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Determined to teach the Dey of Algiers a lesson for striking the French consul with his fly whisk, 30,000 French soldiers captured the city of Algiers in July 1830. By 1848 France had conquered all of Algeria. Initially, French administrators spoke of “assimilating” Berber, Muslim, and Jewish Algerians and educating them to become French citizens. Assimilation, however, proved too difficult and was soon replaced by a rigid colonial administration. By 1954, 1 million Europeans (called pieds noirs for their black shoes) controlled 9 million Algerians.
Many Algerians had long dreamt of independence from France, but it was not until 1954 that this idea appeared likely. On 1 November 1954, the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) declared war on France. For the next eight years the ill-equipped Algerian guerrillas fought a brutal war against the well-equipped and very determined French military.
On 13 May 1958, a group of pieds noirs seized power in Algiers and demanded that General Charles de Gaulle be appointed prime minister of France. Largely because of their demands, de Gaulle was named prime minister and soon became president of the new Fifth French Republic. Although he gave the impression of supporting the pieds noirs, de Gaulle was convinced that Algeria must be independent. In a series of bold political maneuvers he opened negotiations with the FLN to end the war. On 8 April 1962, France granted Algeria full independence and recognized Ahmed Ben Bella, of the FLN, as president of Algeria. The Algerian revolution left a bitter legacy for both sides. The French army lost more than 17,000 soldiers. Nearly 1 million pieds noirs left Algeria in 1962 and immigrated to France. Disaffected elements in the French army (Secret Army Organization) branded de Gaulle a traitor and repeatedly attempted to assassinate him. Algeria suffered 1 million military and civilian deaths in the war. Despite its economic promise, Algeria has not been able to staunch the flow of emigrants or to find the political stability the FLN revolution promised.
Suggestions for Term Papers
1. View the film Battle of Algiers (see Suggested Sources) and write a paper analyzing the tactics the French army used in Algeria.
2. Examine the ways in which “Barricades Week” of January 1960 in Algiers threatened to bring civil war to France.
3. Many officers in the French army felt betrayed by de Gaulle’s Algerian settlement and formed a secret society to assassinate him. Write a paper on the O.A.S. (Organisation armée secrète or Secret Army Organization) and its effort to assassinate de Gaulle.
4. The writer Albert Camus, born in Algeria, thought it should remain French. Read his essays (see Suggested Sources) and write a paper on his views on Algerian independence.
5. After reading Frantz Fanon’s arguments for Algerian independence (see Suggested Sources), assess his ideas about colonialism.
6. Despite the fact that Algeria and France were once enemies, hundreds of thousands of Algerians now reside in France. How has this largely Muslim Algerian community been received in France? Write a paper examining the problems of Algerian immigrants living in contemporary France.
In addition to the boldfaced items, look under the entries for “Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese War Against the French, 1946–1954” (#41) and “May 1968 in France” (#69). Search under Houari Boumedienne, Albert Camus, Jacques Soustelle, French Fourth Republic, French Fifth Republic, and Islamic Salvation Front.
Camus, Albert. Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. Translated by Justin O’Brien. New York: Knopf, 1961. The essays on Algeria present the pieds noirs side of independence.
De Gaulle, Charles. Memoirs of Hope: Renewal and Endeavor. Translated by Terence Kilmartin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971. A powerful set of reflections on how Algeria’s war for independence afforded de Gaulle the chance to remake France.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove Press, 1968. A forceful argument for an independent Algeria.
Maier, Charles S., and Dan S. White, eds. The Thirteenth of May: The Advent of de Gaulle’s Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. The most accessible collection of French documents in English. Contains excerpts from French and Algerian newspapers and the final peace accords.
Servan-Schreiber, Jean-Jacques. Lieutenant in Algeria. Translated by Ronald Matthews. London: Hutchinson, 1958. The author, who became the editor of the French weekly L’Express, records the grim duty of draftees in this brutal war.
Battle of Algiers [videorecording]. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. Stella Productions, 1966. Subtitled in English. A film that is faithful to the history of the war. It is particularly good in showing the importance of Algerian women in the struggle.
Clayton, Anthony. The Wars of French Decolonization. New York: Longman, 1994. His section of Algeria is the most up to date, brief introduction to the war.
Dine, Philip D. Images of the Algerian War: French Fiction and Film, 1954–1992. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. A solid analysis of how the Algerian war has been documented in French film and literature.
Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954–1962. New York: Viking, 1978. The best single-volume study in English. It has good photographs of the participants.
Hutchinson, Martha Crenshaw. Revolutionary Terrorism: The FLN in Algeria, 1954–1962. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1978. A good explanation of the organization of the FLN and its use of terror.
Ruedy, John. Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. Chapter 6 is a good overview of the war.
Schalk, David L. War and the Ivory Tower: Algeria and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Helpful for its focus on the peace and protest movements in France during the Algerian War.