Skip to comments.Algeria War 1954-1962
Posted on 04/24/2002 1:18:49 PM PDT by JasonC
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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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