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The Battle of the Casbah Paperback – 15 Nov 2004


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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Enigma Books (15 Nov. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1929631308
  • ISBN-13: 978-1929631308
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 761,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mulwharchar TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 14 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book apparently caused a scandal in France upon its publication in 2002, although the 'revelation' that the French Army practiced systematic torture during the 1954-62 Algerian war of independence is hardly news, not least to anyone who's seen 'The Battle of Algiers' (made in 1966). The novelty lies mainly in the fact that Aussaresses was a former general, who felt safe enough in retirement to spill the beans. Apart from the bald admission that torture and summary executions happened, there is little else to distinguish this sketchy, self-serving (and badly translated) account; Aussaresses never acknowledges that the Algerians had a right to self-determination, regrets 'rien' and displays no insight into how counter-productive the repressive French tactics were (they cost them the war), and this is all the more shocking in a former secret agent who had himself engaged in 'terrorism' against the occupying Germans in WWII. Abu Ghraib shows that these lessons still haven't been learned.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pernod1982 on 19 Feb. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bought for my stepfather and have been told how interesting he found this book - aside of history many English speakers know much about. even more interesting as it comes from the 'horses' mouth.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 32 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A must read for students of counterinsurgency. 20 Mar. 2006
By Jack Stone - Published on Amazon.com
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Must-Read... With a Few Grains of Salt 12 Oct. 2006
By rampageous_cuss - Published on Amazon.com
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. Anyone examining this book in terms of other counter-insurgency operations, like America in Iraq, must bear these facts in mind. The appropriate context in which to weigh Aussaresses' account is the thorny question of whether order is more important than law or vice versa!

As this book focusses almost exclusively on Aussaresses' experiences in and around Algiers it needs to be read with more comprehensive works on the Franco-Algerian war such as Alastair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace." As other reviewers have pointed out, however, it makes for an excellent counterpoint to the rose-colored romanticizations of Pontecorvo, and I strongly recommend it. Aussaresses must be applauded for speaking with a frankness that has eluded his opponents.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A Good Solider's Account 22 Sept. 2003
By Andrew Platek - Published on Amazon.com
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. Our system has rights and procedures to preserve some accuracy in outcomes and prevent the abuse of power. Aussaressess claims he never executed an innocent person. This is just too incredible to accept. Even in our system, innocent people are wrongly convicted and, police and prosecutors allow their judgments to be skewed by their egos or trying to preserve face. One can only imagine how many innocents were picked up and tortured and killed - which in the end probably caused more problems for the French in Algeria. As effective as Aussaressess was in eradicating a network of terrorists in Algeirs in 1957, France still lost Algeria. The Algerians did not lose heart because of the methods Aussressess employed. Moreover, French public opinion concerning the war turned negative upon revelations of torture.
25 of 34 people found the following review helpful
How to crush an insurgency the Nazi Prison Guard Way 5 Nov. 2004
By Kevin Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The author served as the lead military intelligence officer for the French Army unit fighting in Algiers in 1957. The matter-of-fact, unapologetic tone of the atrocities he committed to win the battle struck me as one of the most chilling accounts I've ever read. By his own admission, he and the organization he led killed 3000 and tortured 25000 during the Battle of Algiers.

Those who tout this book as a tactical manual for winning the war on terror clearly overlook several major problems. First, the FLN, while it had tens of thousands of supporters in Algiers, had nowhere close to 25000 operatives in Algiers. That means that for every terrorist captured, the French tortured a handful of fence-sitters, passive supporters, or non-participants. Secondly, though they were poorly treated, the Arabs were, in fact, French citizens and Algeria was deemed an integral part of France -- just as Michigan with its large Arab population is part of the United States. The actions of the French Army almost completely alienated the very population they were trying to pacify and include in their empire. I would hope that if Al Qaeda established cells in Detroit, we would not employ the same tactics there that the French did in Algiers. Thirdly, while the author may have the psychological make-up of a Nazi Prison guard, most soldiers do not. Many of them struggled to come to grips with their actions for the rest of their lives. It's hard enough to deal with killing without also becoming a torturer.

Most importantly, the French lost the war. While you would never guess it by the outcome, French society initially almost unanimously supported retention of Algeria in the empire-- even some of the Communists. Torture completely fractured support for the war in France and around the world. Those same torturers, confronted with the fact that they might lose the war after leaping into a moral abyss, mutinied not once but twice. DeGaulle ultimately decided he had to get the French Army out of Algeria before it destroyed itself and all of France.

That said, the book provides valuable insight into the mindset of one particular school of counterinsurgency doctrine -- a failed school. This isn't to suggest that terrorists should be coddled; ultimately, we will have to kill most. As the fallout from Abu Gharab suggests, however, this isn't the way.

Kevin Clark

MAJ, US Army

US Mission Iraq
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A candid memoir of a very dirty war 1 May 2009
By C. Monk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book makes a lot of people cringe. General Aussaresses is labeled a Nazi and a Fascist by some on here (as if they were the masters of torture and murder, never mind the Marxist murders who made such matters into an artform and killed far more people than Fascism ever did). Especially considering how much of a hero Che Guevara is; both Che and Assaresses used similar methods to get their results and yet we see the Red and black Che T-shirts all over colleges and at various left-wing protests.

Aussaresses provides his perspective. One that is lost on a lot of people who proudly proclaim they could never condone such actions. These proclimation are most likely said from a nice comfortable living room or study in a nice peaceful neighborhood somewhere. People's sense of the righteous tends to fade pretty quickly when they are faced with the brutality that the FLN displayed.

I am not saying torture and executions are the right thing to do but I find it interesting so many are quick to judge. The FLN was not the Red Cross; they were one of the most brutal terrorist organizations in the 20th century. The Algerian War was an ugly war, plain and simple. You cannot condemn one side without condemning the other. If the Algerians had adopted peaceful protests istead of the violent radical measures they adopted, then there would have been no need for torture.

That said, the book is quite blunt. The General does talk casually of killing and torture just as a brutal warlord in the Dark Ages might have.

Aussaresses provides a good concise narrative of the events during that war. Some people want objectivity, which is important but you most also get perspective. So many history books discuss bland facts and figures without delving into the actual people. Narratives and memoirs like this give you that perspective.

Another good product to have or at least rent is "The Battle of Algiers" which provides a more FLN-slant.
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