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The Battle of the Casbah: Terrorism and Counterterrorism in Algeria 1955-1957 58981st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1929631308
ISBN-10: 1929631308
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A disturbing and sensational memoir!" -The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2001 "Once you have seen with your own eyes as I did, civilians, men, women, and children quartered, disemboweled and nailed to doors [by the rebels], you are changed for life. What feelings can anyone have towards those who perpetrated such barbaric acts and their accomplices?" -General Paul Aussaresses, quoted in Le Monde, May 4, 2001"

About the Author

General Paul Aussaresses was a career French army intelligence officer with an excellent military record during World War II. He was dispatched to eastern Algeria in 1955 where he and his unit fought the rebels of the FLN. He retired after having served a
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Enigma Books; 58981st edition (February 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1929631308
  • ISBN-13: 978-1929631308
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I believe many of those who wrote reviews of this book are writing from their hearts as opposed to cooly assessing this excellent work. Afterall, it is hard for one to embrace the author's premise that physical torture and summary executions were the only way to effectively deal with Algerian insurgents.

Although one may not want to accept this methodology, many influential members in French military and political circles accepted this as the price to pay to keep Algeria French. Because these senior leaders were able to get men like Paul Aussaresses to do their dirty work for them does not make their hands any cleaner. Aussaresses obviously could not have done what he did for so long without the approval of his chain of command.

I commend the author for having the moral courage to admit his own actions when everyone else involved has taken the different approach of sweeping it under the rug. Admitting to crimes against humanity is nothing to be proud of, but Aussaresses was certainly the implementer of French political will just as Adolf Eichmann was for Germany.

This is an important work for understanding to what extent nations will go to, to secure their empires. It is also important for understanding counterinsurgency and the limits of violence. Whatever your political/moral take on the author, this is an interesting, unique book and well worth the time spent reading it.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating but brutal account of a desperate period in history: France's effort to preserve its overseas "departement" from takeover by the main Algerian revolutionary organization, the ultra-violent FLN. The author, then a captain, was the secret counter-insurgency commander in the then-regional capital, Algiers. Essentially, he met terrorism with terror, and justifies his brutal absolutism with grim historical facts that are excluded from Pontecorvo's historically-inaccurate propaganda film, "The Battle of Algiers." Although France was ultimately to lose the war, Aussaresses (as confirmed even by his opponents) won the battle!

It puzzles me that so many reviewers refer to Aussaresses as cold-blooded and unfeeling. The book owes its many stylistic faults to the passion and obvious defensiveness of a very emotional man. This gives the brutal story moments of unintentional humour, as in the bizarre anecdote of the Franco-Algerian farmer, his head "split in half" by a radicalized Moslem, who goes home to bed to die, first relating his experience to the local police chief!!!

The claim has been made that Aussaresses' methods had a major political impact on the war's outcome, but I doubt it. As in America's war in Vietnam, France's war was chiefly fought by draftees in the countryside, and it was the growing bodycount amoung the children of native Frenchmen, fighting for the privileges of a colonial population that was not ethnically French, that lost the war politically. Likewise the issue for the local native population was the cruel reality both of second-class citizenship and of FLN terrorism, as anyone whose political stance was not in accord with theirs was murdered, often with unspeakable brutality.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an important contribution to the English language literature on the French-Algerian War. However, the book's importance goes beyond adding to the historical record of France's occupation of Algeria. The subject of terrorism and how to deal with it became immeasurably more important for Americans after 9/11. This book provides a glimpse of one possible way to deal with terrorism - the fight fire with fire way. Aussaressess recounts how he helped set up and execute an anti-terrorist operation in Algiers. He unapologetically tells how he used nightly raids, torture, imprisonment and summary executions to break the back of the FLN in Algeirs during 1955-57 (The movie "Battle of Algiers" is a riveting account of this struggle).
In short, this is a good solider's account of the war. As valuable as this perspective is (and it is very valuable), it is narrow and demands some responses. First, the book fails to provide a context for the war (For context, I recommend reading Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace"). Aussaressess begins with the massacre at Phillipeville but there were atrocities on all sides. This war was an [mass] of violence and hatred. Second, there is a number of moral responses I have to Aussaressess's statements in the book. The one I find most appalling is that Aussaressess believes that he and his intelligence officers were restoring "law and order". I guess as an attorney I find this claim most alarming. I might be more accurate to say that Aussaressess was restoring a kind of order but it was hardly lawful. Suspects were picked up in nightly raids, tortured and summarily executed if they were believed to be terrorists. In most thinkers idea of law, there is the concept of equity: fairness and accountability.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Rich with details of how the French army operated and of individual cases, several of which revela for the first time what really happened (e.g, Aussareses confesses to personally lynching L'arbi Ben-Mhidi, whereas his death had been described as a 'suicide' for many decades. However he remains utterly un-repentant, using this book as a platform for justifying the conduct of himself and his colleagues. The problem is, regardless of how you feel about the morality of torture and of extra-judicial executions, this guy misses the simple point that it was actually counter-productive in Algeria, led to France's loss of this colony and in fact helped the most radical elements of the Algerian resistance end up being the ones that came to power. You would think that with the benefit of clear retrospective he would see this and say it, but nope.
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