A Savage War of Peace

Title:                      A Savage War of Peace

Author:                  Alistair Horne

Horne, Alistair(2006).A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962. New York: New York Review Books

DT295 .H64 2006

LOC:       2006003506

Date Posted:      March 22, 2013

The savagery of the Algerian ant colonial war for self-government, with atrocities committed by both sides between the start of the uprising in November 1954 and independence from France in July 1962, set a standard for the French intelligence establishment, with the government in Paris disavowing operations conducted by military personnel assigned to its intelligence agency, Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionage (SDECE)[1]. The ruthless campaign conducted by the barbonzes (literally, “the bearded ones”) enabled the French to fight an ultimately unsuccessful rearguard action against the guerrillas and leave a legacy of anger at the tactics employed by the French military. Later President Charles de Gaulle found it expedient to deploy the SDECE against his opponents in the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète who believed he had betrayed the French settlers in Algeria after having publicly committed himself to supporting their interests.

In December 1991 the suppression of a democratically elected Islamic administration led to a bloody civil war that went largely unreported because Islamic extremists targeted members of the media and made the country unsafe for journalists and independent correspondents. The conflict was extended by the principal Algerian terrorist group, the Groupement Islamique Armé (GIA), to Paris in an attempt to exert influence over French support for the Algerian government.

The Algerian War lasted from 1954 to 1962. It brought down six French governments, led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic, returned de Gaulle to power, 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 repressive torture.

Nearly a half century has passed since this savagely fought war ended in Algeria’s independence, and yet—as Alistair Horne argues in his new preface to his now-classic work of history—its repercussions continue to be felt not only in Algeria and France, but throughout the world. Indeed from today’s vantage point the Algerian War looks like a full-dress rehearsal for the sort of amorphous struggle that convulsed the Balkans in the 1990s and that now ravages the Middle East, from Beirut to Baghdad—struggles in which questions of religion, nationalism, imperialism, and terrorism take on a new and increasingly lethal intensity.

A Savage War of Peace is the definitive history of the Algerian War, a book that brings that terrible and complicated struggle to life with intelligence, assurance, and unflagging momentum. It is essential reading for our own violent times as well as a lasting monument to the historian’s art.

Although war was never formally declared, the Algerian War lasted from 1954 to 1962. It caused six French governments to fall, led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic, brought De Gaulle back to power, 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.

The war made headlines around the world, and at the time it seemed like a French affair: Now, this brutal and intractable conflict looks less like the last colonial war than the first postmodern one–a full-dress rehearsal for the sort of amorphous struggle that convulsed the Balkans in the 1990s and that is now ravaging Iraq, and in which religion, nationalism, imperialism, and terrorism assume previously unimagined degrees of intensity.

Originally published in 1977, A Savage War of Peace was immediately proclaimed by experts of varied political sympathies to be the history of the Algerian War, a book that not only does justice to its Byzantine intricacies, but that does so with intelligence, assurance, and unflagging momentum. It is these qualities that make A Savage War of Peace not only essential reading for anyone who wishes to investigate this dark stretch of history but a lasting monument of the historian’s art.


[1] West, Nigel (2006). Historical Dictionary of International Intelligence. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, p. 6

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One Response to A Savage War of Peace

  1. Pingback: Spymaster: The Life of Britain’s Most Decorated Cold War Spy | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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