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A Savage War Of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 Paperback – Illustrated, 15 December 2006
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- ASIN : 1590172183
- Publisher : NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS; 1st edition (15 December 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 624 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781590172186
- ISBN-13 : 978-1590172186
- Dimensions : 13.54 x 3.56 x 20.47 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 85,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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About the Author
ALISTAIR HORNE is the author of eighteen previous books, including A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954--1962, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, How Far from Austerlitz?: Napoleon 1805--1815 and the official biography of British prime minister Harold Macmillan. He is a fellow at St. Anthony's College, Oxford, and lives in Oxfordshire. He was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur in 1993 and received a knighthood in 2003 for his work on French history.
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All I wanted was some colour, some feel for the ebb and flow of the struggle that I had first learned about from Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal as a teenager, but not much more. But oh dear, no: Horne’s book pulled me in. I could not tear myself a way, despite the frequent accounts of violence between the FLN and the French army groups, violence that escalated in the final months of the war into daily death tallies that were so large as to defy belief, hundreds killed, murders in the streets of Algiers and Oran, and in Paris, throats cut, machine guns stolen by renegade French army group the OAS used to cut down people and buildings, and the use of ‘plastique’ bombs that made my own country’s experience (that’s Britain) of the IRA’s bombs seem quite tame by comparison.
But Horne, who passed away in 2017 (pity, I’d have liked to have e mailed him or spoken on the telephone, so personally did I feel I got to know him) was an extraordinary man and a great historian. So many of his sentences begin or end ‘. . . as he told me . . .’ He was granted exceptional access to the Algerian revolutionaries and the renegade army officers who tried to tear Algeria to bits under the ‘Algerie Française!’ banner, make it ungovernable, keep it forever French.
And always with de Gaulle there at the centre of the spider’s web. I came to a new respect for that inflexible, obdurate old relic. He could change the French nation’s mood in one televised speech. And he did, several times.
But the war was always going to end with France losing control, although it cost (and estimates vary wildly and according to what side is offering them, so I won’t name figures) a huge number of lost-lives before the French departed. Deprived of everything, the poorest pieds noirs sat in the baking summer sun of 1962 on the docksides waiting for ships to take them away forever. The rich ones, the so-called ‘grands colons’ they did OK. They got their money out and moved off to pastures new.
‘Pied noir’ would appear to come from the black boots the first colonists wore – presumably in stark contrast to the sandals and bare feet of the Algerians – after the country was annexed, i.e. stolen by the French in 1830. The history of the colonisation is itself very interesting and Horne is/was a great story teller. But colonial regimes bleed their subjects dry and eventually the indigenous people get their country back, always.
Horne’s book deserves all of its 5 stars. It is a thoughtful, definitive chronicle, sometimes recounting events month to month, even day-by-day during extreme periods. Horne revised the original 1970s edition in the 1990s and had been able, therefore, to show the reader how Algeria fared in the years following its final separation from France. For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of Horne’s continuance was the ‘where are they now? And ‘whatever happened to . . .?’ end notes, both the rival Algerian factions and the soldiers, many of high rank and great valour in the service of France and who formed the all-out ‘ultra’ OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) who almost brought France down in a coup d’état. Yes, it almost happened and Horne’s description of being in Paris when ancient Sherman tanks of WW2 vintage were trundled out of retirement and ranged around government buildings. Frightening.
For anyone seeking the truth about France and its North African colonies there is no better resource than this book.
Among these Horne is particularly lucid on the use of torture. He makes plain that it was used to excellent effect at the tactical level, and indeed for much of the middle-to-late period of the war France had substantially won it at the purely military level thanks to intelligence extracted by torture. But Horne is equally clear that the battle to create a world in which Algerians could be happy under French sovereignty could never be won while anyone who had suffered torture lived to tell the tale, something de Gaulle understood far more clearly than his putsch-prone army.
This is an outstanding volume. It’s a remarkable achievement in a genre of the telling of very recent history where far too many writers inflict their own distortions, wilfully or otherwise. But above all it is a warning to all leaders to keep away from other nations, of whose worlds they are almost always woefully ignorant.
This book explains more than a thousand television debates and articles the difficult, disturbing and finally deadly relationship between old and new Western colonists and the Islamic world. Two visions of the man and the world that are destined to meet and doing so to collide. Algerian war was a kind of foretaste for many of the things that we nowadays are forced to experience and anticipated the continuing failure of Western rulers to manage social and religious unrest, their tendency to ignore the role played by economic considerations in any demand for self-government, their willingness to impose systems of rules and values alien to these countries. It is somewhat tragic that the country that gave us the Droits de l'Homme and the Enlightenment, failed so terribly to manage and to bring to a less deadly conclusion the self government demands of Algerians. Of course the author masterfully explains the complex weave of forces in France and abroad that confronted themselves on this issue, the Cold War and Panarabism both played an important role in this struggle, but finally it was France itself that decided to let Algeria free and doing so destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of pieds noirs et harkis. The role if the aging president De Gaulle was instrumental in this rip off and his management of the Algerian crisis cannot be considered as one of his highest achievements. Where the book misses some details is in the story of OAS members and their international connections, it is a pity because this is also a foretaste of today's dirty ops proudly presented by Western democracies in Middle East and Asia. This is but a small miss in any case and the book is an absolute read for anybody wishing to get a grasp of Mediterranean history.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the history of Algeria.