The relatively small degree of economic displacement during this recession has prompted the rise of the Tea Party and (to those who are not a member of this movement) incomprehensible fury against the federal government. (By noting that the economic pain now is "relatively small" I do not in any way to mean to suggest that many people have been not been devastated by the recession, merely to make the factual statement that the economic conditions in Argentina in the early 1980s were much worse.)
The junta in Argentina in 1982, led for the previous year and a half by General Leopoldo Galtieri, had no possible tools to use to make real changes in the country: They did not have the economic resources to distract the nation's people with domestic "bread and circuses" (Makin, 1983b). So they tried another, historically proven strategy: Tamp down a domestic crisis (in fact, a dual domestic crisis of political and economic failure) by rallying people with calls to patriotism in times of war. The decision on the part of Galtieri was cynical in the extreme, but not misguided per se. Such decisions have worked a number of times historically.
The following provides a precise summary of these dynamics:
Galtieri aimed to counterbalance public concern over economic and human rights issues with a speedy nationalist 'win' over the Falklands. Pressure was exerted in the UN with a subtle hint of invasion raised: the British missed this threat and continued to waste time (it is worth noting, British positions are not expressed centrally and monolithically but rather emerge from the operations of special interests and departments without always being uniform and consistent; this has often misled outside observers). The Argentinians interpreted the British position as disengagement, being willing to step away if the islands were invaded - a viewpoint encouraged by the withdrawal of the last Royal Navy presence in 1981 (together with a general down-sizing of the fleet) and the British Nationality Bill of 1981 which withdrew full citizenship rights from the Kelpers. The British also helped by being unwilling to believe that the Argentinians would invade.
Moreover, Galtieri had no other hole cards to play. This was true for him on a number of levels. As a military leader and the head of a military government, he would naturally have been inclined to think in military terms. And as an Argentinian, he would naturally have been inclined to think of the Falkland Islands as being held in a sort of exile from their homeland. (History gives us too many examples to count of the number of times when people have gone to war to reclaim some portion of the earth's surface that the invading group had proclaimed was a lost part of their homeland. Among the most pernicious of these claims were Mussolini's call for the return of Trieste -- as "unredeemed national territory" to Italy and Hitler's near-hysterical claims for the return of French-held Saar and the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.)
Surely some Argentinians at the time recognized the cynicism of Galtieri's invasion of the Falklands as the bald attempt that it was to shift public attention away from the economic chaos and political carnage in the streets. But they, along with their compatriots, were nonetheless attracted to the idea that at least their nation could do something to reclaim its stolen territory. The fact that the invasion was cloaked in an historical myth that was important to many Argentinians blinded them to the foolhardiness of the invasion itself and helped to ensure that a very high level of organizational sloppiness was permitted to exist (Sanders, Ward, & Marsh, 1987).
Of course, an invasion organized under such conditions would almost necessarily fail. Despite the fact that Great Britain had ignored hints that the invasion was coming, British officials and military officers responded quickly and rationally and the small-scale (in military terms) war ended (Ministry of Defence, 1982). The British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, saw a substantial rise in her popularity and political power. The junta saw a different message written on the wall: Its leaders voluntarily left power the following year, replaced by leaders who came to power on anti-military platforms.
It should be noted that Argentina maintains its claim to the Falklands: This claim is in fact written into the nation's constitution. The battle was lost, the military leaders replaced, democracy was strengthened. But the historical myth of Argentina's legitimate sovereignty over the islands remains. Lest we take this as an opportunity to dismiss the Argentinians as somehow more jingoistic or even superstitious than other peoples, it is necessary to remember that all people have similar stories about their nations. Such stories that connect people to the land where they live seem simply to be a part of human nature.
It is all-too-easy when assessing the structure of an organization to fall back on stereotypes and to assume that all examples of a particular type of organization are highly similar to each other. Thus in examining the organization of the Galtieri junta it is important not simply to assume that it is a sort of generic military establishment. Each military government is no more similar to others than any democracy is to others, which is to say that the broad outlines are similar but the details are fundamentally different. And the devil, as always, lies in those differences (Sanders, Ward, & Marsh, 1987).
Essentially to understanding Galtieri's leadership style (and more broadly his understanding of the relationship between the military state and civil governance) is an understanding of the historical relationship between Argentina's military and civilian selves. Unlike European or U.S. democracies, Argentina's government has been closely allied with the military since its birth as a nation (Moro, 1985, p. 147). The nation's history has in fact been something of a patchwork of military and civilian rule, with the military stepping in numerous times. The argument of military leaders when they have taken control of the country has consistently been that they do not truly want to take on the burden of civilian governing but that their patriotism required them to do so. To what different military leaders believed that they were acting out of true patriotism and not out of a personal desire for power is hard to tell.
Galtieri was also strongly influenced by the personalities of two personal heroes, General Patton and former Argentine President Juan Peron besides his relations with top U.S. military leaders in a previous Washington assignment.
"Patton was an inflexible, insensitive, flamboyant general who resented criticism . . .Peron was a vainglorious, chauvinistic and self-centered man who brushed aside all counsel. "
In Galtieri's view ordinary politicians often stand In the way of Argentina's ambitions. Interesting enough, the Argentine Army generals are possibly the least educated among their Latin American counterparts. (Korkin & Sanders, 1985, p.15)
Here is an excellent description of the conditions in Argentina before the war by two military historians who examined the mistakes made by Argentinian leaders for their 1985 thesis for the Air War College:
Historically Argentina has been governed by military junta with a pronounced commitment to provide stability and guide economic and political affairs. After years of military rule, most Argentines are deeply cynical about the motivation and morals of their rulers. [Their] sequence of irrelevant, monotonous political developments follows the well-worn path of messianic, not overly-humble leaders setting right the process of national reorganization and institutional normalization this time with unprecedented repressive political violence and economic shock treatment. (Korkin & Sanders, 1985, p. 13)
Even to talk about a separation between military and civilian rule within the context of Argentinian twentieth-century history is to some extent misleading when it is compared, for example, to the distinction in the United States or Great Britain. Military leaders have in both of these countries served as president or prime minister, but this has occurred relatively rarely and only amid clear assurances on the part of the candidates that they acknowledge the primacy of civilian rule. Quite often Argentine leaders have tended to parse the issue very differently, essentially arguing that the legitimacy of civilian rule arises at least in part from the fact that leaders with military experience make better civilian leaders (Makin, 1983a).
It is fascinating to compare the claims that Argentine leaders have made to this effect with those made in the United States, where in the last two presidential elections one candidate had an active military background and the other did not. Throughout both campaigns there was a dialogue about the extent to which a military background was helpful (or even necessary) and in both cases the American public chose (setting aside the contested nature of the 2000 election) the candidate without military experience. Such arguments were reversed…