Book Review 395: The Battle of the Casbah
THE BATTLE OF THE CASBAH: Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in Algeria 1955-1957, by Paul Aussaresses. 185 pages, illustrated. Enigma paperback
Paul Aussaresses claimed to have taught the U.S. Army his methods of countering terrorism by means of indiscriminate arrests, torture and murder. He certainly taught the Army, and later the Brazilian army and other rightwing Latin American despotisms.
And the U.S. Army certainly used methods much like his in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
But whether the Americans had to learn such skills from Aussaresses is less certain.
“The Battle of the Casbah” was dictated when Aussaresses was old, and it was not welcomed in France. He claimed that the highest government officials had known and, indeed, instructed him to do what he did. They denied it and stripped Aussaresses of his right to wear the uniform of the French army and of his Legion of Honor.
The truth of that is obscure but no one at the time was unaware of the atrocious nature of the Algerian fighting.
The interest of the book in 2017 resides in the fact that Aussaressses sounds just like Trump and his loudmouthed terrorism advisers. One difference is that Aussaresses was actually a soldier, with, apparently, a good record against the Germans.
Aussaresses was unrepentant when his book was condemned. It reveals a naive, stupid racist who was easily manipulated and deceived by the Algerians. He could not possibly have known what was going on, given the limited time he himself says he had to devote to assembling information.
He justified his murders on the grounds, which will be instantly familiar to anyone observing the fascist government in Washington, of defending western values. Perhaps he was.
The question is, were his values worth defending?
One instance will answer the question. Following a series of murders by Algerian nationalists, a group of powerful pieds-noirs (French colonists) came to Aussaresses and his commander, Massu, to threaten that they were ready, if the army would not act brutally, to park a convoy of gasoline tankers on the heights of the Casbah and flood the crowded old town with gasoline, which they would ignite.
Aussaresses says he believed them and thought it would have killed 70,000 people.
Did he and Massu arrest these westerners? Of course, not. They raided the Casbah and arrested and murdered thousands of Muslims.