My Greatest Mistake: Ian Jack editor of 'Granta'

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The Independent Online

On a Sunday evening some time in early 1982, I declined an invitation to board an aircraft-carrier that was soon to sail for the Falkland Islands. I was a reporter on The Sunday Times, and the news editor asked me if I would go.

I said no. It seemed to me then that there wouldn't be a war, and that all I would achieve was a few weeks at sea, circling the south Atlantic, being seasick, writing nothing. Also, though it is inexcusable to blame her, my former wife - my wife at the time - wasn't keen; I was away from home a lot at that time, and sailing on an aircraft-carrier with no certain journalistic result seemed to her a boyish jaunt and possibly a dangerous one.

I've always regretted saying no. I like ships. I wasn't ignorant of naval power, armaments, strategy. I'd been to the Falklands a few years before to write a magazine piece; very few British journalists could boast of having spent two weeks in Port Stanley before Max Hastings captured it. I thought the Argentinian invasion was wrong and needed to be rebuffed. In a way, I was an ideal candidate to report the war that soon happened, though when I said no I didn't think it would - the US and the UN would find a cure.

When war looked inevitable, I was sent instead to Argentina. I didn't get past immigration at Buenos Aires airport, so I took the next flight to Uruguay and spent an unrewarding fortnight in the capital, Montevideo.

I wish I'd got to the Falklands - for the entirely selfish reason that such things happen once in a lifetime. It was an important thing to describe. I don't think it was cowardice that stopped me. It was more the prospect of heaving up and down at sea for no good purpose. Anyway, I wish I'd packed my case that night and taken the train to Plymouth.

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