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British stiffen their backs, ready to to risk lives in war to regain islands

By David K. WillisStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 26, 1982



London

''I think we British would stick it out even if it does come to shooting and lives being lost. We are like that -- our backs go to the wall and we don't give in.''

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The speaker was the wife of a successful engineer, well groomed and articulate as she stood in a spacious garden surrounded by two dogs and three children.

Like millions of other British people these days, she was wrestling with the prospect of a war in the South Atlantic. She did not like it and she did not want it, but if it came, she was prepared to see it through.

On the other side of London, a tall chartered (certified public) accountant stood in another tree-lined garden and agreed. ''Even if taxes go up to pay for a war,'' he said, ''I think you will find that the British people will grit their teeth and pay. People don't think Argentina can push us around. They just don't.

''Of course, most people think the British Navy can win easily and quickly. I'm not sure people have considered a long period of fighting.

''But Mrs. (Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher is right to use force to support diplomacy. People agree about that.''

These two British voices sounded in Monitor interviews as two late public-opinion polls here confirm that Mrs. Thatcher is winning public support so far.

A poll of more than 1,000 people for British commercial television, released April 25, showed 79 percent supporting government strategy.

And when 463 adults were questioned for The Economist weekly magazine April 20-21 (when London was cool to Argentine suggestions and Foreign Secretary Francis Pym was about to leave for Washington), 85 percent supported the decision to send the task force. This was up from 83 percent from a poll of more than 1,000 people the week before. The percentage generally satisfied with Mrs. Thatcher's handling of the crisis so far rose from 60 to 68 percent.

The number of people who felt that the loss of life might be justified also went up -- as reflected in Monitor interviews.

The Economist poll showed 50 percent believing it was worth losing the lives of British soldiers to regain the Falklands, compared to 44 percent the week before.

The commercial television poll showed 41 percent agreeing that lives could be lost.

However, this still means that half of those polled remains opposed to the loss of any British serviceman's life -- something Mrs. Thatcher has to keep in mind.

And more people insist there must be no loss of life of the Falkland Islanders: Only 37 percent in The Economist poll said it would be justifiable if some islanders' were killed in a British attempt to retake the islands. That figure was up 1 percent from the week before.

About half those questioned also wanted to avoid sinking Argentine ships in Falklands waters. The overall impression emerges that British backs are up, that Argentina's refusal to withdraw has stiffened British resolve, but that a lot of British people are not yet ready for the prospect of British losses.

Neither the engineer's wife nor the chartered accountant were happy that Britain had gotten into the dispute in the first place. ''A debacle,'' the wife called it.

''Argentina thought it could take advantage of us,'' she said. ''We were cutting back our Navy and our economy was in trouble. But we will not be pushed around. We have to think of Belize (threatened by Guatemala) and of Gibraltar (by Spain). There's Antarctica, too - that could be valuable.

''Of course, I don't want to see any lives lost.

''It's amazing no one has been killed so far, (we spoke before news came of a British Sea King helicopter crewman lost at sea April 23) but if we have to fight, so be it.''