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Ted Pudlik

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A Savage War of Peace

A history of the 1954–1962 war in Algeria, by Alistair Horne. Meticulously detailed, thoroughly depressing, utterly fascinating. It could constitute the basis for excellent fiction.

The broad theme is the seemingly inevitable escalation of communal violence, examined in meticulous detail: terrorism leading to lynchings, police brutality, assassination of moderates, and more terrorism. The people at the center of this are invariably tragic characters who ought to know better but cannot remain passive in the face of the other side’s atrocities—doctors who aid bomb makers, veterans of the Resistance who engage in torture, four-star generals who go underground to orchestrate the slaughter of civilians. Perhaps most poignant is the figure of General Challe, a devoted soldier so distraught at the prospect of withdrawal from Algeria (which would mean leaving his Muslim harki regiments to be massacred as colonial collaborators) that he joins an abortive putsch against de Gaulle’s government—as General Gouraud after him, “too late to render much assistance to the putsch but in time to shatter in fragments a lifetime’s career of honour and distinction.”

I marked many passages in my copy and hope eventually to put some of them down here. Unfortunately, the book shines at the level of the paragraph or chapter rather than the sentence, making it difficult to excerpt.

I originally bought this book because it was mentioned in passing in The Economist.