforting,” I say.
“Americans, I mean.”
“A risk I’ll have to take,” I say, shrugging. “I live here and I’m a newsman. Besides, it’s different for me. I don’t have kids. You do.”
“Well, I still set policy, Dan” he says, as if to reaffirm the fact.
“Of course you do, as long as you set it.”
He still looks singularly pissed off.
“Look, Jim,” I say, “relax, I’m not after your job. I just don’t want to get the paper thrown into my lap and have my hands tied.”
“But I set policy!” He insists.
“Like I say, as long as you set it. Are you staying?”
“I can’t. The family’s over there,” he points toward the River Plate, which is, basically, a block away, since our offices are half a block from the Customs House and a long block from the waterfront. On the other side of the estuary is
“Do you want to run it from there?” I ask. “If you do, fine, but I’ll go back to being just plain News Editor. You write the editorials, you call the shots.”
He shakes his head – a little fiercely. “It wouldn’t work.”
“Okay. All I want is for everybody to know where we stand. And as soon as you leave, that…” I point at the signed document in his hand, “…goes right back up on the board, okay?”
He rather reluctantly hands the paper back to me, but he seems to have understood my point, even if, stubborn Scot that he is, he’s not willing to concede it completely. We brusquely shake hands and wish each other luck, before he is off again, to “cross the puddle” as they say here, for the duration.
Now, after pissing Jim off, I am, unequivocally, on my own for the rest of the war. As if to come to terms with that reality, I stride over to the bulletin board and once again tack up the signed “change of command” document, while Neilson’s footsteps are still echoing on the flight of stairs down from the editorial department to the street.
Two weeks into the occupation of the islands by several thousand Argentine troops and the British naval task force is definitely on its way. A
All of Britain’s aircraft and vessels – it says here (I mean I haven’t got a clue, other than what I read and I’m reading everything I can get my hands on) – have been created for NATO, in preparation for the possibility of war in Europe, not for fighting an enemy that is already entrenched at the other end of the map. In other words,
We start getting lessons, in the press and from our own sources, on
The British are making Acension sound close-by, convenient for purposes of this war, but when I look it up, I find out that it’s a good
But for naval purposes during the Second World War, it served as a kind of floating fuel dump and supply station, and now it is going to serve that purpose again.
Even the British fleet is going to have to refuel and restock there before sailing on to engage the Argentine Navy. I kick myself for never having learned anything about aircraft: I was in the US Army a decade back, but even despite having served my last tour with the Army Air Defense Command in Europe, just never could seem to muster any interest whatsoever in warplanes. I’m pretty sure, however, that there’s nothing out there that could fly, say, eight hours in one direction with a load of bombs on board, drop them on the target and fly eight hours back. I make myself a note to ask our military sources about this.
Foreign correspondents, stringers and free-lancers anxious to make a name for themselves as war correspondents start showing up in
We meet several more times in the next few days and I do my best to get him “up to speed”, as I do with any other foreign news person who seeks information and advice from me. When I later read some of the unmitigated bullshit that he writes about me, however, I realize that all he was doing was “getting a handle” on me. His biggest bone to pick with me (although he never says this face to face, in which case he is all “innocents abroad”, acting naïve and playing me for his own purposes) seems to be that I’m not frantically waving a union jack and blindly supporting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s insistence on going to war. I mean, if the Argentine Junta and this whisky-soused cartoon general, Leopoldo Galtieri, are insane, she’s decided to be twice as insane. She appears to feel that she isn’t being taken seriously by the Junta because she’s a woman and seems to want to show them that if they think that her female condition precludes her from getting into a pissing contest with them, they have another think coming.
I have been editorializing about this, calling on
His unfair criticism bothers me at first, since I was sincere and candid in giving him my help, but then I realize that he’s just another opportunist on the band wagon, down here to wave the flag and get himself a shot at a bestseller. [Although I have no way of knowing it yet, by the end of the war, he will be considered a prestigious “expert” on the Falklands War and will win a Somerset Maugham Non-Fiction Prize for his book about it, while I will only have the bittersweet satisfaction of knowing that, in my case at least, he has proven himself a liar and a fraud].
Speaking of waving the flag, today there was a bit of comic relief in Plaza de Mayo. Every day lately, the Plaza has looked like a gathering for a major sporting event, with people out there rallying around the Armed Forces, trying to get news about “what the score is”, showing their solidarity with the war effort, lining up to make donations, some even handing over their jewelry and other family heirlooms to help support the cause. It's all pretty disgusting and disquieting, because the British fleet's on the way and something tells me that once it arrives, things won't be pretty.
In the midst of it all, a guy shows up that I know from some of the events in the Anglo community here in
There are cops dressed in riot gear everywhere, just in case, because with the war on, sentiments are running high. So it’s difficult to get very close to the front of Government House, where TV cameramen and photo-journalists are standing behind a police barricade filming the scene in the city square. But this guy, “Reggie” is his name, manages to work his way right down front facing the press and with his back to the rest of the crowd.
And just as the crowd starts jumping in place, thousands strong and chanting, “AR-GEN-TINA! “AR-GEN-TINA! “AR-GEN-TINA!, a smiling Reggie unfurls a huge union jack and waving it in the air, starts shouting, “The Falklands are British! The
Suddenly, Reggie is surrounded by six huge and heavily armed riot cops. He grins and asks them hopefully, “Are you going to arrest me?”
They disappoint him and say, “No sir, we’re here to protect you.”