5 JUNE 1982, Page 4


rr he British task force, dispatched as an 1 instrument of pressure for a peace, has become a mighty and unstoppable instru- ment of war. It will not stop now until the last Argentinian is either dead or captured or on his way home. It no longer makes any sense to talk of minimising the casualties when, as at Goose Green, an attacking British force is heavily outnumbered by an entrenched enemy. The paras could only do what they did do, which was to attack with the maximum vigour and fire-power. Brilliantly they thus managed to limit their own losses to 17, but at a cost of 250 Argen- tinian lives. Nor is the progress of the war conducive to that spirit of magnanimity which, it is felt in Washington, the British must show if any lasting settlement is to be achieved. As Max Hastings has reported this week from the Falklands, the troops are feeling far from magnanimous — 'As casualties and personal anger and hatred of the enemy escalate on both sides, so it becomes more difficult to maintain restraint.' This anger and hatred can only have grown fiercer after the discovery at Goose Green of large stocks of napalm (though, as ITN's defence correspondent bravely pointed out, napalm, horrible though it is, is hardly a more horrible weapon than the British cluster bomb, and neither weapon is in fact forbidden under any international convention). And the anger and hatred of the British troops are not without political implications. Max Hastings also wrote: 'I think the only out- come of this war that would cause great bit- terness among those who are fighting, is any peace that gives Argentina a share in Falklands government after we have won.' One has the strong impression that this is just how Mrs Thatcher now feels. She iden- tifies very closely with the armed forces, which is one of her strengths as a war leader, and she is reported to be very impa- tient with people like Mr Pym who tell her that, however heavy the casualties, negotia- tions will eventually have to take place with the junta. But of course such negotiations will have to take place — if not with the junta, with its successors in government. Nothing has happened to make an amicable settlement of the sovereignty dispute any less desirable than it was before. And it would be cruelly wrong to suggest that such a settlement would now mean that British soldiers had died in vain. One must remember why the task force was sent to the South Atlantic in the first place. It was to uphold two principles: the first that arm- ed aggression should not be allowed to pay, and the second that the interests of the Falkland islanders should be protected. The first principle has already been more than

adequately upheld. The second must be a central feature of future negotiations. Whatever solution is eventually arrived at, it is surely improbable that the Falkland islanders would voluntarily choose to live in a permanent state of Argentinian siege. But the time may come when it will be for the Government — not the islanders — to decide how those interests should be best protected.

The headline 'Douglas Homes Ransack- ed' on page 6 of Tuesday's Times caus- ed widespread anxiety. It seemed that something terrible must have happened to the editor's family. But the headline turned out to be merely introducing a report of routine Argentinian atrocities in the Falkland Islands. We seem, at last, to be getting more information from the battle- ground. And the more information we get, the more heated the objections to us getting any at all. The troops themselves, according to Max Hastings again, are furious about press reports which they regard as helpful to the enemy. I like to think that little harm has in fact been done. But there is nothing new about this sort of complaint. In his book about Victorian war correspondents, published in 1979, Mr Robert Wilkinson- Latham argued that newspapers often did indeed provide valuable information to the enemy. 'Napoleon, it was once said, remarked that "English papers make my best spies" ' , he wrote; and he also quoted a letter from Wellesley to Lord Liverpool in 1809 saying that 'the English newspapers have accurately stated not only the regiments occupying a position, but the number of men fit for duty of which each regiment was composed; and this in- telligence must have reached the enemy at the same time as it did me. ... ' One of the leading Victorian war correspondents, Ar- chibald Forbes, wrote: 'Were I a General, and had an independent command, should accept it only on the condition that' should have the charter to shoot every war., correspondent within fifty miles of MY headquarters... , If the public deliberately prefers news to victories — for that is the issue in a nutshell as regards a European, war — then on the head of the public be It.

In 1956 both the Guardian and the Dail?' Mirror had to pay a heavy price for their opposition to the Government over Sue!' They both suffered a sharp decline in CIL- culation. This has not been the case over 11'1,' Falklands conflict. Although b13;", newspapers have been pressing the case 1(3: compromise with the Argentinians, them circulations have increased. The Daily ror claims to have acquired 170,000 readers since the beginning of April, and the Guar dian is on the point of announcing a recoil' circulation of getting on for 440,000. Th,,,erpe are, of course, few similarities between "" Falklands and the Suez crisis. Because we are unquestionably in the right over t"" Falklands, newspaper criticism of the Government has been muted and confined to questions of proportionality and the lt' tional interest. But it is interesting nev,e/: theless that, with the vast majority of 111' country solidly behind Mrs Thatcher, the public is so ready to tolerate press critic's° of her actions. The indications are that Pen" ple are much more thoughtful and oPen. minded on the Falklands question than the jingoistic popular newspapers would likens to believe.

It has admittedly been very hot during the 1 past few days, a fact for which the POI is most probably to blame. But this cannot excuse Prince Charles's behaviour at the Royal Opera House the other night. Ar,,e performance of Simon Boccanegra tu,s Prince of Wales ostentatiously removed 111,, jacket, indicating to the audience that they might do the same. With one or 0, dignified exceptions, they dutifully follow' ed his example. But this is not what We pat the Royal Family for. We expect them to sei standards of duty, suffering and genera discomfort. I wonder what would havellar pened if he had taken his shirt off?

Mycolumn this week has trespassed of to the page normally reserved for on Political Commentary. This is for two reasons: first, that Parliament is not sitting' and second, that we do not have at the Mc; ment a Political Commentator. But soon will have one again. Mr Ferdinand Mount, who left us recently to join Mrs Thatcher's staff at Downing Street, Will ,,b,e succeeded at the beginning of September, "'r Mr Colin Welch, formerly Deputy Echrfc of the Daily Telegraph and a political WI', of the highest distinction. Until his arriva" it is our intention to keep the column all using a variety of contributors.

Alexander Chancellor