The Falkland (Malvinas)
This month marks the 27th anniversary of the end of the Falkland (Malvinas)
Since it became clear that the British fleet was on its way to engage the Argentine Armed Forces, one drawer of my ancient metal filing cabinet has been taken up by gear. Like my Minuteman forefathers, and like back in my US Army days a decade ago, I have it there in case, at any moment, I should get the okay to ship out. As soon as word of the Argentine takeover of the islands came, I made contact with someone who knew someone in the Navy and asked them to get me out onto the islands. They sent word back to me that they would try, but that I would have to be patient. I’m not good at patient, so every day I badger my contact to ask his contact how we’re doing with the permission to go to the Malvinas. Every day the answer comes back, “We’re working on it.”
So in my filing cabinet – which I call mine, but which was at the old Herald offices in the red-light district on 25 de Mayo above the English Club for long years before I ever arrived in Argentina, and was probably in the old, old Herald offices on Calle Rivadavia for even longer years before that – are a few essentials for life in a sub-Antarctic combat zone: my olive drab, waterproof, sub-zero Canadian parka; both pairs of my well-greased US Army-issue combat boots that have served me well from Fort Bragg, to Germany and from Germany to Patagonia; a set of long underwear and two pairs of cushion-soled boot socks; a warm, wool, turtleneck, navy-blue pullover my wife knitted for me years ago, two wool shirts with button-down collars, my Army-issue gloves (black leather shell with olive-drab wool inserts, 2 each, as the quartermaster’s list would read) and a tweed cloth cap with an extra-wide bill, like the ones Irish factory workers wore back in the ‘20s. All of these things are packed into the deep, long, file cabinet drawer as neatly as they might be found in a recruit’s foot locker. On top of the cabinet is a rucksack with my two Canon cameras and lenses in it, as well as a dozen rolls of 400 ASA film. And behind the cabinet, I have stashed an olive-drab backpack to carry all the other gear in, should the occasion arise.
I’m confident it will. I’ve got my courage together and am even hyped about it, despite my wife’s misgivings and questions from upstairs management about who’ll run the paper if I traipse off to the islands. I tell them that I have well-trained sub-editors that are perfectly capable of standing in while I’m gone and that my being the only English-language reporter on the islands while the British fleet is on its way will be an absolute scoop for the paper. But I’m young – although not that young, already, at 32 – and ambitious. And for once, in the nine years that I’ve been with the paper, I’m thinking more about me than about it. I’m already thinking about the experience itself – the book I’ll write, the reportage I’ll sell free-lance, the renown that can be mine, the future. I’m a newsman, after all, and a writer. This is the kind of opportunity you dream about.
But every day I ask and every day they say, “We’re working on it.” And in the meantime, the day to day of running the paper under these circumstances is ever more daunting and exhausting. Until and if they let me go, I have imposed a rule on myself: Until the crisis is over, the editorial page and op-ed will carry nothing that doesn’t have to do with what’s happening surrounding the islands.
- Caption: Dan gets a chance to break out his "combat gear"...5 years later, when the Argentine Coast Guard - finally! - takes him along to patrol the 200-mile limit. (Photo by Carlos Pefaur).
All editorial department heads of the
“Glad you could join us,” says the officer in charge, somewhat sarcastically, I feel. He is an overstuffed, red-faced, hypertensive-looking Admiral whose name, someone tells me, is Serra. I am given to believe that he is some sort of intelligence officer, but as the meeting gets under way, there’s little sign of that.
I take a seat across the center aisle from Editor Máximo Gainza and Editorialist Dr. Emilio Hardy of
“Gentlemen,” the admiral says, “as you know, we are about to enter a state of war.” Some of those present nod gravely. Others just remain there watching the naval officer steadily and listening. “And as in any country at war,” Serra continues, “there will be censorship.”
He goes on to justify this stance with a few examples of censorship in wartime – the allies in World War II, for example – and says he is sure that Britain will be censoring its journalists as well.
“This will consist,” he goes on, “of not publishing any sort of ‘sensitive materials’ and any violation of this will bring closure of the publication involved and the possible jailing of the responsible editor.”
There are a few more questions about whether there will be registry of war correspondents, news transmission possibilities, etc. Then the admiral asks: “Are there any more questions.” I look around at the Argentine editors, see by their faces that none of them is going to ask the obvious one, and so put up my hand.
“Dan Newland, Buenos Aires Herald, Admiral,” I say. I hear some editors shifting in their seats and suggestively clearing their throats behind me. Dr. Hardoy looks over my way and smiles encouragingly. The Admiral looks at me as if he were trying to look calm and amiable in the presence of his enemy. “All I would like to know is how the censorship will be applied.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, obviously, prior censorship requires a system, a means, a method. What will it be?”
“Well, I think I made that clear.” He looks at the other editors as if to say, “I made that clear, didn’t I? You all understood, right?” And some of them are nodding again.
“Sorry,” I say. “I must have missed something.”
He smiles condescendingly and says: “No publication of ‘sensitive material’ will be allowed.”
“Yes, Admiral, I got that part, but my question has to do with the method: How, specifically, will that ‘sensitive material’ be censored. For example, a classic method is for there to be an official censor, a military officer, for instance, assigned to each medium, who reads each story to see what needs to be cut.”
“Oh no, nothing like that,” he says and laughs a little as if at the thought of something so ridiculous. “No, sir, we’ll just leave it up to each publication to handle it as it sees fit.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Well, I mean, you know what sensitive material is. We trust all of you not to publish it.”
I look around and, to my dismay, most of the others are nodding in agreement.
“Sorry,” I say. “No.”
“No. No, I won’t do it. At the Herald we don’t know what’s ‘sensitive’. We know what’s news. And if we have it, we’ll print it. That’s our job and our duty and if we have never self-censored up to now, I won’t start teaching my sub-editors to censor themselves and their reporters at this point in time either. The only kind of censorship I will accept is an official censor in the paper, marking what can’t be said. We’ll leave a blank space wherever lines are cut out, with a legend reading ‘Censored’ so that the reader knows something is missing.”
“Well, but, Mr. Newland, that’s no going to happen. We’re not going to proceed in that way.”
“Then, in the Herald,” I say as emphatically as I can, “there will be no censorship whatsoever.”
“Then, you and your paper will be in serious danger of being shut down, and you, sir, of going to jail.”
“That’s I risk I’ll have to take,” I answer, but even as I do, I have to sit down so that the admiral can’t see my knees knocking, since, legitimate as they are trying to act right now, these are the same bastards who have ruthlessly kidnapped, tortured and murdered tens of thousands of people over the course of the past six years. And the admiral has just given me a look like an undertaker, mentally measuring a condemned man for a pine box.
When the admiral, with the air of a high school principal dismissing his charges, has let us go, I walk across the aisle and shake hands with Gainza and Hardoy. Turning to
Máximo, with his trim, well-groomed tweedy look and decidedly sound manner, could very well pass for an English lord, so it is always surprising to hear him talk because he has a pronounced stammer that you would never expect from a man with such apparent self-confidence. He makes a gesture like dismissing my question and says: “Dan, I c-c-can’t be b-b-bothered by what this f-f-fat b-b-blowhard has to say.”
Andrew is back. The first time he has been in
Now, he slips rather embarrassedly into the editorial department, as if unsure what kind of reception he’ll get, and stands at the far end, waiting for someone to recognize him. As soon as I spot him, I give him the warmest of welcomes, ask how he’s doing, congratulate him on having become something of a recognized literary figure in
I tell him to think of the Herald as his home, to make it his base while he’s in the country, to use it as his office. He thanks me, but I sense a reluctance in him to accept anything from me, a sort of vague hostility, just beneath the surface.
Typical of me – and so untypical of most of the people of Anglo origin that I work with, who tend to be understated and perfectly willing to live forever with “vague hostilities” without ever bringing them to the surface – I start picking at this thing between us. And eventually force it to erupt. It’s the second or third time Andrew drops by. It finally comes out that he feels I have been a traitor to former editor Robert Cox, who has been a mentor to both of us (something that caused a certain amount of rivalry between us when we first worked together, but which our mutual friend, photographer John Fernandes, helped us to work around by constantly getting us together). There’s a kinship between them. Andrew and Bob, I mean. Above and beyond the fact that they worked together for a decade. They are both exiles, both hurting at having had to leave, both oddly suspicious of those of us who stayed.
For a long while we had Cox on the masthead as Editor-in-Chief in Absentia. But eventually, James Neilson wasn’t willing to live with his borrowed title as Editor in the shadow of Cox’s growing international reputation. He started pushing for “definition” and had local management’s ear, since the man who replaced Cox as president of the company also felt like a second fiddle, because Cox was now working at the headquarters of the
Here again, my frontal nature and team spirit got me into trouble. Neilson hinted that perhaps, as Bob’s friend, I might write him and explain the situation…dangerous times, lack of definition, undermined editorial authority, etc. So I did, and getting into the middle of it was one of the stupidest things I ever did. I thought Bob would understand, thought he was more hardnosed and rational, less emotional. I was wrong and he was immediately hurt and absolutely furious that I, of all people, should suggest he step down and let Jim run the show, even though I explained as diplomatically as I could why Neilson needed to deal with the dictatorship from a position of greater strength and authority.
As it turned out, nobody blamed Neilson or Company President Kenneth Rugeroni for Cox’s being removed from the masthead, not even Cox himself. They all blamed me, and from then on, all of Cox’s many friends would consider me a Judas, and their enemy.
This is the case of Andrew, who is now looking at me with utter contempt while I explain the circumstances under which Bob was asked to cede his post to Neilson. Since my explanation is coherent and clear and leaves little room for debate, Andrew says something that seems to me a total non sequitur: “Yes, but Bob was a great journalist.”
I look at him with my mouth hanging open for a brief moment, as if to ask him what the hell that has to do with the price of eggs in
Andrew says, “It’s not the same.”
“Of course it is, and you know it. This paper is under constant attack by the regime and has to keep a well-defined front. The fact is that Jim sets policy, but everybody would think that Bob did it from abroad as long as his name was on the masthead. Jim just wanted definition, wanted people to know he wasn’t just some lackey writing what he was told to, and he asked me to talk to Bob. I did because I thought it was best for the paper, so hey, sue me.”
Andrew leaves and takes up residence in the ad hoc foreign press center that has been set up at the Buenos Aires Sheraton. He’ll drop by now and again as the war wears on, but not to see me.
My contact has just talked to his contact in the Navy. The news is bad.
“What did they say?” I ask, still hopefully.
He shakes his head. “They say they tried everything to be able to take you out there, but the authority on the islands is the Army and they say no.”
“Who says no? Maybe there’s somebody else we can talk to.”
My contact shifts uncomfortably in his seat, looks pained and shakes his head again.
“So? What gives?”
“They told me not to tell you this. And they said if you write it, they’ll deny they ever said it, but…” he pauses, as if still debating whether to tell me.
“But what?” I snap impatiently. “Spit it out, damnit!”
“They said the order came direct from the military governor on the islands.”
The contact nods. “He told them – in writing, from what I understand – that he specifically would not give permission to Dan Newland to set foot on the islands. Period.”
It’s pretty clear I won’t be going. That I have, in fact, a snowball’s chance in hell of going. I’m sorely disappointed. But I decide to keep the gear in my filing cabinet until the war ends…however long it takes…just in case.