Acting with the enemy

by Marcelo Vallejo

Guilt (Issue II/2019)

When director Lola Arias first invited me to create a piece of theatre together with British veterans about our experiences during the Falklands War, I declined. I wanted nothing to do with those Englanders. There was still too much anger and pain – we had lost comrades. I was unable to see my enemy as human, somebody who had their own family or their own story. I simply saw him as somebody who wanted to kill me.

Coming back from war is not easy. A war leaves its consequences inside you. For a long time I couldn’t put away my uniform. I wore the green for more than 25 years. It was just as difficult for me to see the British as anything other than enemies.

But Lola Arias kept on at me. She telephoned and said, just come and take a look. And then eventually I went to the rehearsals. There were only two Argentinean veterans there. I didn’t know them but we got along so well, so I stayed.

When I first saw the British I didn’t feel the rage that I normally felt. Our meeting was very natural. We had never asked the British veterans about their reasons for fighting on the islands and they had never asked us either. I believe that this is a topic that we don’t need to bring up. We know very well the reasons and the feelings each side has. And we respect that.

During the rehearsals in the theatre things came up for me that I had forgotten. Your soul hides these things just so that you can carry on living normally.  But then there were scenes with the Englanders that came very close to the moment we were taken prisoner. I remembered when I had to hand over my helmet – and they just threw it away. I remembered that feeling of isolation when we lost the war, as they were disarming us. The fear I had when I heard them giving orders in English.

I was just 19 years old. When you end up a prisoner of war you don’t know what they will do to you, whether you would perhaps be killed. All those feelings came back to me again. It was tough.

You change a lot in war. You leave your youth behind. You suddenly have to make adult decisions. My comrades and I talked about how we had had to prepare ourselves to kill other humans. All these things that I had never had to think about before in my life.

Before we began, Lola Arias asked me what I thought the Englanders might be feeling. As if the whole thing hadn’t mattered to them at all! Even a professional soldier is not really prepared for that moment when they must kill another person. The consequences of that remain with both sides. And that was also what created our respect for one another. Because they also had to kill, and they also lost friends.

Over time, the anger leaves you. Ten years ago such a piece of theatre would have been unthinkable. But everything has calmed down since then. And on both sides too; At the moment I am hearing a lot of stories about British veterans who are giving back the war trophies they took from the Argentinean soldiers. They have to give those things back if they want to come to terms with themselves.

A lot of people helped with this play. Both Argentinean and British veterans, and the relatives of the fallen came along to have a look and they too were able to understand the pain the other side felt. Just like me – before I couldn’t stand the British but now I know that they also suffer the consequences of this war.

The play has brought a lot of changes with it, for me personally. I can live more peacefully.

transcribed by Timo Berger

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