Yet we do think of them, ice cold and silence
In the snow covered moorlands, stopped by the violence
That you inflicted, you determines, you created, you ordered
It was your decision to have those young boys slaughtered
How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead?
Young boys rest now, cold graves in cold earth
© Crass, 1982
The Falklands Islands are made up of two large (West-Falkland and East-Falkland) and hundreds of other smaller islands. Its climate is characterized by low temperatures and lots of rain. The islands have no forests or farmlands; 99 percent of the lands are made up of pastures, on which sheep graze. The islands were discovered in 1592. In 1765 the British established a colony there. Argentina laid claim to the islands in 1831. Two years later the British enforced their right of ownership. Argentina has never waived their claim to the islands.
On April 2nd, 1982, the Argentine junta (led by Leopoldo Galtieri) decided to cash in on Argentinian nationalism and occupy the Falklands Islands, hoping to divert attention from the many internal problems. The junta assumed that the United Kingdom, at the time also crippled by heavy economic and social problems, would not react to the occupation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Margaret Thatcher grabbed the opportunity with both hands, using the same political agenda as the Argentinian junta, hoping to reunite the nation and win the coming elections. A couple of days after the Argentine invasion the United Kingdom sent a special task force to the islands in order to recapture them. In June British troops landed on the Falkland Islands and the British recaptured the islands. The war took the life of 649 Argentinian and 255 British soldiers and wounded over 2,000 soldiers.
The war was officially ended on June 20th, 1982, proclaiming the United Kingdom as its ‘winner’. The Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges once described the war as “a fight between two bald men over a comb”, which seems to be a fairly accurate account of the facts.
For quite some time Crass, an anarchist art/punk DIY commune/band from England, had been strongly criticizing England, Thatcher and consumerism, nationalism, etc. In June of 1982 they had released the album Christ, The Album. Contrary to the way things were usually done with Crass, lots of attention was given to the (quality of the) recordings and packaging. By the time the album was finished, the Falklands War was well underway. The war took Crass by surprise and they were not pleased. From that moment on, Crass would once again react more directly to actual events.
Sheep Farming In The Falklands
Crass’ first reaction to the war was a flexi-disc, which was distributed in many ways (including putting them in various/random records at Rough Trade record store), not using the Crass moniker. The song is targeted mainly at the role the army played: “Sheep farming in the Falklands, re-arming in the fucklands, fucking sheep in the homelands, her majesty’s forces are coming”. Not the most exalted form of criticism and, supposedly, primarily meant to be funny. When first reports came through that the war had actually made real casualties, Crass felt somewhat uncomfortable with the single.
How Does It Feel
On October 16th, 1982, Crass released the single How Does It Feel. The question throughout the song was How Does it Feel To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead?. The single had been recorded and mixed in August of 1982 at the Southern Studios, London. The single was a direct attack on Margaret Thatcher.
During Prime Ministers Question Time, Thatcher was asked whether she had heard the song. She didn’t answer the question, but it did put a number of actions in motion. The Conservative Party tried fighting back by suing the band (see press-clipping from The Guardian).
Robin Eggar was a columnist working for the Daily Mirror and wrote:
“Rock music is often used by the young to voice their protests. However distasteful the Sex Pistols appeared to be in 1977, their songs were a chilling warning of the coming recession. But anarchist band Crass have gone too far. They released last week the most revolting and unnecessary record I have ever heard. ‘How Does It Feel To Be The Mother of 1,000 Dead?’ is a vicious and obscene attack on Margaret Thatcher’s motives for engaging in the Falklands war. It bears little relation to reality. Retailing at only 75p it has already sold more than 28,000 copies”.
Coincidentally, Robin Eggar’s brother, Timothy Eggar, was a member of Parliament for the Conservative Party. In a radio show he debated the single and the war with two members of Crass. The ‘debate’ did not end in the MP’s favor….
Eventually the Public Prosecutor responded: “I have considered the record to which my Hon. Friend refers and have decided that its publication does not amount to a contravention of section 2”. As a result the Conservative Party stopped all legal actions aimed against Crass.
|A1||Anthem For Doomed Youth|
|A2||How Does It Feel (To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead)?|
|B1||The Immortal Death|
|B2||Don’t Tell Me You Care|
But things didn’t end here with Crass and the Falklands War. The band came into possession of quite a lot of classified information, through a contact in the army, who was serving in the Falklands War. In 1983 Crass fabricated, using publicly available recordings, a ‘secret’ phonecall between Thatcher and (US) President Reagan. They were talking about the sinking of the Argentine ship Belgrano and the missile attack on the British ship HMS Sheffield. The higher purpose behind the recordings was to ensure that Thatcher was not re-elected.
After the recordings were done the tape was anonymously circulated all around Europe. It took some time before the story picked up. By then the initial aim had become redundant: the elections were over and Thatcher was re-elected. About six months after spreading the tapes the American State Department announced that they had come into possession of KGB (Soviet Union’s infamous secret service) recordings that were “produced to destroy democracy as we know it”. To the astonishment of Crass themselves, it quickly became apparent that these were the Crass recordings. Apparently the recordings fooled not only American officials, but also the KGB and MI6 (British secret service). English newspaper The Observer started an investigation and, after some time, tried with Crass. After negotiations with the newspaper Crass acknowledged they were behind the recordings. In return the newspaper published all details Crass owned concerning the attack on the HMS Sheffield (which, according to the information Crass had, was knowingly sacrificed).
Crass will be the subject of more articles in the future. For now: Crass did have influence and impact and, sometimes to Crass’ own amazement, was taken more seriously than anticipated or expected.
Do you know Crass or this single? Let me know!
Falklands War Map image: wikipedia.org
Crass image: bombedoutpunk.com
Crass – How Does It Feel image: punkygibbon.co.uk
Crass – The Guardian image: theartofcrass.uk
Crass – To Be The Mother Of 1000 Dead & Crass – Thatchergate American press images: crassahistory.wordpress.com
Crass – Thatchergate image: cbc.ca