A View To Die For

This is the ninth in a series of articles exploring island societies to examine how issues affecting small isolated communities can help us understand the world as a whole.

Emily Hahn

The Falkland Islands are hard to get to.  It’s located on the bottom of the globe, at the southern margin of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 400 miles from the tip of Argentina and 750 miles from Antarctica. The only regularly scheduled commercial flight is from Santiago, Chile, about 1400 miles away; and it flies out only once a week.  For your average traveler, without access to private or military planes, the only other option is by boat, boarding a cruise ship stopping at the archipelago on its way to the Antarctic.  When visitors enter Stanley Harbor, which serves as the hub for the Islands, they will be enchanted by the lovely multicolored homes that line the waters, while being mesmerized by the infinite array of seabirds circling overhead.  It’s undoubtedly a view to die for.


There are virtually no trees in the Falklands, because its thin layer of soil is unwelcoming to any plant that demands a strong anchor.  Instead, grasses and low-lying bushes carpet the undulating landscape, giving cover to the numerous bird species that nest their young on these islands. Detached from human overpopulation, the Falklands are home to a breathtakingly high wildlife density, including about 100 penguins for every person living on the Islands.  On a typical hike during the summer months, it’s not unusual to witness more than a thousand penguins on a pristine beach surrounded by cliffs and lush vegetation.  It’s absolutely a view to die for.


The vast majority of the Falkland Islanders work in either sheepherding or fishing industries. There is also a remnant of an extinct industry that thrived in the 19th century.  Prior to the opening of the Panama Canal, ships had to navigate the southern tip of South America.  Treacherous waters near the infamous Drake Passage often resulted in damage to the ocean vessels, and the Falklands served as a repair station.  Many ships barely made it to the Islands, saving the crew from peril, but dooming the vessels to join others in the graveyard for metallic wreckage.  The shallow waters off the shores of the Falklands are dotted with rusted ships rising above the shimmering blue surface, like icebergs in the nearby Antarctic. It’s an eerie sight and a view to die for.


Most of the Falkland Islanders are descendants of British settlers, and the current inhabitants are British citizens.  The fact that the Islanders are separated from their motherland by 8000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean has not escaped the nearby Argentinians, who have claimed ownership of these islands since the early 19th century.  In 1982, during a time of political unrest in Argentina, its leaders decided to invade the Falklands, known to them as Islas Malvinas, by sending 10,000 soldiers to the Islands.  Perhaps it was to stir up patriotism.  Maybe it was for the sheep, penguins, and scrap metal.  Who knows for sure?  Perhaps the Argentinian generals thought that it was a view to die for.


At the time of the Argentinian invasion, less than 2000 British citizens were living in the Falklands. Back home, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was immensely unpopular due to a historically weak economy. In response to Argentina’s aggression, Thatcher decided to unleash a massive naval task force, sending 127 ships to the opposite side of the globe.  Historians believe that the British leaders were motivated primarily by their desire to increase patriotism and improve the morale of its citizens. But maybe it was because they did not want to confuse the penguins that did not understand Spanish. Perhaps it was for the view to die for.


The British won, but the cost was immense.  649 Argentinians and 255 British were killed.  But what did these people die for?  Was it to defend the livelihood and identity of 2000 people?  It certainly was not to protect their lives, as the inhabitants were merely spectators at the theater of war.  Was it to boost the political ambitions of its leaders?  It certainly was not for the convenience of a small number of tourists that visit the Islands.  Despite the breathtaking beauty of the Falklands, the views are not worth dying for.