Skip to comments.Algeria War 1954-1962
Posted on 04/24/2002 1:18:49 PM PDT by JasonC
Warning - this post contains blunt descriptions of the realities of a particularly brutal and ugly war. There are parts of it that are not for delicate sensibilities or for the faint of heart. I put this at the start of the piece instead of at the end, as is customary for poster's comments, so that those who want to spare themselves such things know to steer clear before they read it.
I post it anyway because I think the lessons of this history are very important to understanding many currents in contemporary politics. Including terrorism as a political method, Arab nationalism and its confidence in those methods, European (especially French) attitudes towards the middle east, the background of Le Pen in France (who fought in this war), duplicity and extremism in politics, and the moral contagion of evil - to name only the most obvious. It is also worth mentioning that Algerians are still fighting each other to this day, with many of the same methods.
I am personally convinced that no one who is unaware of this history can really understand current events, what our enemies are after and why they think it can "succeed", and thus what we are up against in the current war on terrorism. I also heartily recommend the whole of Paul Johnson's book "Modern Times". You can buy it quite cheaply from Amazon at the link provided. There is as much important detail in it, 70 times over, on other events. Another fine history in greater detail about the Algerian war is Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace". It seems to be out of print, but you should be able to find it in any good library.
The rest is Johnson himself, from pages 495 to 505 of Modern Times.
Algeria was the greatest and in many ways the archetype of all anti-colonial wars. In the 19th century the Europeans won colonial wars because the indigenous peoples had lost the will to resist. In the 20th century the roles were reversed, and it was Europe which lost the will to hang on to its gains. But behind this relativity of wills there are demographic facts. A colony is lost once the level of settlement in exceeded by the growth rate of the indigenous peoples. 19th century colonialism reflected the huge upsurge in European numbers. 20th century decolonization reflected European demographic stability and the violent expansion of native populations.
Algeria was a classic case of this reversal. It was not so much a French colony as a Mediterranean settlement. In the 1830s there were only 1.5 million Arabs there, and their numbers were dwindling. The Mediterranean people moved from the northern shores to the southern ones, into what appeared to be a vacuum: to them the great inland sea was a unity, and they had as much right to its shores as anyone provided they justified their existence by wealth creation. And they did: they expanded 2000 square miles of cultivated land in 1830 to 27000 by 1954. These pied noirs were only 20 per cent French in origin (including Corsicans and Alsacians). They were predominantly Spanish in the west, Italian (and Maltese) in the east. But rising prosperity attracted others: Kabyles, Chaouias, Mzabite, Mauritanians, Turks and pure Arabs, from the mountains, the west, the south, the east. And the French medical services virtually eliminated malaria, typhus and typhoid and effected a prodigious change in the non-European infant mortality rates. By 1906 the Muslim population had jumped to 4.5 million; by 1954 to 9 million. By the mid 1970s it had more than doubled again. If the French population had risen at the same rate, it would have been over 300 million by 1950. The French policy of "assimilation", therefore, was nonsense, since by the year 2000 Algerian Muslims would have constituted more than half the French population, and Algeria would have "assimilated" France rather than the reverse. (Aside - in actuality, Algeria now has 32 million people to 60 million in France).
By the 1950s there were not enough pied noirs for long-term survival as a dominant class or even an enclave. Only a third of Algiers' 900,000 inhabitants were Europeans. Only in Oran were they a majority. Even in the most heavily settled part, the Mitidja, the farms were worked by Muslim labor. In 1914 200,000 Europeans had lived off the land; by 1954 only 93,000. By the 1950s most pied noirs had ordinary, poorly paid city jobs Arabs could do just as well. The social structure was an archaeological layer cake of race prejudice: 'the Frenchman despises the Spaniard, who despises the Italian, who despised the Maltese, who despises the Jew; all in turn despise the Arab.' There was no pretence of equality of opportunity: in 1945 1400 primary schools catered for 200,000 European children, 699 for 1.25 million Muslims. Textbooks began "Our ancestors, the Gauls..."
More serious, however, was the fradulence of the electoral system. Either the reforms passed by the French parliament were not applied at all, or the votes were cooked by the local authorities themselves. It was this that cut the ground beneath the many well educated Muslim moderates who genuinely wanted a fusion of French and Muslim culture. As one of the noblest of them, Ahmed Boumendjel, put it: "The French Republic has cheated. She has made fools of us." He told the assembly: "why should we feel ourselves bound by the principles of French moral values... when France herself refuses to be subject to them?" The elections of 1948 were faked; so were those of 1951. In such circumstances, the moderates had no effective role to play. The men of violence moved forward.
There was a foretaste in May 1945, when the Arabs massacred 103 Europeans. The French reprisals were on a savage scale. Dive bombers blew 40 villages to pieces; a cruiser bombarded others. The Algerian Communist Party journal Liberte called for the rebels to be "swiftly and pitilessly punished, the instigators put in front of a firing squad." According to the French official report, 1020 to 1300 Arabs were killed; the Arabs claimed 45000. Many demobilized Arab soldiers returned home to find their families dead, their homes demolished. It was these former NCOs who formed the leadership of the future Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN). As the most conspicuous of them, Ahmed Ben Bella, put it: "the horrors of the Constantine area in May 1945 persuaded me of the only path: Algeria for the Algerians." The French commander, General Duval, told the pied noirs: "I have given you peace for 10 years."
That proved to be entirely accurate. On 1 November 1954, the embittered NCOs were ready: Ben Bella, by now an experienced urban terrorist, linked forces with Belkacem Krim, to launch a national uprising. It is important to grasp that the object, from start to finish, was not to defeat the French Army. That would have been impossible. The aim was to destroy the concept of assimilation and multi-racialism by eliminating the moderates on both sides. The first Frenchman to be murdered was a liberal, Arabophile schoolteacher, Guy Monneret. The first Arab casualty was a pro-French local governor, Hadj Sakok. Most FLN operations were directed against the loyal Muslim element: employees of the state were murdered, their tongues cut off, their eyes gouged out, then a note, "FLN", pinned to their mutilated bodies. This was the strategy pioneered by the Mufti in Palestine. Indeed many of the rebel leaders had served him. The ablest, Muhamedi Said, commander of the "Wilaya 3" in the Kabyle mountains, had joined the Mufti's "Muslim SS Legion", had parachuted into Tunisia as an Abwehr agent, and declared: "I believed that Hitler would destroy French tyranny and free the world." He still wore his old SS helmet from time to time. His disciples included some of the worst killers of the 20th century, such as Ait Hamouda, known as Amirouche, and Ramdane Abane, who had sliced off breasts and testicles in the 1945 massacres, read Marx and Mein Kampf in jail, and whose dictum was "one corpse in a suit is always worth more than 20 in uniform." These men, who had absorbed everything most evil the 20th century had to offer, imposed their will on the villages by sheer terror; they never used any other method. Krim told a Yugoslav newspaper that the initiation method for a recruit was to force him to murder a designated "traitor", mouchard (police spy or informer) French gendarme or colonialist: "an assasination marks the end of the apprenticeship of each candidate." A pro-FLN American reporter was told: "When we've shot (the Muslim victim) his head will be cut off and we'll clip a tag on his ear to show he was a traitor. Then we'll leave the head on the main road." Ben Bella's written orders included: "Liquidate all personalities who want to play the role of interlocuteur valable". "Kill any person attempting to deflect the militants and inculcate in them a bourguiben spirit." Another: "Kill all the caids (Islamic judges)...take their children and kill them. Kill all who pay taxes and those who collect them. Burn the houses of Muslim NCOs away on active service." The FLN had their own internal reglements des comptes, too: the man who issued the last order, Bachir Chihani, was accused (like Roehm) of pederasty and sadistic sex-murders, and chopped to pieces along with 8 of his lovers. But it was the Muslim men of peace the FLN killers really hated. In the first two and a half years of war, they murdered only 1035 Europeans but 6532 Arabs (authenticate cases - the real figure was nearer 20000). By this point the moderates could only survive by becoming killers themselves or going into exile.
The FLN strategy was, in fact, to place the mass of the Muslims in a sandwich of terror. On the one side, the FLN killers replaced the moderates. On the other, FLN atrocities were designed to provoke the French into savage reprisals, and so drive the Muslim population into the extremist camp. FLN doctrine was spelt out with cold blooded precision by the Brazilian terrorist Carlos Marighela:
"It is necessary to turn political crisis into armed conflict by performing violent actions that will force those in power to transform the political situation of the country into a military situation. That will alienate the masses, who, from then on, will revolt against the army and the police... The government can only intensify its repression, thus making the lives of its civilians harder than ever... police terror will become the order of the day... The population will refuse to collaberate with the authorities, so that the latter will find the only solution to their problems lies in the physical liquidation of their opponents. The political situation of the country will then have become a military situation."
Of course this odious variety of Leninism, if pursued ruthlessly enough, has a certain irresistible force. The French government in 1954 was composed, on the whole, of liberal and civilized men, under the Radical-Socialist Pierre Mendes-France. They shared the illusion - or the vision - that Algeria could become a genuine multi-racial society, on th principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Mendes-France, who had happily freed Indochina and Tunisia, told the Assembly: "the Algerian departments are part of the French Republic... they are irrevocably French... there can be no conceivable secession." On Algeria, said his interior minister, Francois Mitterand, "the only possible negotiation is war." Both men believe that, if France's own principles were now at last fully and generously turned into an Algerian reality, the problem would be solved. They sent out as Governor-General Jacques Soustelle, a brilliant ethnologist and former resistence fighter, to create this reality. What they did not realize was that the FLN's object was precisely to transform French generosity into savagery.
Soustelle saw the FLN as facists. He thought he could defeat them by giving the Arabs genuine democracy and social justice. He created 400 detachments of Kepis blues (SAS) in remote areas to protect loyalists. He brought in dedicated liberals like Germaine Tillion and Vincent Monteil to set up networks of centres sociaux and maintain contacts with Muslim leaders of opinion. He sought desperately to bring Muslims into every level of government. His instructions to the police and army forbade terror and brutality in any form and especially collective reprisals. It is unlikely that Soustelle's policy of genuine integration could have succeeded anyway, once the French themselves realized what it involved: France did not want to become a half Arab, half Muslim nation, any more than most Arabs wanted to become a French one. But in any case the FLN systematically murdered the instruments of Soustelle's liberal policy, French and Arab. They strove hardest to kill those French administrations who loved the Arabs; and usually succeeded. One such victim was Maurice Dupuy, described by Soustelle as a "secular saint". At his funeral Soustelle was in tears as he pinned the Legion d'Honneur on the eldest of Dupuy's 8 orphaned children, and it was then he first used the word "revenge".
In the summer of 1955 the FLN went a stage further and adopted a policy of genocide: to kill all French without distinction of age or sex. On 20 August the first massacres began. As always, they embraced many Arabs, such as Allouah Abbas, nephew of the moderate nationalist leader Ferhat Abbas, who had criticized FLN atrocities. But the main object was to provoke French army reprisals. At Ain-Abid near Constantine, for instance, 37 Europeans, including 10 under 15, were literally chopped to pieces. Men had their arms and legs cut off, children their brains dashed out, women were disemboweled - one pied noir mother had her womb opened, her 5 day old baby slashed to death, and then replaced in her womb. This "Philippeville Massacre" succeeded in its object: French paratroopers in the area were given orders to shoot all Arabs and (by Soustelle's account) killed 1273 "insurgents", which FLN propaganda magnified to 12000. It was the 1945 massacre over again. As Soustelle put it, "there had been well and truly dug an abyss through which flowed a river of blood." French and Muslim liberals like Albert Camus and Ferhat Abbas, appearing on platforms together to appeal for reason, were howled down by all sides.
From this point the Soustelle experiment collapsed. The war became a competition in terror. The focused switched to the Algiers Casbah, where every square kilometer housed 100,000 Algerians. It began with the execution of a crippled murderer, Ferradj, who had killed a 7 year old girl and 7 other civilians. The FLN commander, Ramdane Abane, ordered 100 French civilians to be murdered for every execution of an FLN member. On 21-24 June 1956, his chief killer, Saadi Yacef, who controlled a network of bomb factories and 1400 "operators", carried out 49 murders. The violence grew steadily through the second half of 1956 - parallel with the build up to the Suez adventure. The French Mayor of Algiers was murdered, and a bomb carefully exploded in the middle of the funeral ceremony: Yacef secretly ordered all his operators out of the area in advance, to make certain that in the subsequent wild reprisals only innocent Muslims were killed.
The Suez debacle was important because it finally convinced the army that civilian governments could not win the war. Robert Lacoste, Soustelle's socialist successor, conceded the point. On 7 January 1957 he gave General Jacques Massu and his 4600 men absolute freedom of action to clean the FLN out of Algiers. For the first time all restraints on the army, including the banning of torture, were lifted. Torture had been abolished in France on 8 October 1789. Article 303 of the Penal Code imposed the death penalty for anyone practicing it. In March 1955 a secret report written by a senior civil servant recommended the use of supervised torture as the only alternative to prevent much more brutal unauthorized torture. Soustelle had flatly rejected it. Now Massu authorized it, as he later admitted: "was there really torture? I can only reply in the affirmative, although it was never either institutionalized or codified." The argument was that successful interrogation saved lives, chiefly of Arabs; that Arabs who gave information would be tortured to death, without restraint, by the FLN, and it was vital for the French to make themselves feared more. It was the Arab belief that Massu operated without restraints, as much as the torture itself, which caused prisoners to talk. But non-Muslims were tortured, too. One, a Communist Jew called Henri Alleg, wrote a best selling book which caused an outburst of moral indignation in France in 1958. Massu claimed that interrogation by his men left no permanent damage. On seeing Alleg, looking whole and well, on the steps of the Palais de Justice in 1970, he exclaimed:
"Do the torments which he suffered count for much alongside the cutting off of the nose or of the lips, when it was not the penis, which had become the ritual present of the fellaghas to their recalcitrant brothers? Everyone knows that these bodily appendages do not grow again!"
But the notion that it was possible to supervise limited torture effectively during a war for survival is absurd. In fact, the liberal Secretary-General of the Algiers Prefecture, Paul Teitgen, testified that about 3000 prisoners "disappeared" during the Algiers battle. At all events Massu won it. It was the only time the French fought the FLN with its own weapons. Algiers was cleansed of terrorism. Moderate Arabs dared to raise their voices again. But the victory was thrown away by a new policy of regroupment of over a million poor fellahs, a piece of crude social engineering calculated to play into FLN hands. Besides, the Massu experiment set up intolerable strains within the French system. On the one hand, by freeing army units from political control and stressing the personalities of commanders, it encouraged private armies: colonels increasingly regarded themselves as proprietors of their regiments, as under the monarchy, and began to manipulate their generals into disobediance. In the moral confusion, officers began to see their primary obligation as towards their own men rather than the state.
At the same time, news leaking out of what the army had done in Algiers began to turn French liberal and centre opinion against the war. From 1957 onwards, many Frenchman came to regard Algerian independence, however distasteful, as preferable to the total corruption of the French public conscience. Thus the demand for the restoration of political control of the war - including negotiations with the FLN - intensified just as the French army was, as it believed, winning by asserting its independence. This irreconcilable conflict produced the explosion of May 1958 which returned General de Gaulle to power and created the Fifth Republic.
De Gaulle was not a colonialist. He thought the age of colonies was over. His body seemed in the past but his mind was in the future. He claimed that at Brazzaville in 1944, when marshalling black Africa behind the Resistence, he had sought "to transform the old dependent relationships into preferential links of political, economic, and cultural cooperation." He saw the half hearted continuation of French colonialism as the direct result of the weakness of the Fourth Republic's constitution, which he despised, and the "regime of the parties", incapable of "the unequivocal decisions decolonization called for." "How could it", he asked, "have surmounted and if necessary broken all the opposition, based on sentiment, habit, or self-interest, which such an enterprise was bound to provoke?" The result was vacillation and inconsistency, first in Indochina, then in Tunisia and Morocco, finally and above all in Algeria. Naturally, he said, the army "felt a growing resentment against a political system which was the embodiment of irresolution."
The coup was detonated, probably deliberately, by the FLN decision on 9 May 1958 to "execute" 3 French soldiers for "torture, rape, and murder". 4 days later, white students stormed the government headquarters in Algiers. Massu asked Lacoste, who had fled to France, whether he had permission to fire on the white mob. He was not given it. That night, at a Brecht play attacking generals, a left wing audience applauded deliriously. But not one was actually prepared to fight for the Fourth Republic. In Algiers, the generals took over, and called for de Gaulle's return. Some 30000 Muslims went to the government forum to demonstrate their approval. They sang the Marseillaise and the army song, Chant des Africains: a spontaneous demonstration in favor of French civilization and against the barbarism of the FLN. Massu said "let them know that France will never abandon them." When the generals called for de Gaulle they were lying, for they saw him merely as a battering ram, to smash the Republic and take power themselves. De Gaulle thought Algeria was untenable and would destroy the French army. Indeed, he feared even worse might happen. On 24 May a detachment from Algeria landed in Corsica. The local authorities fraternized. Police sent from Marseilles allowed themselves to be disarmed. De Gaulle took over to avert an invasion of France itself, which would probably have succeeded or, alternatively, produced civil war. He saw ominous parallels with the begining of the Spanish catastrophe in 1936. It would, he thought, finally destroy France as a great civilizing power. If Paris was worth a mass, France herself was worth a few lies.
So, having taken power, he went to Algiers to deceive. On 4 June he told the howling colon mob in Algiers: "Je vous ai compris" (I have understood you). "I tossed them the words," he wrote, "seemingly spontaneous but in reality carefully calculated, which I hoped would fire their enthusiasm without committing me further than I was willing to go." He had said the previous year, privately, "of course independence will come but they are too stupid there to know it." "Long live French Algeria!" he chanted publicly in June 1958; privately; "L'Afrique est foutue et l'Algerie avec" (Africa is lost and Algeria with it). He called French Algeria "a ruinous Utopia". Publicly he continued to reassure the colons and the army. "Independence? In 25 years." (October 1958). "The French army will never quit this country and I will never deal with those people from Cairo and Tunis". (March 1959). "There will be no Dien Bein Phu in Algeria. The insurrection will not throw us out of this country." "How can you listen to the liars and the conspirators who tell you that in granting free choice to the Algerians, France and de Gaulle want to abandon you, to pull out of Algeria and hand you over to the rebellion?" (January 1960). Independence... A folly, a monstrousity." (March 1960).
Meanwhile, he got an ever tighter grip on the state. On 28 September 1958 the French adopted the constitution of the Fifth Republic, concentrating power in the president. On 21 December he was elected president. The same referendum which created the new constitution gave all French overseas the right of association or departure. The notion of consent thus became universal. One by one, de Gaulle broke or removed the men who had hoisted him to office. In February 1960 he demanded and received "special powers". 4 months later he opened secret talks with the FLN leaders. In January 1961 he held a referendum offering Algeria freedom in association with France, and got an overwhelming "yes" vote. It was the end of Algerie Francais and it brought its extremist supporters out into the open, bombs in hand.
If the army leadership had insisted on taking power in May 1958, it could have done so, with or without de Gaulle. By April 1961, when it finally grasped de Gaulle's deception and sought to overthrow him, the chance had been missed. French opinion had moved on. The conscripts had transistor radios; they could hear the news from Paris; they refused to follow their officers. The revolt collapsed; its leaders surrendered or were hunted down and jailed. That left the way open for a complete scuttle. Captured FLN leaders were released from prisons to join talks just as the rebel French generals were begining their sentences.
White terrorism, the OAS (Organization de l'Armee Secrete), took longer to deal with. It operated at full blast for over a year, using bombs, machineguns and bazookas, killing over 12000 civilians (mainly Muslims) and about 500 police and security men. It illustrates the fearful power of political violence to corrupt. Indeed, in many ways it was the mirror image of the FLN. On 23 February 1962, its leader General Salan, who had had a distinguished career as an honorable soldier, issued orders for
"a generalized offensive... the systematic opening of fire against CRS and gendarmerie units. Molotov cocktails will be thrown against their armored vehicles... night and day... (The objective is) to destroy the best Muslim elements in the liberal professions so as to oblige the Muslim population to have recourse to ourselves... to paralyze the powers that be and make it impossible for them to exercise authority. Brutal actions will be generalized over the whole territory... at works of art and all that represents the exercise of authority in a manner to lead towards the maximum of general insecurity and the total paralysis of the country."
Nor did the corruption stop at the OAS. For in order to beat them and to protect de Gaulle himself (twice nearly murdered), the state built up its own official terror units, which murdered and tortured prisoners with impunity, and on a wide scale. In this case, neither liberal France nor the international community raised a whisper of protest. OAS terrorism finally killed the idea of a white settlement. At the end of 1961 de Gaulle's closest advisor, Bernard Tricot, reported back from Algiers: "The Europeans... are so hardened in opposition to everything that is being prepared, and their relations with the majority of the Muslims are so bad, that... the essential thing now is to organize their return."
The end came in March 1962, in an orgy of slaughter and intolerance. The Muslim mob, scenting victory, had already sacked the Great Synagogue in the heart of the Casbah, gutting it, ripping up the Torah scrolls, killing the Jewish officials and chalking on the walls "death to the Jews" and other Nazi slogans. On 15 March the OAS raided Germaine Tillion's social center, where handicapped children were trained, took out 6 men and shot them to death, begining with the legs. One of them was Mouloud Feraoun, friend of Camus, who had termed him "the last of the moderates". He had written: "there is French in me, there is Kabyle in me. But I have a horror of those who kill... Vive la France, such as I have always loved! Vive l'Algerie, such as I hope for! Shame on the criminals!" The ceasefire with the FLN, 19 March 1962, brought a further burst of OAS killing: 18 gendarmes and 7 soldiers were murdered. The French commander, General Ailleret, retaliated by destroying the last redoubt of Algerie francaise, the pied noir working class quarter of Bab-el-Oued, with its 60000 inhabitants. He attacked it with rocket-firing dive-bombers, tanks firing at point blank range and 20000 infantry. It was the suppression of the 1870 Commune all over again; but this episode does not figure in the Marxist textbooks. That was effectively the end of Algeria as a multiracial community. The exodus to France began. Many hospitals, schools, laboratories, oil terminals and other evidence of French culture and enterprise - including the library of the University of Algiers - were deliberately destroyed. About 1.38 million people (including some Muslims) left in all. By 1963, of a large and historic Mediterranean community, only about 30000 remained.
The Evian agreements, under which france agreed to get out, contained many clauses designed to save France's face. They were meaningless. It was a straight surrender. Not even paper protection, however, was given to 250000 Muslim officials, many of a very humble kind, who had continued to serve France faithfully to the end. De Gaulle was too busy saving France by extricating itself from the horror, to give them a thought. When a Muslim deputy, 10 of whose family had already been murdered by the FLN, told de Gaulle that, with self-determination, "we shall suffer", he replied coldly: "Eh, bien - vous suffrirez" (So good - you shall suffer). They did. Only 15000 had the money and means to get out. The rest were shot without trial, used as human mine detectors to clear the minefields along the Tunisian border, tortured, made to dig their own tombs and swallow their military decorations before being killed; some were burned alive, castrated, dragged behind trucks, fed to the dogs; there were cases where entire families including tiny children were murdered together. The French army units that remained, their former comrades in arms, stood by, horrified and powerless, for under the Agreements they had no right to interfer. French soldiers were actually employed to disarm the Muslim harkis, telling them they wouldbe issued with more modern weapons, although in fact they were about to be slaughtered. It was a crime of betrayal comparable to the British handing over Russian POWs to Stalin's wrath; worse, indeed. Estimates of the number put to death vary from 30000 to 150000.
Who knows? A great darkness descended over many aspects of the new Algeria, a darkness which has never been lifted since. The lies continued to the end. "France and Algeria", said de Gaulle on 18 March 1962, would "march together like brothers on the road to civilization". The truth is, the new nation owed its existence to the exercise of cruelty without restraint and on the largest possible scale. Its regime, composed mainly of successful gangsters, quickly ousted those of its members who had been brought up in the western tradition; all were dead or in exile by the mid 1960s.
Exactly 20 years after the independence agreement was reached, one of the chief signatories and Algeria's first president, Ben Bella himself, summed up the countries first two decades of independent existence. The net result, he said, had been "totally negative." The country was "a ruin". Its agriculture had been "assassinated". "We have nothing. No industry - only scrap iron." Everything in Algeria was "corrupt from top to bottom". No doubt Ben Bella's bitterness was increased by the fact that he had spent most of the intervening years imprisoned by his revolutionary comrades. But the substance of his judgement was true enough. And unfortunately the new Algeria had not kept its crimes to itself. It became and for many years remained the chief resort of international terrorists of all kinds. A great moral corruption was planted in Africa. It set a pattern of public crime and disorder which was to be imitated throughout the vast and tragic continent which was now made master of its own affairs.
Thanks for this great post, Jason.
Fascinating. Although I'd have to say that much of what we see in contemporary africa has as much to do with the removal of 'colonial' restraint upon the darker consequences of the savagery and tribalism that has always ruled at the heart of African sensibilities.
For one thing it describes what seems to be underway in our own nation vis-a-vis multiculturalism out of the Marxist playbook.
It also gives a few hints about how and why both the French and US lost in Vietnam--our enemies know how to turn their own people against the military as we saw in Vietnam and will surely see attempted here.
Instead of letting the population divide along the guerillas' preferred lines of cleavage, based on sociological categories (race, class). They start out not remotely speaking for such large categories, merely thinking in terms of them. They try to force everyone else to think in terms of them, alone, by trying to make them the only relevant, life or death political matters. If they succeed in that, then they get whole huge categories of supporters, and the exact fight they desired between them. They ride their role in creating the fight to leadership of one side of it.
Remember that a quarter of a million Arab officials were loyal to the end, but abandoned by the French. Nothing is more revealing than that Eh Bien, you shall suffer. That was not created by the FLN, it was there from the outset and the war merely revealed it, by making the opposite course expensive. The contempt the political leadership of France had for their loyal charges in Algeria was the crux of the issue, the prior political basis for their eventual abandonment.
Guerilla politics is a sort of moral ju-jitsu of evil. It makes use of the worst aspects of its adversary - his bigotry, his extremism, his indifference, his duplicity. Those doing the using are far, far worse, of course. They are conscious moral corrupters for ulterior ends. But their targets are not angels, and that is half of why it worked. Naivete is not an answer either, as though childlike simplicity and kindness would be invunerable to such methods.
I guess what I am trying to say is that it is not simply a matter of nasty people knowing a nasty political technique. They put moral (and intellectual, but primarily moral) strains on their adversaries. Those adversaries bear some of the responsibility for how they react to the test that sets up.
Theologically speaking, devils tempt but sinners fall.
As the most conspicuous of them, Ahmed Ben Bella, put it: "the horrors of the Constantine area in May 1945 persuaded me of the only path: Algeria for the Algerians."
Do you think this suggests that brutal response to the current terrorist acts by the PLO (which I certainly support) will sow the seeds of defeat in the future?
If you hit only murderers, you create the right incentives in the group the terrorists pretend to speak for - that becoming a murderer is dangerous, while not being one is safe. But if you take the easy way out of the aim problem and just target the whole demographic group wholesale, then you hit 9 innocents for every murderer you hit, and they all have relatives. So you recruit more new murderers than you kill old ones. The size of the terrorist group, of the hard liners not the whole demographic, goes up.
The key is to focus on the size of the radicalized, committed group, including their recruitment. Aim, discrimination between those who are really your enemies and those who are not, is the all important thing.
They don't want to leave any choices. They want every Arab to be the enemy of every Jew, and every Jew to be the enemy of every Arab, regardless of his own opinion in the matter or anything either side has done. The counter of the authorities is to pay attention to morality - what men do - and to leave choices. Those who commit or support terrorists are the enemies of the authorities. Those who do not, are not the enemies of the authorities.
Obviously this is not easy in practice, on two fronts. On the practical front, the authorities have a need for intel that the terrorists do not. It is much harder to know what people have done than what category they fall into. So there is a tendency to not bother.
The second is a moral front, inside the party supporting the authorities. They are being *tempted* to say "to heck with the morals crap, it really is a fight between sociological category A and category B, and I'm in B, so off with the heads of everybody in A". That is what leads straight to General Massu and the competition in terror that Johnson describes. (It is also what Le Pen stands for - he was an intelligence officer for Massu).
And if followed, it splits the pro-authority camp internally, politically. While it can unify and add recruits to the terrorist camp.
In the case of the 1945 events, what was ruinous about them is that wholly loyal men, men who had spent the second half of WW II fighting for the French army against the Germans in the North African Free French formations, came home to the destruction of their homes and families. You will not get anywhere blasting away at your own allies among the people the terrorists pretend to speak for.
Notice that this second part is a moral difficulty at bottom. If the authorities don't really care whether subject A supports them and behaves honorably or is a criminal, and just think of him as a "wog" or a "slope" or a "towelhead", then they aren't going to aim very well.
So, morality and intel in the aiming. That means moral clarity, though, too. Because it is equally possible to err on the other side, and treat as innocent, or appease, men who are actually in the camp of the terrorists. That prevents effective targeting and provides a sort of sanctuary.
The authorities cannot themselves decide how large the group of their enemies is. They can't just decide that only 10% are "really" against them and the rest are "innocent". Whether people side with the terrorists is up to each of them, individually.
The authorities in a sense have to respect their choice in the matter. You can't choose for them and just pretend, or you discourage all those actually on your side (by treating bastards just as well as them), and give sanctuary to enemy fighters.
Moral clarity and proper aim line up. Anyone who really acts as your enemy must be treated as one. Anyone who really acts innocently must be treated as innocent. It is the fact that the authorities leave this choice to individuals that morally distinguishes them from the terrorists. That is the "selling point" to the moderates. They have a possibility of peace, of a peace in which they will not be treated as enemies. Something the terrorists cannot offer, because membership in their social categories is not optional.
You see why I call it a sort of moral test of the enemies of the terrorists. Their discrimination between friends and enemies - entirely realistic, but not beyond what the real choices of individuals requires - is on trial.
In the case of the PA, it is clear that a very high portion of the population has chosen the side of the terrorists. Up to 3/4 support the bombings, for instance. Undoubtedly some of that is coerced, due to fear of PA goons and their summary executions. But whatever its cause, it is the practical reality at the moment. That does justify stern measures, and a loss to the goals of the community as a whole (e.g. reduction in territory, non-contact with Israel).
But you don't want to kill or demolish the houses of the 25% that do not support the bombings, if you can at all help it. And you want if possible to restore the practical possibility of choice for individuals as to whether to support terrorists - e.g. by policing the population to keep goons from summarily executing those who oppose them or their methods.
Moral clarity, good intel, and careful aim at the guilty - that is the recipe. It is not easy.
The understatement of the year? ;-)
Thank you for your thoughtful and incisive posts. I am trying to absorb the lessons of Johnson's account of the Algerian experience. Perhaps the die was cast in 1945, and anything after that was a fait accompli, but would the clarity, intel and aim you suggest now have led to a different result against an enemy as entrenched and rabid as the FLN? Short of total annihilation?
Today's obvious mirror image being the PLO, with their stated goals (destruction of Israel), I'm not sure even targeted incursions will lead to success. Look at what (by any reasonable standard) remarkably targeted, precise efforts the the IDF got Israel -- almost universal condemnation (though one hopes the backroom conversations/agreements with Bush et al belie the public statements).
An overview of the whole bloody subject:
A little historical perspective:
Sorry -- should read:
Look at what (by any reasonable standard) remarkably targeted, precise efforts by the IDF got Israel -- almost universal condemnation (though one hopes the backroom conversations/agreements with Bush et al belie the public statements).
Yep. Look at Rhodesia....
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