London — As British forces were preparing to launch their main attack on Port Stanley, a struggle about what Britain should do after an expected victory was underway here at home--on three emotional and complex fronts.
The dominant one at this writing is the hawkish military view of the majority in the war Cabinet led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself.
Mrs. Thatcher is riding a buoyant wave of optimism, based on a series of military successes against Argentine forces. Losses, while tragic, have been politically acceptable so far.
Yet the prime minister's blunt strategy of military attack and reimposing direct British rule--with all concessions made in earlier United Nations negotiations removed from the bargaining table--is being challenged on two other fronts.
One is practical: Some in Mrs. Thatcher's own party, as well as other wary politicians in Labour, Liberal, and Social Democratic ranks, see the prime minister calling in effect for an unconditional Argentine surrender. They urge instead generosity in victory.
They want to avoid alienating Argentina for years to come and to avoid allowing the Soviet Union to exploit continuing tension. They look for ways in which Argentina can live in peace with Britain, West Europe, the United States, and its own neighbors.
The challenge on the other front is moral: Those who doubt the wisdom of the war and want a quick and lasting peace, are invoking constant appeals for peace made by Pope John Paul II since his arrival here.
Three times on his first day in Britain May 28 the Pope took advantage of his historic visit to talk directly about the Falklands crisis and to urge peace. On Sunday May 30 in Coventry he called war ''totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations.''
He denounced war in a city that was heavily bombed by the Nazis in World War II and whose name was carried by a British warship recently sunk by the Argentine Air Force.
The Pope's messages have received saturation media coverage here. They have been watched by millions on television, and reprinted by newspapers up and down the country.
Neither the wary politicians nor the Pope seemed likely to alter the government's strategy of military victory. But their well-publicized views could change the way many British people comePz erceive the war and its aftermath.
Thus, on a sunny and warm Bank Holiday weekend with schools out for the half-term break, the British people were still surrounded by headlines and forecasts about war in the freezing South Atlantic 8,000 miles away.
Television and newspapers spoke of gallantry and heartbreak, successes and losses, and of the first visit by a Pope to Britain in history, on May 31, the 60th day since Argentine forces invaded the Falklands April 2.
The papal visit took on political as well as pastoral significance at a time when Britain was fighting a largely Roman Catholic country.
The 700 men of the second battalion, Parachute Regiment, seized Port Darwin and Goose Green from Argentine forces who outnumbered them almost 2 to 1. But it lost 12 men, including the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Herbert Jones.
The paratroopers took 1,400 Argentine prisoners, according to the British Defense Ministry.
Sources have led reporters to believe that some of the 3,500 men from the requisitioned liner Queen Elizabeth 2 were about to land on the Falklands to back up other forces said to be within 22 miles of Port Stanley.
On the way, spearhead troops were said to have retaken the two tiny hamlets of Douglas and Teal Inlet. Navy ships had bombarded Port Stanley yet again.
An Argentine claim served as a reminder of the tightrope that Mrs. Thatcher is walking. Buenos Aires said its aircraft had hit the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible. British sources categorically denied that this had happened. The loss of the Invincible would be a devastating blow, both to the war effort and to morale here at home. The task force has only two carriers in all, and among the Invincible's crew is Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II.
Meanwhile, reports surfaced here May 31 about splits in the war Cabinet. A correspondent for The Times (of London) said differences between Mrs. Thatcher and her foreign secretary, Francis Pym, are now so deep that Thatcher supporters have been villifying Mr. Pym in private conversations. Mrs. Thatcher is said to be determined not only to reestablish British Gov. Rex Hunt in the islands, but to be considering a plan to diversify and strengthen the islands' economy to make it independent of Argentina.
Mr. Pym, on the other hand, has spoken in public of the need for Argentina to live in peace with its neighbors in the future. He is associated with those in the Cabinet urging every effort to find a way in which Argentina can climb down without losing too much face.
Both wings of the war Cabinet support the task force and agree that Argentina has been trying to spin out talks while refusing to withdraw in defiance of Security Council Resolution 502.
The Pym view looks beyond military victory in terms of accommodation and concession. The Thatcher wing sees this as a ''sellout'' and believes Argentina deserves nothing but a military defeat.
A senior Labour Party figure, Roy Hattersley, articulated the wary politicians' view May 30:
''The idea that they (the Falklands) can retain and return to their previous status, in a permanent state of siege, in what has been called semi-war with Argentina, for a decade or more, is clearly absurd.''
Former Labour Foreign Secretary David Owen, now a Social Democrat, flew to New York May 31 to see if Argentina was signaling to the UN that it wanted a way out.
Those anxious for Argentina to save face say that global issues are at stake, and that a humiliated Argentina could remain vengeful for years and force Britain to maintain a ''fortress Falklands.''
This argument is rejected by Tory backbenchers, such as Julian Amery, who argue that Argentines will not necessarily hate Britain forever. Germany, Italy, and Japan are all friends of the West today, says Amery, and Pakistan lives in forbearance with India.
The Falklands, he says, could rely on Chile and Uruguay for links to the mainland, and Britain could quickly resupply the islands by lengthening and strengthening the airport runway at Port Stanley to take large transports. He suggests a ''Southern Atlantic or Southern Hemisphere community'' to safeguard sea and air ways and develop resources there and in Antarctica.