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80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incomparable Masterpiece
Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace" -- a narrative of the Algerian death struggle with France in the 1950s and early 1960s -- is history at its finest. Clearly written, passionate and authoritative, this book is a shining example that objective and powerful history can be written on "current events" (the book was first published barely a decade...
Published on May 27, 2004 by T. Graczewski

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but a bit slanted
Exhaustively detailed, this work is probably definitive when it comes to the Algerian independence movement. The writer's prejudices are also unfortunately on display; he views things through the European prism of moral relativity that I found nagging at times. That said, the overall historical narrative is concise. A fascinating historical period that is...
Published on April 4, 2011 by E.J. Kaye


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80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incomparable Masterpiece, May 27, 2004
By 
T. Graczewski "tgraczewski" (Burlingame, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace" -- a narrative of the Algerian death struggle with France in the 1950s and early 1960s -- is history at its finest. Clearly written, passionate and authoritative, this book is a shining example that objective and powerful history can be written on "current events" (the book was first published barely a decade after the French pulled out of Algeria).
As the US-led coalition in Iraq struggles to impose order, comparisons with France's ultimately unsuccessful attempt at holding on to Algeria in the face of Islamic insurgents have become fashionable. Such analogies, however, should be used cautiously. There are a number of salient differences in the two cases. None looms larger than the relatively large and vocal pied noir community in Algeria that Paris had to contend with, first politically and then militarily. In some Algerian cities in the 1950s, such as Constantine, a majority of the residents were of European extraction (although not necessarily French). These pied noirs had roots in Algeria for generations and had a powerful lobby in Paris. A simple political withdrawal from Algeria in 1955 was thus (in my opinion) a political impossibility. The ugly war that erupted was, in the end, tragically unavoidable.
Horne would certainly disagree with this assessment. Myopic intransigence by the French and pied noir leaders is a leitmotif of the narrative. Yet, the author just as consistently praises the FLN leadership for laying out their aims at the 1956 Soumman Conferences and never wavering from them. Algerian inflexibility, it seems, was a virtue; for the French/pied noir community it was a sin.
There is so much to praise in Horne's work (the minor disagreement above notwithstanding) that no review, no matter how flattering, will fully do it justice. If you are student of military history or have a keen interest in colonial / counter-insurgency conflict, "A Savage War of Peace" is as good as it gets. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print, so you may have to scour used bookstores and various online resources to obtain a copy, but it is worth the effort. There is also a decent chance it will be re-issued in the near future. Failing that, there is always the local library. The important thing is to get your hands on a copy. If you love history, you won't be disappointed.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars War and no peace, August 2, 2000
At the outset Alistair Horne bemoans the complexities and difficulties involved in writing recent history, where many of the main players are still alive and active. Ironically, he is the one who falls into that trap - for the only faults to this otherwise excellent rendition is the occaisonal of-the-cuff cryptic reference by the author to some event that happened at the time. He obviously assumes that everybody would share his joke. But these are few and tiny details. Over all this is an excellent text. Horne admirably makes up for the lack of documentation on the Algerian side of the war and manages, somehow, dispite that massive misbalance in printed references between France and Algeria, to present a text which presents both sides with equal scholarly depth.
More than a million people died in the Algerian war, yet it is poorly remembered today. Books like this are needed.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The author at his best., February 15, 2000
By 
Rusty Greenland (Virginia Beach, VA USA) - See all my reviews
I've read most of this author's works. His trilogy--The Fall of Paris, The Price of Glory, To Lose a Battle---is excellent, but the author reaches his pinnacle in "Savage War". He shows a masterful understanding of politics, strategy, tactics, and national feeling. I have met men who served under Salan, Massu, and Challe, and the portrayals of these leaders by the author harmonize with what I've been told. The subject may seem remote in time and in interest, but the author has written a gripping story, and also gets "down and dirty" into the details. This is a rewarding book for anyone with an interest in military as well as political history.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leçons sadly not learned, December 18, 2006
By 
Teemacs (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
I am somewhat of a fan of Alastair Horne's, having come to him via his trilogy of books on Franco-German conflicts, and I went looking in Amazon to see if there was anything new from him. And I came across this book, whose purchase many years ago was prompted by the desire to know more about the world of Freddie Forsyth's outstanding thriller "The day of the Jackal". Seeing it again on the Amazon website reminded me as to how relevant it is to the modern story of the US and Iraq. Of course, there are substantial differences; the US is not Iraq's colonial power and the US most certainly does not regard the place as part of the USA, the way the French did Algeria. And because of the lack of a US equivalent of "pieds noirs" (French settlers in Algeria), no matter how badly George Bush messes up, no US paratroop regiment is going to mutiny, try to assassinate him and bring the US to the brink of civil war.

However, the similarities are scary - the reliance on pure military power to win, the use of tactics (particularly in the battle of Algiers) that alienated the locals and effectively made them into allies of the FLN rebels or at least tolerant of them, and the widespread use of torture (a subject that touches raw nerves in France to this day). As with Iraq, the FLN didn't confront the French military head-on, but relied on ambush and, more particularly, on intimidating and murdering local allies of the French, policemen, local officials and the like. There were also French near-equivalents of "Mission Accomplished", even as the war was being lost where it desperately needed to be won - in the hearts and minds of Algerians themselves.

As I write this, former French soccer captain Zinédine Zidane is in Algeria, being feted as a hero. He is the son of harkis, the Algerians who fought on the French side and who had to leave Algeria or face severely curtailed life expectancies. Time has finally healed the wounds. One hopes it will be so with Iraq. One wishes that the Bush Administration had read this highly perceptive book before launching its ill-considered venture - and that it had had the honesty and wisdom to see the lessons therein.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Peering Into the Cesspit, August 9, 2007
By 
Amazon Customer "Bob" (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
One of the things that perplexed and, frankly, disgusted me, throughout this book was the posturing of many key figures on the French side about "honour" and "grandeur". In pursuit of their honour, many of these people behaved in the most disgraceful and dishonourable manner.

They preened themselves on their honour and spoke volubly about "restoring the glory of France", but when the going got difficult, they mostly resigned their positions or simply abandoned their responsibilities - often to return later to repeat the whole disreputable process - or intrigue among themselves.

Perhaps a psychologist could shed more light on this cesspit of misplaced values than an historian.

But what of the other side - the Algerian independence movement? The alphabet soup of factions (FLN, CRUA, MTLD, UDMA etc etc) was liberally peopled by thugs, assassins, torturers and thieves. They squabbled among themselves, intrigued for office, occasionally betrayed each other, and terrorised their own people - all in the cause of Algerian independence.

Even after independence, members of the ruling clique continued to wage war upon each other and upon the Algerian people. The struggle continues to this day.

Ordinary Algerians on both sides were the victims of the war - as is ever the case. At its end, within months, almost all the "pied noir" population had fled the country in one of the great mass migrations of the post war era. Muslims who had worked and fought for the French and who were unable (or chose not) to flee were mercilessly hunted down.

I finished the book with a sense of disgust, of having been soiled by the mostly contemptible people shaping events on both sides. When one peers into a cesspit of struggling fanatics, one inevitably gets splashed.

However, readers should not be deterred from reading this book. "A Savage War of Peace" deserves to be read. Its lessons are equally valid today in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The book gives an excellent account of the war from both French and Muslim sides, but while the latter was adequately covered in a factual sense, that side of the story was somewhat dry and impersonal.

To a large extent this simply reflects the availability of sources - and those willing to talk freely and honestly. The author claims to have been hampered by the "traditional secretiveness and suspicion of the Algerian Arabs" - especially when the possibility of assassination was ever present for those critical of the Algerian leadership.

Within these limitations, Horne gives an objective account of the 8-year war, during which up to 600,000 French military personnel were stationed in Algeria. As the struggle went on, both sides resorted increasingly to torture and terror to achieve their aims.

At one point military victory seemed in sight, although one must suspect that, had the French "won" in a military sense, the price would have been some sort of partition of Algeria into French and Muslim zones, and the permanent military suppression of the latter. Sound familiar?

Another conclusion one can draw from the book is that the relentless pursuit of an ideology rarely, if ever, results in a better life for ordinary people who are to be "improved". This was true for Communism and will probably be proven true eventually for the various forms of Islamic fundamentalism currently destroying lives in many parts of the world - and true also for ideologues on the other side who fight them in the name of freedom and democracy - and who are equally convinced of their righteousness.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong Stomach Required, March 8, 2007
This review is from: A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962" was re-published last year and speaks to us clearly, yet again. This new edition includes the original preface written in 1977 in which the west was coping with its misunderstanding of the third world (most recently displayed in Vietnam). It also includes a preface to the 1996 edition, when Algeria was in the throes of another civil war, and brings us to the present with a new preface describing the post 9/11 world and parallels with the US-led effort in Iraq. Horne makes three key points in this regard:

1) In Algeria, once the FLN terrorists realized they could not effectively attack the French armed forces, they instead attacked the civilian populace loyal to the French.
2) FLN terrorists made maximum use of the porous borders of Algeria to gain sanctuary in Morocco and Tunisia.
3) The gradual appearance of torture and counter-torture in the morally degrading environment of Algeria gradually infected the French armed forces.

The French military ultimately succeeded militarily in defeating the FLN terrorists and guerillas, but didn't win this war. This was largely because the methods that the French employed at the tactical level were at cross purposes to the larger political settlement that was required to solve the conflict. Horne brilliantly describes the Battle of Algiers and the successful tactics of the French paratroopers. Names such as Bigeard, Trinquier, and Massu loom large on these pages. But more importantly, Horne highlights how once the civil administrators in Algiers had given almost complete power to the army to restore order in Algiers, a Rubicon of sorts had been crossed and civil-military relations were never the same again. The military tactics of "clearing and holding" while capturing terrorists amongst the population created vast numbers of people who had been needlessly detained and pockets of refugees in certain parts of the country. Imprisonment and refugee camps were two environments in which radicalism and extremism fomented only to come roaring back in an even uglier form. In a diabolical paradox, the tactical successes the French Army achieved created the strategic and political conditions that prevented the emergence of a "moderate middle" that could negotiate and/or compromise an end to the conflict. Therefore, the methods of French military success actually hindered their overall effort.

The book also has a great deal to say about the role of the French Army in the French nation. With the history of France from 1914 on not being one of great military triumphs, the Army was self-conscious of its ability to achieve victories for the state. At the same time, the government had gone through frequent turbulence by rotating through four different republics and, in the course of the Algerian War, the fall of the Fourth and rise of the Fifth Republic with the return of de Gaulle. Thus the French Army, particularly the elite units and paratroopers, came to see themselves as the "true guardians" of France and the ultimate arbiters of power. This legacy arguably dated back to Napoleon's seizure of power during the French Revolution. The contrast with the US military is worth noting here: While the US military is sworn to an idea (to defend the Constitution), the French Army was ultimately sworn to "France." And "France" could be something other than whatever government had power at that time. This altered the dynamic on the ground in Algeria, and we thus see two former Commanding Generals, Morrice Challe and Raul Salan, actually leading a coup against the government of de Gaulle. Tragically, Salan eventually wound up as head of the Organisation Armee Secrete, or OAS, which committed some of the most disgusting terrorist acts of the war. Together, the terrorists of both the FLN and OAS effectively prevented the emergence of a moderate middle that could bring peace to Algeria.

In conclusion, there are some similarities between Algeria in 1954-62 and Iraq from 2003- present, but one must be careful not to take these too far. There are more differences than similarities. But Horne's book remains essential reading for the following lessons:

1) Unity of effort between the civilian and military leadership: tactics employed by the military cannot run counter to the political solution that is desired by the civilians.
2) Civil-military relations: the temptation for tactical successes is always great - especially in democracies with short election cycles. But civilians can never rest the hand that governs and guides military operations (as they did in Algiers), if force is to serve political ends. Good strategy and poor tactics will always beat poor strategy with good tactics.
3) The need to foster/empower/create a moderate middle: extremist groups will do everything they can to polarize the population and prevent a political compromise from being reached. The more desperate the terrorists get, the worse their acts will be (reading this book requires a strong stomach). Still, these acts must be anticipated through scenario-based planning and courses of action developed to mitigate their effects. A familiar pattern emerged in Algeria: after any success by the French government/military, a massacre would be engineered by either the FLN or the OAS to polarize the population.

Horne's fine work is history at its best. The addition of the new preface makes this book especially worthwhile and relevant.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping tale, but beset with narrative problems, June 12, 1997
By A Customer
Horne, in his usually lucid, well-crafted style, tackles the horrors of France's civil war in Algeria in the late 1950's and early 60's, which culminated in the collapse of the Fourth Republic and the near destruction of DeGaulle's Fifth Republic. Full of heart-rending tales of guerilla terrorism, and written with great sensetivity toward both sides in the awful conflict, Horne presents a complete, exhaustively researched account, including interviews with some of the people who stood at the center of events in those tumultuous years. The major flaw in the work is the chronology. Difficult as it is to define a clear series of events in so complicated a situation, it is the author's responsibility to establish some system by which the reader may grasp what happens in what order. Here, Horne fails, leaving the reader to wonder what is actually happening at any point in the narrative. If you are prepared to frequently consult the timeline found in the back of the book, I recommend this
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but a bit slanted, April 4, 2011
This review is from: A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Exhaustively detailed, this work is probably definitive when it comes to the Algerian independence movement. The writer's prejudices are also unfortunately on display; he views things through the European prism of moral relativity that I found nagging at times. That said, the overall historical narrative is concise. A fascinating historical period that is under-represented in modern discourse, particularly as it applies to France. If you want to know the French world-view in relation to modern problems, you could learn a lot from this tome
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever wonder why the French army wanted to kill de Gaulle in "The Day of the Jackal" ? This books explains it, and much more., June 20, 2006
(1) This is a superb history book, by any standard.
(2) It is not about the last colonial war, but about (arguably) the first post-colonial war:
First suicide bombings? Algeria, in a dance hall full of teenagers, and at a soda fountain.
First big wall to keep out insurgents? Not Palestine, but between Algeria and Tunisia.
First war decided by domestic anti-war public opinion in a distant democracy? Algeria.
First war thrown away by a civilian government in which the military and intelligence services had probably turned the tide? Algeria.
This is a crazy confusing, searing, savagely brutal conflict that shook France to its roots, even more than the Boer war changed England, or the Vietnam war changed America; in which the rebels are riven by divisions amongst themselves, and the governing authority has to deal simultaneously with counter-revolutionary zealots running a private war, a military high command on the verge of rebellion, and an intelligence community in which it is at times difficult to know who is loyal to whom.

In the end, De Gaulle overruled his military and intelligence chiefs and threw away victory when the insurgents had lost by every meaningful measure, and were engaged in a bloody internal purge; when the top intelligence officer of the rebels was a french double agent; where the provincial reconstruction teams were actually making headway in providing widespread schooling and health care, and in improving standards of living. The French military and intelligence services were, at times, brilliant in identifying, and adopting a winning strategy. This is the blueprint of how a technologically advanced democracy can win an irregular civil war.
And then have it thrown away.
De Gaulle rewarded the suicide bombers with a victory they had not won, and gave enduring encouragement to religious fanatics and men of violence everywhere. He unintentionally threw away France's hydrocarbon reserves in North Africa. He condemned thousands of North Africans who had been faithful to France to reprisals of stomach turning barbarity. Towering arrogance matched with incomparable naivete, and staggering irresponsibility. What a legacy.

It was a stroke of idiocy that nonetheless unchained the French economy. France prospered as never before. Algeria was left to wallow in a bloody tyranny of extra-judicial killings that continues, on and off, even to the present day.
Pertinent to current events? Indeed. Extremists who adopt suicide bombings of civilian targets as (in their view) a legitimate tactic of war, are not fighting for anything worth fighting for, and, in being able to rationalise such tactics, also adopt the mentality that prevents them from lifting the resultant society out of violence and poverty. This book is suberb.

(3) If only there were a comparable book about the insurgency in Malaysia - the one insurgency that was defeated by very clever winning of public opinion along with use of the police and army.
(4) "Pied noir", although a term inextricably linked with the Algerian civil war, is not a term that is presently acceptable in polite discourse in France.
(5) There is a great deal to be learned from this excellent analysis.

In response to the second comment, I first read this book long before anyone heard of hanging chads in Florida. It won the Wolfson Prize in 1978, and can hardly be seen as having been slanted to fit subsequent history. Uncannily prescient. Unlike the commenter, I do not presume to know what the author would, or wouldn't agree with.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Positively 6 stars, August 4, 2008
This review is from: A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Alistair Horne is one of the preeminent historians of the 20th Century. I've read several of his books, including the entire trilogy on the three Franco - German wars. I've found each of his books excellent, but this one will always rate as his best - for the complexity of the material that he has mastered. In the preface is an impressive list of the principal actors interviewed. He acknowledged that it is virtually impossible to have seen the "entire picture," and suggests that no one will. He combines the specific information on the war with an overall splendid erudition. He tells the drama lucidly, with irony where appropriate, as it is so often. I first read this book over 30 years ago, and was even more impressed the second time around.

He draws you in immediately with the ironic title to his first chapter; a quote from former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, that Setif was "A Town of No Great Interest." It was in this non-descript town that the native Muslim Algerians revolted against the French at the end of the WW II, and were in turn brutally massacred. And it was near Setif that two young French teachers, "dedicated liberals", bookish and bespectacled, were murdered on All Saint's Day, 1954, in the commencement of Algeria's war of liberation.

Horne uses a wild range of sources for incisive epigraphs at the commencement of each chapter, and perhaps none is better than the one from Jonathan Swift: "In war opinion is nine parts in ten." That opinion was spun and spun again as events repeatedly outraced the expectations of the actors.

France first went to Algeria in 1830, colonizing it under the rubric of a "civilizing mission," (a forerunner of bringing the natives democracy). But they carried the seeds of their own destruction, believing their mission involved the education of the natives, and after a few generations, was it any surprise that the natives were asking: Where are our fraternity, equality and most definitely, liberty? Generations of white French, ironically called "pied noirs," considered the country there own too. Horne's strength in this work is his understanding and depiction of the numerous factions on the two principal sides. After the humiliating French defeat in Indochina, occurring only six months prior to the commencement of this struggle, it was imperative that they not lose again. Furthermore, unlike Indochina, Algeria was considered an integral part of France (though, of course, by in large, the Muslims did not get the vote). The struggle on the French side nearly lead to civil war. It did culminate in the collapse of the Fourth Republic, when tanks surrounded the key government buildings in Paris, in anticipation of an assault by rebel French paratroopers, lead by four French generals who had revolted. De Gaulle rode to the rescue, creating the Fifth Republic, and going to Algiers, where he gave his famous "Je vous ai compris" (I understood you) speech to the pied noirs. He was a master of ambiguity, and would ultimately betray pied noirs aspirations.

As for the political maneuvering and machinations on the side of the FLN (National Liberation Front), Horne is not able to describe as well, fundamentally because so many of the principals did not survive the war, or its immediate aftermath. Like in the French revolution of 1789, the revolution "consumed its children." He does quote some cri de coeurs of Frantz Fanon, one of the giants of the anti-colonial movement.

Complementing Horne's knowledge of the military tactics and strategy, he is equally adept at describing the intellectual struggles, with a principal axis being between Sartre-Beauvoir and Albert Camus. This culminated when the later, a pied noir, made the famous statement upon receiving his Nobel Prize for Literature: "I love justice; but I will fight for my mother before justice."

The book contains some excellent maps, a substantial bibliography, and extensive pictures of the main characters in the drama. Particularly haunting is one of a young boy arrested during a "ratonnade." (literally, a raid against the "rats.")

I strongly feel the book should be read as an excellent, almost certainly the best history of one of the major tragedies of the 20th Century. Inevitably though, the question is asked: What lessons can we learn? This question took on additional relevance when it was reported that George W. Bush was reading the book. As a cautionary counterpoint to projecting these events on other circumstances, after my reading of it 30 years ago, I firmly felt this was how a similar situation, a minority of whites, who considered their country home, ruling over a majority of native blacks, in South Africa, would be resolved - through bloody war. Fortunately the Algerian precedent did not hold, as a few principled persons made decisions that avoided that denouement. The circumstances in Iraq, for the United States, are quite different that France in Algeria. Nonetheless, there may be at least two "takeaways". One from Horne himself, who, in the preface to a recently released reprint, said that no country should adopt the tactic of torture, as the French did in Algeria, primarily for what it does to the values and soul of those who torture. Sadly, a significant minority of Americans follow Dick Cheney's lead in embracing torture. The other takeaway is to decide how we would view Camus's position: Would we adopt injustice on behalf of a false concept of "mother"?
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A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics)
A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) by Alistair Horne (Paperback - October 10, 2006)
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