Algerian War 1954-1962: Roots of the Counterinsurgency. DVD set re-issued by the Military Heritage Institute. November 2011. Three disks.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Algerian independence, it is an event that was advocated by then Senator John F. Kennedy as early as 1957, and then commented on when independence occurred when Kennedy was serving as President of the United States. Algeria has been a French colony since 1830, and their policies of forcibly integrating Algeria as part of France in their terms would cause a violent reaction after World War II, and lead to the collapse of the French Fourth Republic.
This collapse brought World War II Free French leader General Charles De Gaulle to power, and after a rational calculation he would realize that keeping Algeria was politically, morally, and economically untenable even though French forces had won the battle, pacification and the rifts it caused French society made it difficult for the French to retain Algeria under conditions of racial and religious discrimination directed against the majority Arab and Muslim population.
In a previous Waterline book column (October 13, 2011), I recommended the book by Sir Alistaire Horne entitled, “A Savage War of Peace,” (New York: Viking, 1978). However, if you are looking for a decent documentary let me suggest Yves Courriere and Phillippe Monnier’s 1972, “La Guerre d’ Algerie,” which was released to English speaking viewers in 1975, and then re-released a few more times, most recently in November 2011. The documentary is 4 hours and 40 minutes long, but is divided into three DVDs. It provides not only a history of the conflict, but interviews from the various participants, journalists who covered this conflict, and political advisors of the time from the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) to the office of French President De Gaulle. It also contains dramatic footage.
Understanding this conflict matters, as it offers lessons on counter-insurgency from the tactical to the strategic. The use of violence and urban terror to provoke violence from authorities and create a cycle of terror is featured. In addition, discussions on how the cellular structure of the FLN was dismantled as told by a serving french military intelligence officer. However, the FLN continued to operate from safe-havens in newly independent Morocco and Tunisia and there cause was sustained by contempt for the Algerian population by the pied-noir, a term for French settlers in Algeria, and the favorable subsidies given to them at the expense of Algerians.
The documentary features De Gaulle’s decision to change policy and place Algeria towards a path to independence, leading to a violent reaction from French settlers in Algeria. You will learn that De Gaulle had no particular like for the French settlers in Algeria who in World War II remained passive if not outright part of the pro-fascist Vichy French government. This change of policy would result in a mutiny of French generals hostile to negotiations resulting in Algerian independence in 1961. There are many facets to this documentary, many thinkers on counter-insurgency and those who ponder winning the peace after winning the war reflect on this conflict. This DVD is for those who want to immerse themselves before reading books on the Algerian War of Independence specifically or counter-insurgency generally.
Editor’s Note: CDR Aboul-Enein teaches part time at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and is author of “Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat,” published by Naval Institute Press. Of note, in 2003, CDR Aboul-Enein exposed the memoirs of controversial Algerian general Khalid Nezzar to U.S. military readers in the pages of the U.S. Army Professional Journal, Military Review. He has been a long-term advocate of educating U.S. military forces using direct Arabic language sources.