In Memoriam

This site is also dedicated to Stan Sargent. Stan and I grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, and both of us left for college at about the same time. Stan served in Vietnam while I joined the Peace Corps. Stan won the Silver Star for heroism. Read Stan's story (1 MB download pdf).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Savage War of Peace

A Savage War of Peace


Algeria 1954 - 1962

Alistair Horne

France first entered Algeria in the 1830s and began a colonization process that resulted in French citizens owning most of land, controlling the local economy, and creating a second class Muslim population.[1] The French colonists were the dominant class.[2] An incident in Setif in 1945 sparked the massacre of 100 French citizens and the killing of more than 1,000 Algerian Muslims in retaliatory attacks by the French army. General unrest among 8 million Muslims in 1954 led to an insurrection by the National Liberation Front (FLN) – a group of Muslim nationalists – on November 1st, All Saints Day, 1954 that lasted for eight years, cost an estimated one million Muslim lives, forced the relocation to settlement camps of another million, resulted in at least 4 assassination attempts on French President Charles de Gaulle, and finally caused an attempted military coup and near outright civil war in France. The attempt to hold Algeria was linked to the large European population, primarily French, living there – in 1954, 1 in 8 Algeria residents was European. The rebellion against the French revealed deep resentments of Muslims toward the colonists – the spontaneous attacks by Muslim residents on Europeans were notable. The example of the massacre at Philippeville[3] clearly part of the insurgent’s strategy to provoke a strong response by the French military against the civilian population demonstrated that the French policy of “collective responsibility” in response to attacks alienated broad segments of the Muslim population. The ferocity of the fighting, the tenacity with which the Algerians fought against the French demonstrated the power of a determined but hopeless population. The insurrection resulted in the death of more than twelve percent of the national population. In a war that was started by the FLN with only 350 weapons followed a classic guerrilla strategy of attacking only when to its advantage, avoiding frontal assaults, and attacking targets loyal to the national government (local police and political officials). The year the insurrection began, 1954, coincided with the great French defeat in Dien Bien Phu. The French fought the insurgency with short term success using torture, heavy handed military action, and increased military power in critical areas. The Battle of Algiers between January and March 1957 was won by the French and should have destroyed the FLN. The fact that it did not indicates the organic nature of the opposition facing the colonial power. The Algerian people as a whole were against the French. The FLN had attacked all symbols of the French colonial government by targeting and killing Algerian supporters and civil servants of the French government. There is a quote in the book regarding the FLN strategy as one of terror – Jacques Soustelle, Governor-General of Algeria in 1955 is quoted as saying that it was remarkable that “… (the FLN) never sought to attach the rural populations to their cause by promising them a better life, a happier, freer future; no, it was through terror that they submitted them to their tyranny.” Everything written about insurgency conflict is illustrated in the history of the Algerian war. There was poverty, political discontent, unanswered grievances by the majority population, and a sense that, especially in the rural areas, the government was conspicuously absent. Combine that with the Mulsim perspective that the French had oppressed them for 120 years, stole their land, and subverted their culture, and there was a perfect storm for an insurgency. The precursors of Provincial Reconstruction Teams were created by the French -- Section Administratives Specialees – SAS was created by Governor General Jacques Soustelle to address rural poverty. Some 400 SAS detachments were created each under an army lieutenant or captain who was an expert in Arabic and Arab affairs and could, “… deal with every conceivable aspect of administration; from agronomy, teaching, health to building houses and administering justice. The SAS were a selflessly devoted and courageous band of men, who made themselves much loved by the local populace and for this reason were often the principal targets of the FLN.” The SAS was to leave the most lasting imprint of Soustelle’s regime. Critical Factors to French Defeat – Cost of War – p 232 – “…then there was the awareness imposed by the shattering, ever soaring costs of the war: one billion francs (one million English Pounds per day) in May 1958.” This was the equivalent of $2.5 billion per month in 2007 US dollars.[4] War Weary Nation - By 1959, 5 years into the war there was a need for a victory – p. 331 – after de Gaulle entered power his Prime Minister to inform the Commanding General Maurice Challe that “… we must be able to put out a victory bulletin in the month of July; for France is beginning to get bored with the war.” Impact on Military – French military was critically overstretched to fight the insurgency in Algeria – this strain resulted eventually in insubordination and an attempted coup in which Corsica was seized by the French military and four generals were implicated in a coup attempt against the government. Lessons Learned – (1) The effectiveness of insurgents attacking soft targets (local government leaders, local police, etc.) created fear and diminished the legitimacy of the national government; (2) Porous borders were a major problem in trying to control an insurgency – for Algeria having Tunisia and Morocco was key to re-supply and force support to the FLN; (3) Long term price was paid by engaging in torture; and (4) Government legitimacy requires the protection of its citizens and a monopoly over violence -- a legitimate government must provide essential services, employment, education, health care, and stability in which a sense of hope can be nurtured -- without hope, people turn to the insurgents.[1] For example, the Muslim vote, through a two tier electoral system counted one eighth that of a French citizen (both systems elected eight senators and fifteen deputies to the national system) in the French system, only one million French citizens could vote while in the Muslim system more than eight million Algeria Muslims voted.[2] Muslims were clearly second class citizens in 1954 Algeria with only one boy in five attending school while only one in sixteen among girls were in school. Among Europeans there were 200,000 children of school age at 1,400 primary schools while 1,250,000 Muslim school age children attended 699 primary schools. In terms of resources, control of the land was clear with the average land holding of Europeans at 123.7 hectares versus average Muslim land holdings of 11.6 hectares. Ninety percent of the country’s wealth was in the hands of ten percent of the people, primarily European. Muslim average earnings were 16,000 francs a year whereas the European equivalent was 450,000 francs – nearly 30 times as high.[3] Philippeville was near the El-Halia mining center with approximately 150 Europeans and 2,000 Muslim residents who had coexisted peacefully for years. The mine had seen excellent labor relations between the European managers and the Muslim workers. On August 20, 1955, a group of Muslims attacked the town killing 37 Europeans (men, women and children). Local residents were said to have joined in the attacks. More than 1,000 Muslims were killed in retaliation.[4] According to -- the value of one million English pounds in 2007 dollars based on “average earnings” would be 42,690,000 English pounds or around $2.5 billion per month (1 pound = $2) multiplied by 42,690,000 then multiplied by 30 days in a month.

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