After wondering if the Falkland Islands crisis--the last 19th century war?, an operetta looking for a Gilbert and Sullivan?--is a case of carrying the nostalgia craze too far . . .
After remembering the axiom that the average citizen is no more capable of a grand passion than of a grand opera, and wishing that William James were here to see the roaring crowds in Argentina, and those cheering the British fleet at Portsmouth . . . ("Man lives by habits indeed," wrote James, "but what he lives for is thrills and excitements. The only relief from habit's tediousness is periodical excitement. From time immemorial wars have been, especially for noncombatants, the supremely thrilling excitement.")
After being pleased that this episode will further discredit the moralizing majority at the United Nations . . . (where Spain--which has a restive army and covets Gibraltar--abstained from the call for Argentina to withdraw).
After wondering when Sen. Edward Kennedy or some similar keeper of the peace will seek legislation requiring the Reagan administration to get congressional permission before "becoming involved in" the Falkland Islands . . . (There is a slogan for the next Kennedy campaign: "He kept our boys out of Port Stanley.")
After marking this down as another example of the strength of the weak and the weakness of the sort-of-strong . . . (Argentina was not deterred by Britain's nuclear deterrent-- or by anything else. Lord Wigg, a Kiplingesque soul, laments that Britain has spent "111 billion pounds on defense since the end of the last war and we can't knock the skin off a rice pudding." Welcome, your Lordship, to the Iranian hostage experience.)
After hoping that this episode will call American attention to this truism: that when your political will and military assets are perceived to be insufficient to sustain your commitments and pretenses, other nations begin acting rudely . . . (Britain's task force is led by the aircraft carrier Invincible, which Britain is selling to Australia for budgetary reasons.)
After recovering from astonishment at the principle that dictated the resignation of Lord Carrington, Britain's foreign secretary . . . (The principle is that a minister is responsible for what goes on in his area of responsibility, and that when something goes smesh, he resigns. America has "no fault" government: not even a military fiasco like the rescue mission to Iran produces resignations.)
After savoring this paradox: a nation at the eastern end of the Mediterranean may benefit from the crisis in the South Atlantic . . . (Israel considered Carrington a nemesis. And if Third World diplomats are capable of feeling embarrassed, they will blush when, having been "understanding" about Argentina's aggression, they return to denouncing Israel. Israel is occupying the West Bank only because Jordan launched aggression from there.)
After fainting from shock at the impudence of Argentina's occupying force which, with tanks rumbling through the sheep, decrees imprisonment for any Falkland Islander who commits "actions that disturb community normality . . ." (The Islanders are, to say no more, happier about life under British sovereignty than most Argentinians are about life under the current government of Argentina.)
After fainting again from the thought that a number of governments which, like Argentina's, project internal tensions toward external foes, may someday have nuclear weapons . . .
After noting that this crisis underscores the wrongheadedness of American liberals who insist that the world is made safer by decreasing American power . . . (In 1956 American disapproval was sufficient to halt an invasion of Egypt by Britain, France, Israel; in 1982 American disapproval is disregarded by Argentina.)
After all such thoughts, comes this one: little crises have ways of growing, faster than you can say "Sarajevo." Every little bit hurts: every little injury done to the forms of international law lowers more than the tone of life on the planet. It also lowers, perhaps imperceptibly but not innocuously, the threshold at which disputes become violent.
And what a stimulating lot of disputes there can be if Argentina's "repossession" principle becomes an infectious precedent. Here is a mental game to play in the silent watches of the night: count the number of borders and other political arrangements around the world that can be considered merely provisional, pending arbitration by force, if Argentina's action is not reversed.
Argentina has declared, in effect, that there is no statute of limitations on historical grievances, or at least none on grievances that are only 149 years old. So dust off a 19th-century globe and let's reopen every dispute, from Schleswig-Holstein through . . . well, Heads up, Texas. Manifest Destiny had its messy aspects.