Two weeks ago actor Sean Penn, when questioned over the Falklands dispute between Great Britain and Argentina, told reporters that the UK was being “ludicrous and archaic in its commitment to colonialist ideology”.
His comments have caused a storm of protest from islanders, ex-veterans, and citizens alike, and in doing so reaffirmed why maintaining British sovereignty over the Island chain is so important; it’s one of the few things left which pull us ‘British’ together.
So, as someone who takes my national commitments seriously, some more Penn bashing:
The Hollywood A-lister controversially referred to the Islands by their Argentine name, Islas Malvinas. Whether this was a deliberate attempt to antagonise his trans-Atlantic cousins (us), or butter-up potential fans in South America we cannot be sure. What we can be sure of however is that Penn in doing so has demonstrated himself to be at best ill-informed, and at worse damn right idiotic!
The first known landing on the Islands was by Englishman John Snow in 1690, naming them after his patron, the Viscount Falkland; with “formal possession” coming in 1765 and Britain re-affirming rule in 1833. To put this in a perspective which Penn might understand, the United States declaration of independence wasn’t ratified for another 92 years after first landing, and Argentina didn’t even exist for another 36 years after that!
So, the islands have been called the Falklands since before either the United States or Argentina came into existence! Perhaps then Penn would sympathise with British citizens who wish to refer to all Americans as pesky up-start colonists, or Dutch citizens who rename New York as New Amsterdam, or Frenchmen who insist on calling Louisiana New France.
Probably not, and rightly so! But then why call them Islas Malvinas?
Perhaps I’m being too harsh, maybe he merely used the term out of respect for his Spanish speaking hosts; in which case good luck to him on pronouncing Pihemanu Kauihelani were he to ever visit the US colony on Midway Island.
More likely Penn used the name to inexplicitly support the Argentine’s claim to sovereignty. Yet perhaps he did so without taking time to study the argument. The Hollywood star and Argentine politicians joined forces to criticise the UK for being “colonialist” over the issue. Yet their own claim rests on an argument that the Spanish Empire gifted the Islands to them, with the French Empire subsequently revoking their claim in 1765.
The Argentine argument is just as tangled up in colonialism as our own! And whilst on the subject of colonialism maybe Penn should turn attention to his own Nation. I’m sure those surviving Native Americans whose forefathers were not eradicated by US soldiers would love the entire of ‘their’ continent back!
Though there are also – if you like – more practical objections to US ‘colonialism’; claims to the US Atlantic territories of Sarranilla Bank, Navassa Island, Bajo Nuevo Bank and the Pacific Island of Swains have been lodged by a host of Nations including Colombia, Jamaica, Honduras, and indirectly even by New Zealand.
Though there is little real point in debating the competing claims – the UK as a permanent member of the UN Security Council holds the power of veto on international issues; its annual military expenditure is equal to that of the entire of South America; and no country capable of exerting sufficient influence over the UK seems to care!
In short, Argentina, or indeed Sean Penn, may not like it, but the UK ceding its right to sovereignty over the Falkland’s is about as likely as the US giving up Navassa to Honduras, China giving up its claim over the Spratly Islands to the Philippines, or the big boys in the playground giving up the best football pitch to the new kids.
That been said, one ought not to underestimate the influence of people like Penn on US public opinion. In a nation where celebrity endorsement has been shown to influence presidential elections, it may take only a few opinionated and mal-informed A-listers to make support for Argentine sovereignty a political issue. On this point it’s important to remember, that though in the hierarchy of the international playground Great Britain may be Argentina’s superior, the United States is in a league of its own!
So in conclusion, on with the Penn bashing, and for that matter any Falklands relating bashing you can think of. Not only is it good for national moral, but limiting the impact of pro-Argentine rhetoric on the US political establishment may be vital for in maintaining UK sovereignty.