TCS Daily

Ronald Reagan GCB

By Tim Worstall - June 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Ronald Reagan GCB was known as many things, The Great Communicator, Mr President, The Gipper, Dutch and no doubt a number of less pleasant things by his opponents. There are few of us who take much note of the fact that he was also an Honorary Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Bath, one of those almost Ruritanian titles that we Brits -- or least certain of us -- still love so much.

No, he was never Sir Ronnie, the use of the prefix being reserved for those who are British so the Knighthood was signified by the GCB after his name. Without boring everyone rigid on the details of our feudal hangovers I should also point out that we have at least 21 different types of Knight, and that GCB is the top as far as what can be awarded to non-royal non-Brits. So why was he thought of so highly, why was he awarded the same recognition as Eisenhower, Marshall and MacArthur?

It all revolves around events of 22 years ago this week, the Falklands War. The Fascist dictatorship of Argentina, at that time "disappearing" its leftist opponents, invaded a British colony, the Falkland Islands. Margaret Thatcher, our Prime Minister at the time determined that armed aggression would not stand and that a fleet should be assembled and the islands retaken. From this distance one can view it all as the last gasps of colonialism or the beginning of the fight back by democracies against totalitarian states, the current freedom of Argentina helping to push me towards the latter view.

There was however one teensy problem with the plan. The previous decades' neglect of the British military had left the logistics cupboards bare. There simply was not enough ammunition to fight such a series of battles. We turned to plucky little Belgium, a country we had gone to war for once and liberated twice (with help of course) in the previous century and were told no, selling ammo to a fellow NATO member would be immoral if it were for "colonial" purposes. This from the heirs to Leopold II! There were also persistent rumors of French supplies for the Argentine Exocet missiles being rushed through in the lead up to the fighting, something you might imagine did not go down too well, especially after it was just those missiles which killed most of those Brits who died down there.

It was American SecDef Caspar Weinberger who came up with the solution, that the US would open its armory to us. President Reagan needed persuading, and there is no shame in that, a man thinking through the options as to what exactly is the right thing before doing it. So it was that an assortment of Majors and Commanders (the sort of ranks that do these things) were instructed to simply phone the US storehouses for whatever they wanted and the store men were to provide them. Paperwork could wait and invoices would be sent later. The base on Ascension Island was made available (while the island was another Brit colony, the base was US) and the invasion fleet was able to sail and the battle won.

Of course there was more to the situation than the above sketch yet without that logistical support to an ally the Falklands would now be Las Malvinas, in itself not a too appalling thought, yet that change would have happened via an armed occupation, something tried and repelled a few years later in Kuwait. It was the principle that needed upholding, as it was and as it needs to be repeatedly.

It's said that we Brits have long memories, the very existence of things like a GCB showing it, along with such exotica as colonies, monarchs and how to make a proper cup of tea. We've been allies with Portugal for just over 700 years now which would also support the idea that we know who our friends are.

This may be reading a little too much into the geopolitics of the situation, yet I regard the Falklands War as being the start of the fightback by the free against armed aggression by the totalitarian states, whether fascist or communist, in a direct line to what happened in Nicaragua, Grenada, Kuwait and now Iraq. While we couldn't have done it those years ago without the help that President Reagan authorized, I'm aware that the US military could have handled Gulf I and II without us, so I'd just like to point out that for this Navy brat, as for so many others of my generation, it was important that we were there in 1991 and it's important that we are there now.

You stand by your friends don't you?

The author is a TCS columnist. You can find his writings at


TCS Daily Archives