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A Savage War of Peace

Algeria 1954-1962
Lu par : James Adams
Durée : 29 h et 56 min
Catégories : Histoire, Militaire
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Description

The Algerian War lasted from 1954 to 1962. It caused the fall of six French governments, led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic, and came close to provoking a civil war on French soil. More than a million Muslim Algerians died in the conflict, and as many European settlers were driven into exile. Above all, the war was marked by an unholy marriage of revolutionary terror and state torture.

At the time, this brutal, intractable conflict seemed like a French affair. But from the perspective of half a century, it looks less like the last colonial war than the first postmodern one: a full-dress rehearsal for the amorphous struggle that convulsed the Balkans in the 1990s and that now ravages the Middle East, struggles in which religion, nationalism, imperialism, and terrorism assume unparalleled degrees of intensity.

©1977 Alistair Horne (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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"[This] universally acclaimed history...should have been mandatory reading for the civilian and military leaders who opted to invade Iraq." ( Washington Times)

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  • David
  • 10/04/2016

Excellent history of France's Viet Nam

Algeria, "France's Viet Nam," is a conflict most people outside of France and Algeria don't know much about. You've probably heard it was one of the last an anti-colonialist wars, and that it pitted Muslims against Westerners, and that there were atrocities on both sides. But the details are fuzzy for most Americans after half a century. It was a conflict happening in a part of the world we didn't care much about at the time, and even during the Cold War, neither the US nor the USSR was heavily invested in it.

But, it brought down several French governments, almost led to more than one coup, did (at least indirectly) lead to France pulling out of NATO, and set the tone for French relations for decades. As well, the fate of Algerian Muslims who emigrated after independence echoes to this day in France - every time you hear about riots by "unemployed youths" in French urban areas, they are usually talking about the descendants of those refugees.

Alistair Horne's book, A Savage War of Peace, is considered pretty much the definitive book on the subject. It is comprehensive, and on audio it's difficult to keep all the names straight for an American reader - everyone, after all, is either French or Algerian, and the cast of characters is huge. Successive governments, movements, splinter groups, all tussling over a patch of North Africa for eight bloody years.

At its heart, the Algerian war was a war for independence. The Algerians wanted to be independent; France didn't want them to be. But it was different from some similar colonial struggles for several reasons. France did not consider Algeria to be a colony; Algeria was considered French soil. Therefore, giving up Algeria was akin to giving up Normandy.

While Muslims in Algeria did suffer from racism and a sort of apartheid which only grew worse during the war, the Pied-Noirs ("Black Feet"), or native French residents of Algeria, were another faction with interests that were not always aligned with those of their erstwhile countrymen back home. Some of them had been living in Algeria for generations. They had mixed and complicated views of their Muslim neighbors - often they were friends and colleagues, but always there was racism and European superiority. When the war broke out, as in the Middle East, or the Balkans, people who'd lived side by side peacefully for years would suddenly turn on each other with incredible savagery.

The war brought out incredible savagery on all sides. The FLN (National Liberation Front) and MNA (National Algerian Movement) operated like guerrilla/terrorist groups always do, butchering men, women, and children. The French Army, in response, began to make systematic use of torture, a scar that France has not yet healed from. "The Question," as it was called in France, was controversial even at the time, with some defending it with the familiar "ticking time bomb" defense, while at least one French officer, faced with the prospect of a literal time bomb, elected not to use torture and hope the bomb wouldn't go off (it didn't).

The issue of torture is of course one Horne covers heavily in the book. He examines whether it really was necessary and/or effective, and argues that it was not, while also admitting that in fact the French army would not have been able to roll up the FLN the way it did without its extensive intelligence network backed by torture. He also describes how French bureaucrats and military officers debated the nuances of what did or did not qualify as "torture," in the same sort of arid, legalistic language we have heard US officials more recently use to defend waterboarding. It's not the only thing in the book that clearly resonates today. (In fact, in one of his afterwords, the author says he sent a copy of his book to the Bush White House, hoping to impress upon them the importance of not going down that path. He never received a response.)

The Algerian War was unquestionably a brutal one, and the catalog of atrocities committed by both sides is horrific. Dismemberments, rape, prolonged torture, dashing babies' skulls against walls, carving out brains and guts and scattering them on the street, as well as the usual bombs left in cafes, drive-by shootings, and frequent assassinations, were constant for eight years, right up to the end when the MNA was trying to derail peace talks.

Today we'd describe this as a struggle against Islamists, but while Algerian independence was clearly a Muslim movement, it wasn't that simple. Some Muslims were loyal to France; many French were sympathetic or even outright supportive of the FLN, and the Pied-Noirs themselves were divided over the great question of Algerian independence. In fact, Islam was hardly a factor in the war at all, other than one side being predominantly Muslim. Communism was probably a stronger guiding principle for the resistance, and even communism was more of a unifying ideology than an actual motivation.

Algeria brought Charles De Gaulle to power, and almost cost him his life. The great irascible statesman, formerly a French Freedom Fighter during Nazi occupation, seemed perpetually playing both sides in the conflict between leftists who wanted to give the Algerians their independence and right-wingers who wanted Algeria to remain French.

Ultimately, De Gaulle would be responsible for cutting Algeria loose, but to this day, the author can't say for certainty what De Gaulle's intention had been from the beginning, and when or where or whether he changed his mind. But De Gaulle himself is an interesting character worthy of his own book, and his maneuvering, his tantrums, his diplomacy, and his leadership are all an intrinsic part of the Algerian War and its resolution.


The author includes several afterwords following the original publication of this book in 1973. One was in the 1980s, after he'd been able to interview many more people who were involved in the war who he hadn't had access to when he was first writing the book. Another is post-9/11, in which he describes Algeria today (well, early 2000s), and how the unrest in the Middle East, the Palestine/Israel question, and all those other issues that have riven the Muslim world have played a part in also affecting a relatively separated and not-so-Muslim Algeria.

For all that, the book is almost entirely about a conflict that happened half a century ago and is of mostly historical interest now. There are certainly things to reflect upon, in the way they have affected France and Algeria in the modern day, but that was a different world. But it is valuable history and a bloody, savage war that merits this sort of close examination. I recommend it to anyone who'd like greater understanding of some of the factors that still affect French life and politics, as well as an early look at the sort of Western/Muslim conflicts that would come to dominate the 20th and 21st centuries.

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  • Global
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Judith
  • 12/07/2008

A fascinating book

I've always been very aware of the Algerian War, but I never knew about it in any depth. This books goes from its beginning to the end of the French role in Algeria. The rise of De Gaulle, and the OAS are startling to those who didn't live through this period in history.

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  • Global
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • William
  • 28/06/2009

Superb

I knew very little about this war. I do remember seeing it constantly referenced in the news as a child in late fifties and sixties. Being an amateur historian I eventually knew more than just the basics but until I read this book - whoa! Utterly fascinating and extremely well researched.
The reader is wonderful and greatly leverages all aspects of this well written history.


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  • Jennie Davis
  • 07/08/2015

Listening to this book is a battle in itself, but well worth it.

Listening to this book is a battle in itself, but well worth it fir those who study military history and in particular, the evolution of military theory as it relates to terrorism and insurgency warfare. It took me a few months to power through the 25+ hours of narration, which can get very dry, particularly when accounts of Algerian motor traffic records come into play, but the sheer detail is so immersive and all inclusive that you will be glad you read it.

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  • Shaun
  • 25/09/2011

Paras, Barricades, the FLN and Algiers...epic.

Alister Horne, who specializes in the history of France, is easily one of the greatest historians of our era.

The Savage War of Peace is an amazing work on a subject of much importance.

I knew only basic facts about the war in Algeria before listening, and it's downright shocking how much the conflict for "Algerie Francaise" shaped the history of France. It might be the defining event of French history post WWII, even more so than the often written about Indochina War or the formation of the EU.

Horne's work is extremely detailed, and gripping. This is the best book I have listened to on audible.com. I'm buying the book in print form and have already bought other works by Horne on amazon.com.

It's a shame that Audible doesn't have other great works by Horne on here.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • John Robert BEHRMAN
  • 29/03/2010

This book is incredible.

When I left my last military command, I purchased several copies of this book to give to my subordinates. The book professes to provide as complete an account as possible of the Algerian war, and the author seems to do so with professionalism, integrity, and honesty. I have simply never read as fair or as comprehensive a historical account of war as this. The limitations in source material are explicitly recognized in the introduction, and the opinions of the author and conclusions exogenous to the subject at hand are both left to the preface and eminently reasonable and defensible. An incredible, fascinating read.

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  • William L. Shephard
  • 09/11/2018

Great story but need more translation

There is a lot of dialog that is spoken in French only and not translated, so you miss some of the stories nuances. There was an amazing amount of research and interviews that went into this book.

The Algerian war and the war in Indochina can almost be used as a playbook for any David versus Goliath war or terrorism campaign.

The book definitely shines a light on the how ineffective torture in warfare is and its catastrophic side effects, and how colonialism is probably a bad and cost prohibitive venture.

As a side not this book gives you a good insight into the problems modern day France is having internally with the Muslim people.

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  • Jason G. Cons
  • 03/05/2012

A fabulous history

This is an absolutely great listen. I have learned a tremendous amount from this book. It is worth noting that this is a classic, liberal account which seems to work from the assumption that the great tragedy of the war is that the liberal and progressive idea of Algerie Francais was never realized. It is a bit dated in language at times. But overall, it's a riveting account.

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  • Leslie
  • 15/03/2009

excellent

Very interesting story, writing in a balanced way. Very well read.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Florafolly
  • 04/11/2008

Insightful account of a war very relevant today

A Savage War of Peace is an excellent account of the French in Algeria. The author provides us with excellent analysis while still maintaining a lack of bias. The lessons that can be drawn from this account are very relevant today for fighting insurgencies.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 14/02/2017

Narrator and French

The book is a sound work and well structured. One may deplore the author's tendency to make comparisons to events which took place when he wrote or last reviewed the book which are now somewhat dated. What is entirely inacceptable is the choice of the narrator. For obvious reasons the book is full of French terms and quotations. The narrator has not the slightest knowledge of French nor taken care to consult a dictionary showing pronunciation. Few terms are correctly pronounced and some are hardly recognisable. Deplorable. If you have an ear for French and don't wish to suffer, better buy the printed book or the Kindle version.

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