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The Falkland Islands (or Las Malvinas, as Spanish speakers call them) are a small archipelago in the South Atlantic, with a population of slightly more than 1,700. Britain rules them and Argentina claims them. In the first week of April 1982, in a bloodless strike, Argentina seized the Falklands from the United Kingdom. Within two months, Britain had mounted a major assault and regained the islands. Civilian casualties were very low; about 960 combatants died. In the United States, the media viewed Argentinian motives and capabilities with derision and encouraged the notion that the Falklands war was comic opera. Washington expressed strong sympathy for the United Kingdom and many U.S. officials used the opportunity to indulge in Churchillian rhetoric. Many factors, not all of them relevant, colored media coverage of the war and appraisal of its background in the United States. There was a general revulsion over Argentinian domestic human rights violations, though the United States has courted and embraced governments possessing worse human rights records. Some commentators accused Argentina of using a foreign adventure to divert attention from a disastrous domestic economic policy, although one has the impression that Mrs. Thatcher's choice of strategic responses was influenced by similar domestic factors. Other commentators emphasized that Argentina was governed by a military junta and the United Kingdom by an elected government, as if this demonstrated that the British had the better case. In most legal systems, title goes to the proper owner, not to the nicest person. If quality of government determined these sorts of issues, international title would oscillate with every coup and constitutional change, with opposing public order systems always drawing diametrically opposite conclusions.

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