War is always tough on rationality--the sort of business in which villages are "saved" only by destroying them. But few wars have produced as much confusion as the war in the Falklands.
In the view of most Latin American nations, it seems, the United States, deferring to communal sensibilities, should ignore the merits of any hemispheric quarrel to which a European nation is a party and stand neutral.
It was permissible for the United States to embrace U.N. Resolution 502, which unmistakably blamed Argentina for aggression. But it is shocking to our hemispheric friends that the United States also embraced the logic of Resolution 502 when the Argentines refused to disgorge their booty.
Our Latin neighbors complain continually-- and properly--of our embrace of hemispheric bullies like Somoza of Nicaragua (and others too numerous to name). But now, they say, the United States should conceal its loyalty to democratic principles when a dictatorial junta in Buenos Aires illegally seizes contested territory and starts a war.
It was laudable for the United States to offer its good offices to promote a negotiated settlement in the Falklands. But when reasonable proposals acceptable to Britain were unilaterally rejected by Argentina, the United States was expected to react as if both parties were equally responsible for bringing bloodshed.
One is left with the unsettling suspicion that the Atlantic community--Britain and its allies, including the United States--think about international issues in a very different way from the Organization of American States, of which we are also a part. That impression may mirror "Anglo-Saxon" prejudice, as the Latin nations would have it. Certainly there is, among English-speaking peoples, a certain fondness for rigorous political logic.
The variance of perspectives was driven home for me by a recent letter to The Washington Post from Luis E. Aguilar, a professor at Georgetown University. Aguilar acknowledges that it is "beyond reproach" to resist aggression. Still, he finds glaring inconsistencies in Britain's behavior, and our own.
"England," he writes, "was not so righteously indignant when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Why should the principle be so severely applied to Argentina, guilty of an initially bloodless and minuscule aggression?"
And as for the United States, "When the inhabitants of the Canal Zone in Panama expressed their opposition to restoring that territory to Panama, the United States wisely decided otherwise."
To a plodding "Anglo-Saxon" mind, these parallels seem hopelessly skewed. It is true that Britain did not (and could not) send the Royal Navy to Afghanistan. But there is a difference, after all, between an attack on a third country, however deplorable, and an attack on one's own nationals.
As for Panama, there is an equally striking difference between a negotiated treaty of retrocession and an invasion. The British Parliament, like Congress, prefers not to be statesmanlike at the point of a gun.
One is reluctant to believe that our Latin neighbors, with Aguilar, believe that hemispheric policy should be governed by tribal solidarity rather than principle. But the sophistries of recent days invite that interpretation.
Perhaps we view history, and politics, differently. In his uncannily prescient essay on Argentina, "The Return of Eva Peron," V. S. Naipaul writes: "There is no history in Argentina. There are no archives; there are only graffiti and polemics. . . . There is no art of historical analysis; there is no art of biography. There is legend and antiquarian romance, but no real history."
The "legend and antiquarian romance" from which the Argentine view of the Falklands dispute seems to arise is less offensive than the historical fantasies that have occasioned other bloody episodes in this century's history. But it remains an "Anglo-Saxon" foible to attach importance to principles of political liberty that are rooted in and inseparable from the actual past.
The Argentines may, as Naipaul would have it, live in a historyless world where wishes and dreams assume tangible reality. But we cannot follow them there in the name of hemispheric solidarity.
If our Latin neighbors share the Argentine view, as it seems they do, the inter-American system is in deeper trouble than anyone could have feared.