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Monday, December 06, 2004

Colonial Warfare pt. 31

General's Putsch

Chapter 6, The Wars within the War (1960-1961)

Barricades Week

The pieds noirs knew that, since they were outnumbered nine to one, they were done for if France abandoned them. There had been too many deaths, personal assaults, acts of torture, and summary executions. The day "they" would come down from the Casbah or the mountains would be a massacre. "They" were already beginning to demonstrate in the cities, to the cries of "Long live de Gaulle," "Long live the FLN." For the residents of Bab-el-Oued, on the outskirts of Algiers, or of Oran, it was the beginning of the great panic. The time was past for tchatche (chitchat) that scoffed at the patos (metropolitans). Without their help, it was "the suitcase or the coffin."

On January 24, 1960, in Algiers, the pied noir activists clashed with the gendarmes. A shooting on boulevard Laferriere left twenty dead (fourteen gendarmes and six demonstrators) and one hundred and fifty wounded, be- fore the paratroopers intervened. Pierre Lagaillarde and Joseph Ortizl then set up an entrenched camp in the center of Algiers in the name of French Algeria. General Gracieux's Tenth Paratroopers' Division and the European community did not bring them the hoped-for support. On January 28, Paul Oelouvrier, general delegate in Algeria, launched an appeal to the army, the Muslims, and the Europeans, asking them to trust General de Gaulle. On January 29, in a televised declaration (this was at a time when he was appearing often on television), General de Gaulle formally condemned the rioters and, addressing himself to the anny, declared: "1 must be obeyed by all French soldiers."

Disheartened, the rioters in Algiers surrendered on February 1 and abandoned the barricades. Joseph Ortiz fled. Pierre Lagaillarde was transferred and incarcerated in the La Sante Prison. The next day, on February 2, the National Assembly, summoned for a special session, granted the government special powers for a year, "to keep the peace and safeguard the state." But "Barricades Week" had revealed some wavering in the command. General de Gaulle ordered changes: General Challe was transferred and re- placed by Crepin on March 30. Jacques Soustelle, an ardent supporter of French Algeria, left the government on February 5. And Alain de serigny, managing editor of L'Echo d'A/gerie; was charged on February 8 with conspiracy to attack the internal security of the state. The Algerian affair de- fined the shape of a true Franco-French confrontation under way. General de Gaulle tried to be reassuring, tried to head off the danger. From March 3 to March 5, he undertook a "tour of the canteens" in Algeria, and declared that the Algerian problem would not be settled until after the victory of French arms. He knew, however, that the question was political, and that a resolute change of course was needed.

Initiatives for an End to the War

In spring 1960, the French army believed it had won the war. The "pacified" Oranie was cited as an example: civilian vehicles could now circulate without escort in the rural areas. The leaders of wilaya IV, that of Algerois, judged that the battle was lost, and made contact with French officers. They were secretly brought to the Elysee Palace: this would be "the Si Salah affair," named for the nationalist Algerian leader who met with General de Gaulle on June 10, 1960. His real name was Mohamed Zamoum and, unbeknownst to the FLN leaders in Tunis, he intended to undertake direct negotiations with France.

Would there finally be the peace of the brave with those who had fought so fiercely in the field? No. De Gaulle had already begun the negotiation with the FLN "politicos," who possessed the beginnings of international recognition and the notorious "border army," which had never been able to cross en masse the two electrified barriers isolating Algeria from Tunisia and Morocco (as for "Si Salah," he would be executed on June 20, 1961, by special units of the French army).

The first talks between the FLN and the French government opened in Melun on June 25, 1960. They were a failure, but the negotiation created enormous hope in France: peace and the return of the contingent seemed at hand. The Algerian leaders Ferhat Abbas and Lakhdar Ben Tobbal traveled the world to gather votes for the forthcoming UN debate. The recognition of the FLN's representativeness grew among France's African allies. On August 3, 1959, a conference of nine independent African states had invited France to recognize the Algerian people's right to self-determination. In the metropolis, the leftist organizations publicly affirmed their solidarity with the" Algerian cause." On June 2, 1960, fifty-three youth movements, taking a common position for the first time, expressed their desire to see the Algerian War end. On June 9, the Union Nationale des Etudiants de France, or UNEF (National Union of Students in France) met with one of the leaders of a dissolved organization, the Union Generale des Etudiants Musulmans Algeriens (UGEMA), and demanded a cease-fire and self-determination. On June 30, the Confederation Generale du Travail, or CGT (General Confederation of Labor), the Confederation Francaise des Travailleurs Chretiens, or CFrC (French Confederation of Christian Workers), the FEN, and the UNEF signed a joint declaration affirming their desire to see negotiations truly begin between the French government and the GPRA.

Just as the trial of the members of the FLN's support network, called the "Jeanson network," was getting under way (September 5), 121 major figures made public a "manifesto on the right to insubordination" (published by Fran~ois Maspero) on September 6, 1960. Several indictments followed. An order published on September 29 in the Journal Officiel set out particular sanctions for the signers who were government employees, and a ban on radio or television appearances for all signers. On October 1, fifteen of the accused in the "Jeanson network" were sentenced to ten years in prison. In spite of that act of repression, the antiwar protest movement grew. On October 27, UNEF held an important demonstration at the Mutualite "for peace through negotiation."

In Algeria the Europeans and the high command had their minds made up. The old Algeria was truly dead, and the FLN had recovered through politics and diplomacy all the ground lost by the use of force. On November 4, 1960, General de Gaulle tried to precipitate a resolution of the affair: he used the expression" Algerian Republic" and announced a referendum on the principle of self-determination in Algeria. In December 1960, General de Gaulle's trip to Algeria was the pretext, in Algiers and Oran, for violent demonstrations by Europeans. But the important new fact was the massive uprising of the urban Algerian masses. The demonstrators shouted "Muslim Algeria!" and "Long live the FLN!" Gendarmes and state security troops (CRS) fired on them. The official death toll was 112 Muslims in Algiers.

On January 8, 1961, General de Gaulle's Algerian policy was submitted to a referendum vote. In the metropolis 72.25 percent and in Algeria 69.09 percent voted yes. The success of this referendum, even in Algeria, where only the large cities voted no, demonstrated to the diehards of French Algeria that they had to make haste. Georges Pompidou, in the name of the Debre government, led a secret diplomatic mission to Switzerland. The day after the meeting between General de Gaulle and Bourguiba in Rambouillet, on February 27, a relieved France learned that negotiations would open in Evian on April 7. It was then that General Salan, banished from Algeria, believed that the moment had come to plan a kind of counterrevolution with the help of the regular army, disheartened by the fighting, and of panic-stricken Europeans. Contacts were established in the metropolis. The Organisation Armee Secrete, or OAS (Secret Army Organization), was created. The revolt against General de Gaulle did not mobilize only fanatics dreaming of an impossible Algeria. Barricades Week in January 1960 had already shown the crisis of conscience within certain units.

The Generals' Putsch

During a press conference on April II, the head of state confim1ed his new orientation: "Decolonization is in our interest, and, as a result, it is our policy," said General de Gaulle. Thereafter, a few of the most highly placed people in the French am1y decided to organize a putsch against him. To hold onto French Algeria, General Challe, who arrived secretly in Algiers, launched the adventure of a coup d'etat against the Republic, along with Generals Jouhaud, Zeller, and Salan.

At midnight on Friday, April 21,1961, the Green Berets in the First Foreign Regiment of Paratroopers marched on Algiers and seized the general government, the airfield, the city hall, and the weapons depot. Within three hours the city was in the hands of the putschists and in the morning Algiers residents could hear over the airwaves this communique, which had fallen into the am1y's hands: "1 am in Algiers with Generals Zeller and Jouhaud, and in contact with General Salan to keep our pledge, the am1y's pledge to keep Algeria."

In Paris the government confined itself to announcing that it was "taking the necessary measures" and decreed a state of emergency. Moreover, the anny was not moving to rally behind the putschists. General de Gaulle al- ready seemed persuaded of the failure of the military guerrillas. At five o'clock p.m. in the Council of Ministers, he commented: "The grave thing about this affair is that it is not serious."

But as Salan was being cheered by the mob in Algiers, Paris was in fear of a military coup d'etat and a disembarkation in the capital. De Gaulle decided to apply article 16 of the constitution, which conferred nearly all powers on the president of the Republic. On Sunday evening, he spoke on television in a peremptory tone. He denounced "the attempt of a smattering of generals on the retired list," who possessed "a hasty and limited know-how" but saw the world "only through their delirium."

For the soldiers of the contingent, who made up the greater part of the troops stationed in Algeria, the effect was devastating. Heard on transistor radios that the officers had not managed to confiscate, the speech legitimated the resistance of those who opposed their "Challist" officers and led the contingent to go over to the putsch's opposition. In Paris, Prime Minister Michel Debre was nevertheless panic-stricken and appeared on television at midnight to ask everyone to walk or drive out to the airport to prevent a possible action by the putschist generals.

In Algiers on Tuesday, April 26, the generals were cheered one last time on the balcony of the general government. Then Maurice Challe surrendered, as Algiers cried treason. The putsch had failed. On April 28, a decision was made to set up a military high tribunal charged with judging the insurgents. General Marie-Michel Gouraud, then Generals Pierre-Marie Bigot and Andre Petit were charged and committed to La Sante Prison. On April 30, General Jean-Louis Nicot, a participant, like the others, in the "generals' putsch," was put in state prison. On May 3, the Council of Ministers decided to dissolve the Algiers Bar Association and to ban L 'Echo d'Alger indefinitely. Former General Zeller fell into the hands of Algiers authorities on May 6. But R. Salan and E. Jouhaud fled and went underground. The OAS now took their place.

The Era of the OAS

From before the April 1961 putsch, the acronym OAS (Organisation Armee Secrete} was known to the European population of Algiers and Oran. It was a small underground movement, probably founded in early 1961, for which Pierre Lagaillarde, who had taken refuge in Madrid, always claimed paternity. All the same, its numbers barely exceeded two or three hundred militants, and it coexisted with other "activist" groups that had tried for several months to mobilize the European population of Algeria via violent action in the cause of French Algeria: the underground Front de I' Algerie Francise, or FAF (Front of French Algeria}, Reseau Resurrectionpatrie (Homeland Resurrection Network, the movement of the Vintner Robert Martel}, Etudiants Nationalistes, and so on.

In any case, it was under the acronym "GAS" that, in May 1962, General Paul Gardy, Colonels Roger Gardes and Yves Godard, Lieutenant Roger Degueldre (who had deserted on April 4), Doctor Jean-Claude Perez, and Jean-Jacques Susini chose to meet in Algiers. An "GAS leadership committee" was constituted, and contact was established with Generals Raoul Salan and Edmond Jouhaud, who were wandering in the Mitidja (the great plain of Algerois) under the protection of Martel's networks; General Salan was given the supreme command. A first organization chart, inspired by the ex- ample of the FLN and the lessons on psychological action by the military bureaux, was set up by Colonel Godard, a veteran of Vercors, and tasks were distributed. Colonel Godard was assigned intelligence; Colonel Gardes, "the organization of the masses"; Doctor Perez and Lieutenant Degueldre, direct action; Jean-Jacques Susini, propaganda and psychological action.

The objectives were simple: remain faithful to the spirit of May 13, 1958, resist the policy of Algerian "disengagement" conducted by the Gaullist government, construct a new "fraternal and French" Algeria. For the immediate future, the only plan was to prepare for popular insurrection in Algiers and perhaps in Gran. That, it was believed, would break up the negotiation process begun on May 20, 1961, in Evian, between the French government and the FLN. That in turn would construct an insurmountable obstacle to continuing the Fifth Republic's Algerian policy.

The opening of negotiations between the FLN and the French government ushered in a period marked by every sort of danger. The FLN, which wanted to undertake negotiations from a position of strength, increased the number of actions, which produced 133 deaths between May 21 and June 8. During the same period, the OAS practiced a worst-case policy and a series of terrorist actions. The organization's commandos attacked Muslim trades- people, and government employees in the tax administration, law enforcement, and education. Its control over the European population of Algeria gained strength, and General de Gaulle, who was nicknamed la Grande Zohra ["Zohra" is a common woman's name in Arabit-trans.], was now shouted down and despised. The pieds noirs were disappointed when they learned he had escaped an assassination attempt on September 9, 1961, at Pont-sur-Seine.

For the OAS the autumn of 1961 was the season of hope. In terms of internal organization the movement had definitively discovered the conditions for its unity and cohesion. The authority of General Salan and his staff was no longer disputed. In the large cities of Algeria, nearly the entire European population, often with tumultuous enthusiasm, awarded the organization its participation or complicity. Large collective demonstrations-the day of pots and pans (September 23), the day of streamers (September 25), the day of traffic jams (September 28)-the proliferation of pirate radio broadcasts, and the "lightning operations" that struck hard at the leaders of political repression, stoked the fire of the pied noir common people and mobilized their ardor and their faith. On October 9, 1961, General Salan was able to announce that, before the end of the year, he would possess an army of 100,000 "armed and disciplined" men.

Algerian Determination

The Gouvernement Provisoire de la Republique Algerienne (GPRA) came into being on September 19, 1958. It was headed by Ferhat Abbas and replaced the Comite de Coordination et d'Execution, or CCE (Coordination and Execution Committee), the first centralized FLN leader- ship. A year later, in December 1959, an ALN general staff was instituted, under the direction of Colonel Houari Boumedienne. Despite the contradictions that would emerge between them, these two structures at first planned to be complementary: the task of the GPRA was to win support on the international political scene and to undertake any eventual negotiations with France. The mission of the general staff, by contrast, was to reorganize the ALN, which had been weakened in 1958-1959 by the offensives of the French army quartered on the Moroccan and Tunisian borders.

In record time, the FLN managed to unify or neutralize all the Algerian political organizations and social categories. The hegemony it had achieved over Algerian society constituted its decisive advantage in the final negotiations with the French government. They opened in Melun in 1960, then proceeded in Evian in 1961. The FLN's monopoly on representing the Algerian people was difficult for the French government to accept. It is true that, in the major urban demonstrations, the obvious support for the GPRA in 1960 contributed toward establishing that legitimacy.

In the second part of the war (beginning in 1958, when General de Gaulle came to power in France), a heroic history was forged that presented "a single hero, the people," joined together behind the FLN alone. Isolated individuals were transformed into a collective being, the people, the sole hero for the new nation, and erected into supreme legitimacy as the sole actor of the revolution to be achieved. In El Moudjahid (the central newspaper of the FLN) on November 1, 1958, Krim Belkacem wrote, "Our revolution is be- coming the melting pot where men of all conditions-peasants, artisans, workers, intellectuals, rich and poor-mingle in such a way that a new type of man will be born from that development." In that version, the violence of the colonizer sets in motion a dynamic of unity, of liberarion, by a unanimous people. Frantz Fanon, a West Indian doctor who joined the camp of Algerian independence, theorized that approach in 1959, in his L'an V de la rivo/ution algirienne (Year 5 of the Algerian Revolution). He mentions the need for colonial peoples to shake off foreign oppression by force and violence, which were to be used not only as military techniques, but also as an essential psychological precondition for the march toward independence.

All the same, as a result of the strikes of the French military operation led by General Maurice Challe, the wi/ayas of the interior collapsed in the years 1959-1960. On March 27, 1956, after the death of Mostefa Ben Boulald, who had escaped from the prison in Constanrine a few months earlier and became the victim of a booby-trapped package, dropped by parachute by the French Second Bureau, the guerrilla forces in the Aures could not manage to reorganize. In wi/aya in Kabylia, Amirouche toyed with the idea of a re- Structuring of the organization that would restore the primacy of the "interior" over the exterior. Si Haoues, the head of wilaya VI (the Sahara), shared Arnirouche's concerns: he too protested the lack of weaponry and the isolation of the wi/ayas of the interior. But Amirouche and Si Haoues died in an ambush on March 28, 1959. Their deaths further demoralized the fighters in the interior and led to attempts at separate negotiations with France, con- ducted in particular by Si Salah in June 1960 in the name of those fighters.

All the same, France was isolated at the international political level. The FLN, which continued to fight to maintain the integrity of Algerian territory within the framework of the colonial borders, would prevail politically. On September 5, 1961, General de Gaulle recognized the Algerian character of the Sahara. On March 5, 1962, the Evian negotiations would open, now with the GPRA as the sole interlocutor of the French. In that final phase, when the one-on-one dialogue with the colonial state came to an end, the leadership of the FLN imploded. The image of unity, forged in war, could no longer stand up when the possibility of taking power became imminent.

In late 1960, the GPRA accused the general staff of abandoning the wi/ayas in the interior, and demanded it enter Algeria before March 31, 1961. That set off a crisis. The general staff refused to comply, submitted its resignation on July 15, 1961, and itself installed an interim leadership. During the meeting in Tripoli between August 6 and 27, 1961, of the Conseil National de la Revolution Algerienne or CNRA (National Council of the Algerian Revolution), Ferhat Abbas's replacement by Ben Youssef Ben Khedda aggravated the crisis. The general staff left the CNRA. Ben Khedda failed in his attempt to reorganize the army by dividing the command in two (Morocco and Tunisia). In the test of strength, "the border army" displayed its unity behind its leader, Colonel Houari Boumedienne. It received the support of three of the "historic chiefs" imprisoned in Aulnoy: Ahmed Ben Bella, Mohammed Khider, and Rabah Bitat. Who would lead the future national government, me advent of which seemed very close at hand? The general staff suspected mat me GPRA, which was conducting me negotiations with France, wanted to oust it.

In spite of these divisions, me determination of me majority of Algerians to achieve independence was growing. And me repression continued in late 1961, especially for Algerians living in France. As of October 4, an eight o'clock p.m. curfew was imposed on them in Paris. On October 17, thirty thousand protested. The repression, headed by Prefect of Police Maurice Papon, was savage; me police made nearly twelve thousand arrests, and close to two hundred demonstrators were killed. The number of injured was in the thousands (Levine 1986; Einaudi 1991).

In Algeria, me ALN took advantage of the moment when negotiations were getting under way and attempted to reconstitute its forces. But the barrier of the "Morice Line," still impenetrable, precluded any possibility of a military Dien Bien Phu. The guerrilla forces in the interior were exhausted, but the French army abandoned major operations. The "hunt commando" had a period of respite while the contingent was bored to death. On October 2, 1961, General de Gaulle announced "the institution of the sovereign and independent Algerian state via self-determination," and softened his position on the Sahara and the French military bases in Algeria (Lacouture 1986). Indeed, me Saharan question had profoundly hindered negotiations. In the course of the war itself, the Sahara represented a twofold interest for France: it was the location of the first nuclear tests, and the site of major fossil fuel deposits. The Algerian nationalists thus continued to reject any possible partition of me "southern territories" envisioned by the French authorities.

The Generals' Putsch

During the three months between the cease-fire and the French referendum on Algeria, the OAS unleashed a new terrorist campaign. The OAS sought to provoke a major breach in the ceasefire by the FLN but the terrorism now was aimed also against the French army and police enforcing the accords as well as against Muslims. It was the most wanton carnage that Algeria had witnessed in eight years of savage warfare. OAS operatives set off an average of 120 bombs per day in March, with targets including hospitals and schools. Ultimately, the terrorism failed in its objectives, and the OAS and the FLN concluded a truce on June 17, 1962. In the same month, more than 350,000 colons left Algeria. Within a year, 1.4 million refugees, including almost the entire Jewish community and some pro-French Muslims, had joined the exodus to France. Fewer than 30,000 Europeans chose to remain.

On July 1, 1962, some 6 million of a total Algerian electorate of 6.5 million cast their ballots in the referendum on independence. The vote was nearly unanimous. De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country on July 3. The Provisional Executive, however, proclaimed July 5, the 132d anniversary of the French entry into Algeria, as the day of national independence.

The FLN estimated in 1962 that nearly eight years of revolution had cost 300,000 dead from war-related causes. Algerian sources later put the figure at approximately 1.5 million dead, while French officials estimated it at 350,000. French military authorities listed their losses at nearly 18,000 dead (6,000 from noncombat-related causes) and 65,000 wounded. European civilian casualties exceeded 10,000 (including 3,000 dead) in 42,000 recorded terrorist incidents. According to French figures, security forces killed 141,000 rebel combatants, and more than 12,000 Algerians died in internal FLN purges during the war. An additional 5,000 died in the "café wars" in France between the FLN and rival Algerian groups. French sources also estimated that 70,000 Muslim civilians were killed, or abducted and presumed killed, by the FLN.

Historian Alistair Horne considers that the actual figure of war dead is far higher than the original FLN and official French estimates, even if it does not reach the 1 million adopted by the Algerian government. Uncounted thousands of Muslim civilians lost their lives in French army ratissages, bombing raids, and vigilante reprisals. The war uprooted more than 2 million Algerians, who were forced to relocate in French concentration camps or to flee to Morocco, Tunisia, and into the Algerian hinterland, where many thousands died of starvation, disease, and exposure. Additional pro-French Muslims were killed when the FLN settled accounts after independence.

At the end of this bloody war, France had no role in Algeria and nearly lost their democracy. It was a close run thing, and only DeGaulle's charisma saved the day. The French media had not leveled with the French people about the real cost of the war, and many were surprised when allegations of torture were made. The colonial war in Algeria turned from the FLN against France to the FLN versus other guerrillas to the OAS against the French. The increasing desperation of both sides was evident. The General's Putsch was the final straw. The Army was going to subvert democracy to keep Algeria. Nothing they supposedly stood for matter more than keeping their colony. And the media always promoted the idea that Algeria was crucial to France. Not until it was clear that Algeria was lost did people change their minds. And by then, hundreds of thousands were dead.

Despite support among Algerian muslims, the French simply could not hold on to the colony. In the end, the expense and the threat to France simply wasn't worth it. The French public tired of seeing their sons sent to Algeria for no clear reason and the benefit of a few pied noirs.

posted by Steve @ 1:39:00 PM

1:39:00 PM

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