20 years, a Story; Part 3 - Home

My two youngest sons in Buenos Aires were excited to see me on television. Euphoria gets you through moments where you know deep down it's out of control. But I was changed, somehow; I went to their school, four days later on their Day of the Flag and - as their national anthem sounded I didn't feel the hate that I had before. That part had slipped away. It was odd for some, to hear this; my reputation for being anti colonial and critical of Europe's foreign policy in the Middle East surely meant that I was an easy convert - only it was never like that. Just as when my former father in-law had passed me a book 'Nuestra Malvinas' (Our Islands) some years before, I would smile and be polite because it was how I was brought up. Inside I was still thinking the same; how come you guys don't ask me how was it for me during the war? What about us? Do you just want to know about the things that fit your argument? What about the rest of the story?

I ended up in the National Archives fixing old books and cleaning photographs and documents. The promise of being helped find work left me with little money other than pay maintenance for the children, a 35 metre square apartment and living on rice and tomatoes. When I complained, saying I had been lied to, it was made clear that the government had been good to me and I should remain quiet. 'The press will use you like 'a forro' (a contraceptive) I was told, should I dare to speak out. What - like your President did, I thought? As for fixing the marriage it worked temporarily. Becoming part celebrity because of the exposure - something I knew that would change dynamics as that's how people responded in Buenos Aires, the most superficial of capitals, was a ridiculous gamble. Underneath it we are still the same and the stress levels that had been created made it impossible; things were still spiraling out of control.

With three years passed, and wondering where the next request would come from to be the islander who became Argentine and to appear at some anniversary function and with no one I could trust except my two children I picked up my coat and walked out of my work place. Seeing the whole islands theme manipulated even more by the likes of CECIM and others to the point of hysteria, in the last years of Christina Kirchner - ironically splitting veterans organisations who had survived being sent by a dictatorship now seemed acceptable. In truth it made me feel like I was living with hornets. On the desk lay documents of Juan Manuel de Rosas, ancestor to Maria's family and de-facto head of the United Provinces when Britain sailed up Berkeley Sound in 1833. In dramatic terms I suppose I broke down. In reality I had been doing that for years, losing my parents, my home and someone whom I loved more than myself. I arranged for family to buy the ticket to leave as with currency controls in force I had no way myself of buying a ticket. I arrived in England, my hand badly broken in a makeshift bandage and my family urging me to not return. I didn't tell the government - why should I? They had gotten more out of me than was humanely decent. The problem when you have two sons who you want to be with matters are never closed. There is always one more chance, you think, to fix things. Always one more chance that things might just work.

In December 2014 I returned to Buenos Aires. As Christmas approached I  looked at the usual photographs on social media, of those travelling to the islands with their banners proclaiming the usual outlandish things. As well I had just finished an interview, where I spoke about my childhood and the colonial past and the issues Maria and I had encountered in the islands. It felt like the same thing again; others wanting to get a part of the story. You felt raped, emotionally, because deep down they are not interested in you as a person; it's just the islands. I called my sister. I hated being split apart. I had the power to go home. I was not an exile. It was my home.

Going through a box of old photographs there were photographs of my father. As well there was an old letter, from the days of Nicholas Ridley's visit to the Falklands. It was so heartfelt and as well illuminating. Much of the Argentine claim today is based on the British eagerness in the 70's to talk about the issue. Talk one minute and fight the next. It is not something that islanders like to be reminded of, neither the British politicians - but it was there in black and white.

My father's letter, written in December, 1980, trying to warn the British public about what was about to happen, had been correct:

By Pablo Baler
I knew I had been used; I put myself  forward because I wanted to make a difference and fix something. I didn't care about my own health. I was critical of British foreign policy in other areas of the world. The Falklands war did not have to happen, either. It was a total failure and could have been avoided. I disliked how life in the islands has been eroded by post conflict materialism and how much of our culture - based on a mix of Celtic, English, Scandinavian and Gaucho customs seems to have faded. However, once the impatience of the Argentine Dictatorship forced itself onto a humble, secluded forgotten about population - derided then and still today though it still doesn't give anyone the right not to exist - then that dictatorship had to be stopped. IT WAS THAT SIMPLE. I know Argentine society well, today. The military invasion cannot simply be blamed on 'one drunk General' as it so easily was. That it went wrong wasn't planned. And that's the whole problem, in Argentina; no one plans how to fix things - it's like they just know how to break them.

I went there, when Nestor Kirchner decided to tackle the Military's hold on society and when Argentina was suffering from years of liberal selling off of assets and pardoning those involved in the 'dirty war.' I thought much could be corrected. Voicing my approval outside of Argentina labelled me an 'argie lover'. No, it wasn't like that; I wanted to embrace a place which my sons lived in, that was all. I instead found a place where a collective responsibility didn't seem to exist. There are judiciary proceedings which you can't take seriously, with judges open to political interference; there are serious crimes which divide society and go unsolved as Argentines pitch themselves against fellow Argentines without a thought for what it will do to the country; politicians and businessmen seem oblivious to making things difficult for others, so long as they can regain power; revenge is acceptable - it's part of the national psyche, it seems. When the country implodes under economic mismanagement they look for others to blame, instead of themselves. The middle class and fallen aristocracy are defined by their lack of ethics, not by their dignified reactions to issues. They have so much and yet they want more - a nation seemingly rich in heart but poor when it comes to carrying out solutions to their own problems. Each time there are problems in Argentina, a friend said to me, 'we lose something, always, and we never get it back.' Perhaps if they concentrated on an ethical education they could leave the claim alone for five minutes and be friends - real friends.    

I remember the day back in 1982, when my mother came home, agitated. My sister was even looking at her, as if she was crazy. My mother had gotten her handbag tangled up in a young soldiers gun barrel outside the remaining open supermarket. I can still see her, pulling the young Argentine soldier with force as she strode off. Further on a group of conscripts had stopped asking please could we buy them something to eat. My mum said no; she was angry. I didn't understand her anger then; it took me years to understand. I went back and I bought them food. I always wondered why she had not. What had happened, she said, was their stupidity in starting the war just didn't sink in, she said. It killed her love, she said, for her partner. She knew it was finished the moment they invaded. It finished off my mum's love just like I guess it killed mine too, only it was years later and there were no guns, just deception.

I returned from England, in December 2015. With the coming election perhaps there would be some sort of change. I had only been there two days and it was obvious from the beginning what was in store - Christina and Macri, the incoming President not even able to meet for the good of the country, the usual cycle of resentment and revenge clear. I suppose those same feelings returned for me, when I agreed to meet the mother of  the boys as she had promised our oldest son to talk to me about 'our situation.' I went to talk and imagined things being civilized one time and things might just get better - I would do my part, too. To enter into legal issues in Argentina is a nightmare. Instead, a lawyer appeared handing me papers. I felt tricked one time too many, I guess. I don't have my children to wake up with and take to school and sit with in the evenings - I don't have permission to bring them to the islands, either. But, I am a man, and that is how the world turns - so I have to accept it.

  Port Stanley, in 1983; Nick, a British soldier 
who lived with my father and I for six months.
I destroyed my document that night; hardly innocently, and I made it public, just like they had with me. For years I would listen to Argentines talk about 'their islands' and I would smile, politely. For years I would listen to their veterans and feel sorry. For years I would listen to people I thought were friends, who -  if you scraped away the niceties had one intention there in the background. And yet I would think maybe there is a way we can all be friends. I would walk in the streets of Buenos Aires, see the graffiti and hear television programmes and the workings of the Argentine propaganda with it's Puerto Argentino and the labeling of the inhabitants pirates. It was nothing more than infantile projections. I had zero patience. How could I equate that with the boys like I had given up on them? I haven't; and I can only hope that one day that they get to know a bit more of the whole story. But I don't control that. I don't believe others should control that, either. Reality though is all we have. It takes a balancing act to work with that and unfortunately there are those out there only too willing to manipulate others. No one forced me to go and show my paintings, in 1996. And my father never stopped me going, either. No one forced me to fall in love with someone, or ask for citizenship, either, or want my children to be allowed to come here. Sometimes you don't get a choice.

Before leaving Buenos Aires, I gave two interviews. One, to Nicolas Cassese, who put the story with as much integrity as I had hoped given the circumstances. I didn't want to leave Argentina, like I hated everyone, because I don't. Following Clarin's article I received the usual insults. 'Be careful in the street, Muthafucka' one wrote. 'We don't want you here - and we don't want you in our islands!' said another. Still, others wrote saying they felt ashamed. In the UK's Guardian they missed out one aspect in particular of the story; my mother's part and me not wanting to lose something because of the political divide - the human part which makes all the difference. So the commentary was predictable, just like the traitor insults that came before. In the end people make up their own mind; just so long as they are given the facts people might get to think something else. A former friend in Argentina said I knew what I was getting into. And another that I should have come clean with the Argentine Government when I disappeared off to England, my employment terminated via a message (theirs) through Facebook. As they say in Spanish 'la verguenza tiene mala memoria' - shame has a bad memory. Maybe one day someone will say sorry when others are unable to defend themselves. And I don't mean for me, either, as I don't need one. I was paraded on a day of national humiliation, but I went, in the end; I mean an apology for the people who were in the Falklands in 1982. They're still waiting. I made mistakes trying to fix something, and I accept that. Argentina as a whole should accept their mistakes, too, but I've given up on ever hearing that.      

Note: I still have dual citizenship. It's not something I debate with anyone, either, for or against. I just have it. As someone mentioned, passports are just those little books that enable you to take a plane, to where ever you're headed.