In what context did you go to Algeria? What were your grades, and body functions? What was the duration and what was the actual length of your service?
I was built in the 3rd Infantry Regiment at Maisons-Laffitte, the beginning of November 1954 (after canceling my stay in late October, before the start of the war in Algeria).
The legal duration of military service was then 18 months and there was no indication that it might be otherwise. So I thought back to civilian life at the end of April 1956.
I left Algeria in May 1955 after six months during which the army:
- I "did my classes,"
- I took a bunch of pre-EOR (schools forming reserve officers), but I failed to contest entry: If I had followed during the
- I followed the pack of students Corporal : I "brilliantly" successfully received 32nd out of 36!
In Algeria I was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 4th company of light infantry with the rank of corporal. I was immediately sent to the student platoon NCOs before returning to my unit.
In what state of mind were you when you arrive?
I left under duress in Algeria but without being conscious of risking my life. May 55, in France, we did not feel that the situation there was very serious and even after my arrival, I had no idea then.
I already had a certain political culture and I was convinced he would one day break with the myth of a part of Algeria
This mindset has changed? Why?
My mood has changed rapidly in response to several observations:
- the blindness of the European population that I had the opportunity to meet:
- it was unwise to give more rights to Algerians and stick to the status of 1947 which made most of Algerians second class citizens, it should be noted that this statute too "liberal" in the eyes of some, was violated and that the elections were flawed,
- had to suppress incipient rebellion in the blood, as in Setif and Guelma in 1945.
- The great misery of the fellah (small Algerian peasants):
The laborers, who had some (or all) of cropland were treated as sub-proletariat by the big settlers
Smallholders, who had been repressed by the colonial powers in less fertile areas
In Eastern and North Constantine region I know best, the habitat was miserable (the East is worse than the North) and the road network in the campaign was limited to serving settler farms. To reach mechtas (hamlets) isolated, there were more tracks, at worst mule trails.
Note : I can not speak of the Algerian population city that I just knew her.
- The behavior of the army against the rural population:
Disrespect populations by officers and noncommissioned officers who believed in Algeria continue the war in Indochina,
widespread suspicion: any behavior "heterodox" was considered a suspect,
Pilferage widespread during operations (raids on poultry and grocery stores "of corn): the most important mechtas slightly had a "store" (a simple hut with a few essential commodities (canned food, sugar, soap, condensed milk, coffee, oil, etc ...): condensed milk was much sought by the "looters". The officers left to do and were the first to eat fried chicken during operations.
Disrespect (understatement!) of the party against women.
In this regard, I talk about what happened in my unit. Other units fared better and Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre-Alban Thomas (author of "The disarray of officer in Algeria) who then commanded the 2nd Company of the 4th PCO and who I am epistolary relationship told me he could not imagine that this could have existed, in his company, it does not practice.
This behavior has been totally counterproductive and helped us up against rural people who were perhaps not ready to take up arms in 1955.
By the end of 1955, I realized that "it would end badly" for us, but I'm still a political solution through a big "dropping ballast" of the French authorities , as has been done in Tunisia and Morocco.
Did you have to use your weapon?
I had a weapon at all times, even at night (it was at my bedside), but I was lucky to never have to use it against a human being.
Have you had the sense to conduct a just war? Have you had the feeling of betraying your conscience? (I think you talk of collusion and bribery)
The word "war" does not seem appropriate for me, at least initially because we did not have an army against us, but poorly armed guerrillas who were attempting to "assault", ambushes, before retiring soon and melt into the civilian population. Regarding my battalion, the first fight scene reminiscent of war occurred January 13, 1957 when the first company fell into a deadly ambush and had to deliver battle to emerge (with the help of Aviation!).
Officially, we were keeping operations in order cons people who, sword in hand, challenged that order. I regarded this as totally unjust order so our action was unjust. Suddenly, I felt some sympathy for the cause of our adversaries for their cause but not their methods.
So I have been cases of conscience, and I sometimes say: "If I were Algerian, I'd fellagha. Another - which does not really share my ideas - wrote in a book, much later: Bigeard!
At first I was shocked by what I saw, I would have liked to protest but I did not dare, I still blame myself what I see as cowardice. Over time, we are less shocked, one blind and one begins by being passive accomplice to the theft of cattle to improve the ordinary (livestock belonging to poor farmers) and then gradually we move from "concealment suffered" in " receiving stolen to order ", that is what I call the active complicity. When I realized that I had taken a step, I told myself: "what could I can not in six months"? At first, we naturally distinguish between good and evil and then comes a moment when we must do all intellectual reasoning to distinguish these two notions.
Fortunately I was lucky not to go on operations after my appointment to the command section as NCO usual. What would I do if a friend had been killed before my eyes during surgery? I can not answer ...
I correspond with my former battalion, but another company I've never met, not even in Algeria. He participated in the operation of 11 May 1956 during which 79 villagers were killed in retaliation, fifty-two years later he does it is still recovering. It is psychologically very disturbed (and still more since he is retired and has time to think). I tried to discuss this episode during a telephone conversation, but it crashes, I do not know how it happened, I feel that my fear disapproval. But I refuse to judge his behavior at the time because if I had been with him that day, I do not know how I'd behaved.
Did you think that this war could be won in one way or another and did you want?
otherwise I would ask the question: could we do to stop the conflict by eliminating its causes ? Until the elections of January 2, 56, maybe. The Republican Front was elected to it, but after the "surrender of tomatoes, Algerians have lost faith. If Guy Mollet had had the courage to implement a program similar to that proposed by de Gaulle in 1958 (integration, equality of citizens), I think everything was still possible. May 58, it was already too late for Algerians, now was "independence unconditional! After the failure of de Gaulle's proposals, we could continue the war (real war now) for 10 years, 15 years without changing the final result.
If we could rewrite history I think a solution would have been possible through an agreement between an Algerian Mandela and de Klerk Blackfoot [ De Klerk was the South African white leader who ended apartheid in 1990 ]. In what context ? A framework Franco-Algerian or Algerian part by cutting the umbilical cord with the mother? Unanswered interest since it was a dream, but a beautiful dream.
What relationship did you have with the Europeans?
I had few encounters with Europeans:
two families in which I was invited for a meal, a
Chaplain "ultra" and repressive at all costs,
a truck driver who took me to "stop"
a large colon who pretended not to see us so that we protect his farm.
I also had a European correspondent I met very briefly once.
It was difficult to deal with the Algerian problem with them if only for reasons of courtesy. Many, clad certainty, left me a memory at best "tasteless" sometimes unpleasant but I've met few people with whom one could exchange intelligent about.
And with the Algerians?
I met more Algerians than Europeans:
traders urban or rural,
veterans of the wars of 14-18 and 39 -45,
youth in the villages of Petite Kabylie (September 55),
I also had a correspondent in Algeria, a high school girl about 18 years. We exchanged some very "wise" about the customs of Europeans and Algerians, the problem of the veil (which she did not, except when he wanted to "dress up") of Islam. The only about politics came from her when she told me she was the niece of a leader of the FLN refugee in Cairo! If my company commander had learned that I fit with the niece of one of our worst enemies!
Some of these meetings were very interesting, two examples:
a teacher very Francophile (June 55): Is there remained a Francophile or later he was executed by the FLN ?
baker Ziama-Mansouriah who became a friend and - I had proof after the fact - was a militant nationalist, he paid it in his life.
With other Algerians we never talked about politics: too dangerous for them.
How was your leave?
I rediscovered France (we should say the metropolis as "Algeria was France) after 14 month absence. My biggest surprise was the disinterest of the majority of my interlocutors about Algeria. When I tried to tell an ugly scenes which I witnessed, I met mostly with skepticism, even among some of my friends when I thought, they were surprised that I can disagree with the army abuses . After all, Algerians reaping what they sowed. Fortunately, the reactions of my family (father a railway worker, a housekeeper mother) were great.
What would you say to young Algerians and French students who work on the War in Algeria?
I would first like to warn against hasty reaction. It's 2008, more than 50 years have passed since "my Algerian adventure" and I fear that the students of today are struggling to get back into the context of the time. We must never judge the past by ignoring the context.
I left Algeria in 1955. There is then just 10 years since the war of 39-45 is complete, a year since the Indochina war is over (at least for the French). It must be remembered
- that 8 years ago, the bread was still rationed in France
- that the population was 50% rural, or peasant
- that for many school ended at 14 years with the baggage Certificate of Primary Education (when we got the illiterate were many in my company) ..
Since I was not officer, I had the opportunity to mingle with people my age who came from France from below, the son of small farmers (a few acres of land, some cows in the barn), the proletarians of agriculture or
Before making a decision on each other, we must take into account all these parameters.
In conclusion I would say the French to denounce the excesses of which has committed the French Army and the Algerians is also to examine their consciences as their war was not over cleaner than ours even though they had the excuse of the rightness of their cause and their limited military resources.
Interview by E. Augris