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May 26, 2007

My Battle of Algiers

Ted Morgan – ISBN 9780061205767

Ted Morgan is a noted historian, biographer and sometime journalist who, though an American, carries dual French citizenship and was drafted by the French to serve in the Algerian war (mid-1950’s). He also served in Viet Nam.

In this memoir he describes the brutal nature of wars, frequently comparing Viet Nam to Algiers, and emphasizing the more bitterly savage nature of the later. Included in his discussion is the character and use of torture, observing that the French learned from the Orientals and became as-- sometimes more--savage than their tutors. The legionnaires were “brutal killers.” Sometimes those subject to their inquisition experienced “mysterious suicides” under questioning.

He, himself, was involved in considerable activity he was shocked by, and the tenor of his reflection is how savage an otherwise “normal” individual can become when involved in war.

As in Vietnam, he—unlike many of his fellow combatants—understood that however peculiar it might seem, both were in fact wars of nationalism determined to throw off the yoke of colonial occupation, not just wars of Communism or Radical Islam. The appeal of both was the promise of independence for the oppressed. There is no doubt that, aside from his wish to present his recollections, the precipitant motivation was the Iraq war.

While I’m certainly in no position to challenge his experiences, I do believe that Iraq is different, in that “the coalition” did relieve a considerable majority of the population from the yoke of an oppressive dictatorship. I found his observations on Arabs to be particularly insightful, especially those on one of the Muslim combatants in the Algerian war who was similarly appalled by the violence, and indicated that he’d give up bombing if the French stop the guillotines.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the present day radical Islamists would give up suicide bombings if we left Iraq . . . or inundated Israel, returning it “to the Palestinians.” They seem bent on destruction of, or at least suzerainty over the West.

His comments on the “mystery” associated with the Algerian Casbah (the ancient center of Algiers) are particularly interesting. The Casbah serves as a metaphor for the Arab mind: “secretive, resilient, resistant to change, and teeming with a thousand twisting passages.”

This is a chilling and detailed record of the birth of Arab terrorism, and past methods used in the attempt to eradicate it. Unfortunately it hasn’t been overwhelmed, and will not be until the West becomes serious about the threats and does whatever is necessary to exterminate the thought—and when necessary, the radicals.

Ultimately, the French could not win for so long as the Algerians continued to fight. One wonders about the current parallels. The West can win, but only if we fight with determination.

As for the author: “The Algerian experience did not enrich me, it diminished me. Young men are sent out to fight wars and are placed in situations they are not prepared to deal with. I was deeply ashamed of what I had done . . . but at the same time I did not recognize the right to be criticized by those who had not been put in harm’s way. It’s a little too easy to sit in one’s living room and watch TV and be horrified by the reprehensible acts committed by men in combat. Only those who have been there have the right to do that, and I have been horrified at myself, and I have known myself to be morally compromised.”

“A nation at war is a nation in peril, not only of losing the war but also of internal cataclysms.” (Viet Nam unseated Johnson and Algeria toppled the Fourth Republic.)

“Ultimately [such events are] like a series of train wrecks caused by faulty track signals.”

This is a rewarding read which offers a step toward better comprehension, if no solutions.

Posted by respeto at May 26, 2007 4:38 PM