The lingering fog of a short, strange war
The thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War is approaching, but the territorial dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom has not been resolved, and some strange and fantastical tales about what really happened still circulate. Last year an Argentine friend, visiting Britain for the first time, related a story a former soldier had told her. He was camped somewhere on those islands, it was in the middle of the night. A sickly, creeping dampness awoke him, and he discovered that his tent mate had been decapitated by a Gurkha, who had crept into their camp to kill sleeping Argentine soldiers.
Trying to be tactful, I told my friend that in fact the Gurkhas had not arrived in the Falklands until after the fighting had ended and that their role had been to remove landmines. The story about Nepalese troops appears in the work of Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature that same year. The author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera and The General in His Labyrinth was lauded for his “novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.” On the first anniversary of the war Garcia Marquez, quoting unnamed Argentine soldiers, wrote a column for the Spanish newspaper El Pais in which he claimed the Gurkhas had acted as a lethal advance brigade for British troops. According to this account (which has strongly racist overtones), the Gurkhas somehow managed to decapitate one Argentine soldier every seven seconds “with their assassins’ scimitars” and when they ran out of Argentine victims they began killing British soldiers. So blindly fanatical were these Asian mercenaries that of the 700 who disembarked in the Falklands, only 70 survived the fighting. (http://elpais.com/diario/1983/04/06/opinion/418428005_850215.html)
In fact, only one Gurkha died in the Falklands and that occurred during a demining operation. Nor do Gurkhas carry scimitars. Garcia Marquez later conceded that he might have gotten some numbers wrong. Truth, as they say, is the first casualty in war.