"Every conflict, every war that’s been waged in our time, has had its soundtrack: calls to arms, calls to lay down arms, but nothing like Shipbuilding."
Thus Annie Nightingale (right) introduced Is it worth it? showcasing Robert Wyatt’s Falklands War-era song, written by Elvis Costello. It was named after the first line, and by halfway through the hour-long documentary I'd heard those words sung so often I was asking myself the same thing.
My heart sank from the moment Nightingale mentioned "the controversy over who the Falklands Islands – or Las Malvinas – should belong to". Then followed paeans to music’s ability to express anti-capitalist sentiments as well as Pat Kane of Hue and Cry declaring that to have people building ships for the navy to prosecute war from – the theme of Shipbuilding – was both "dignified and shameful" and an offshoot of "the poisonous need to create contracts" for industries that supply the military.
The second half-hour was balanced by contributions from shipbuilders, veteran Andy Eakins and war-widow Barbara Macauley. But it failed to present the Falklands War as more than a product of Margaret Thatcher doing things that annoy the BBC.
For instance, scriptwriters might have mentioned that while Britain and Spain had often disputed ownership, the Islands never belonged to Argentina. That the Islanders are predominantly of British and American descent. Or, indeed, that Pope Alexander VI prepared the ground for conflict in 1494 by arbitrarily delcaring where the line dividing the future Atlantic territories of Spain and Portugal would lie.
To argue that proximity renders the Falklands Argentinian exemplifies outdated colonialist thinking. This was by no means the most biased documentary the BBC has come up with but, with the prospect of British Armed Forces members going in harm’s way not receding, it needs to reappraise its student-union internationalism and remember why it’s called the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Click here to see Robert Wyatt's video for Shipbuilding on YouTube or watch it below: