Argentines shift from self-delusion to self-examination

Four months after the surrender of Port Stanley, Argentines are slowly learning the real facts about the Falklands war.

Despite the efforts of the military regime to curb public debate, the self-delusion of the war period is turning into self-examination.

Among the varied sources of new, and for Argentines disturbing, information are:

* The angry words of the commander of Argentine ground troops in the Falklands, Gen. Americo Daher, who has been publicly criticizing the conduct of the war.

* Leaks to the local press of some of the contents of the first major investigation into the conduct of the war carried out by the Army - the Calvi report.

* A national best seller entitled the ''Boys of the War'' - a collection of interviews with returning conscripts by a young Argentine free-lance writer Daniel Kon.

Last week the Army high command ordered the arrest of General Daher after he went public with his criticism. In a letter to Army chief Lt. Gen. Cristino Nicolaides - published in the local press on Sept. 26 - Daher pointed to some of the military and diplomatic blunders behind the April 2 invasion.

He blamed Argentina's military defeat on lack of coordination between the services and, in particular, poor support given to ground troops by the Navy and the Air Force. Daher thus became the first officer to break an unwritten pact between the three services that proscribed any bickering in public.

General Daher claimed that the Falklands theater of operations was ''eminently an air-naval one'' and accused his country's Army leaders of too readily accepting responsibility for Argentina's military defeat.

As for the Air Force, he said: ''The Air Force lost a few planes and then there was no more Air Force.''

Daher's implicit suggestion of military incompetence, if not outright cowardice, provoked the wrath of the Air Force. Daher is expected to stand before a tribunal of honor for his remarks, a tribunal reportedly set up at Air Force request.

Daher's retirement from active service last month - along with three other wartime generals - seemed to produce little public outcry. But his arrest will not help calm the stormy atmosphere within the armed forces.

Some of Daher's criticisms are contained in the Calvi report. It notes that senior officers were told by Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, then head of the junta, that there would not be any serious military reaction from Britain or the United States and that Argentina had widespread diplomatic support. That conclusion was apparently shared by Argentina's foreign minister at the time, Nicanor Costa Mendez.

The original military strategy, according to the Calvi report, was to withdraw troops early on from the island, leaving only symbolic presence of a few hundred men.

Where Daher and Calvi part company is the Calvi report's finding that divisions between Army generals may have been another factor undermining Argentina's war effort.

The bulk of the Calvi report has remained a well kept secret. ''If this lack of adequate information continues, it will provoke a situation of anarchy and rebellion within Army ranks,'' Daher warned.

Last month General Nicolaides shuffled his top command, sending nine generals into retirement and promoting five others. However, the shuffle fell short of the sweeping changes demanded by some of the junior- and middle-ranking officers.

In fact, three generals who have been given key positions by the Army commander - Gens. Rodolfo Wehner, Eduardo Esposito, and Miguel Angel Podesta - were involved in political decisions throughout the war.

The ''Boys of the War,'' interviews with conscripts collected by Argentine free-lance writer Daniel Kon, is particularly revealing about the workings of the war and viewpoints of fighters.

''As we crouched there in the trenches with the bombs exploding around our ears we couldn't understand how Britain and Argentina could not reach an agreement. It was as if the whole world had gone mad,'' one conscript tells Kon.

The interviews reveal that there were many soldiers who went to the Falklands without knowing that they were going to fight. When they got to the islands, the disorganization of the campaign was so bad that many of them had to rob from military food depots to avoid dying of starvation.

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