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January 4, 2004 - This is a GOOD war and we all should feel exhilarated!

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Back on Wednesday, 17 December 2003 I posted Baghdad now, Algiers way back when The kind of folks we Americans are sort of French, actually - a continuing discussion of an event of Wednesday, the 27th of August, when the Command of Special Operations in the Pentagon held a screening of The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 film about a rather famous urban terrorist insurgency, the conflict between Algerian nationalist insurgents and French colonial forces in the late nineteen-fifties.  In mid-December Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker had discussed it again, as it is now coming into general release at small theaters around the country.

Well, it gets more press this week.  Christopher Hitchens in Slate has a few things to say.

Hitchens used to be a bit left, and knows he knows more than anyone else about most everything and isn't afraid to say so.  And he loves this war and thinks George Bush is doing wonderful things, in spite of his personal misgivings about the man.  He welcomed the WTC and Pentagon attacks.  As he put it in Front Page Magazine -


Watching the towers fall in New York, with civilians incinerated on the planes and in the buildings, I felt something that I couldn't analyze at first and didnt fully grasp (partly because I was far from my family in Washington, who had a very grueling day) until the day itself was nearly over.  I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration.  Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate.  Fine.  We will win and they will lose.  A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.


Yep, he hates those towel-heads.  Bring 'em on! 

In Slate, however, he's upset that no one knows as much as he does about Algeria and that Pontecorvo film.  This film teaches us nothing about anything.

See Guerrillas in the Mist
Why the war in Iraq is nothing like The Battle of Algiers.
Christopher Hitchens, Slate, Posted Friday, Jan. 2, 2004, at 10:57 AM PT

He thinks we'll all get it wrong.


First we get his credentials:


Unless I am wrong, this event will lead to a torrent of pseudo-knowing piffle from the armchair guerrillas (well, there ought to be a word for this group).  I myself cherished the dream of being something more than an armchair revolutionary when I first saw this electrifying movie.  It was at a volunteer work-camp for internationalists, in Cuba in the summer of 1968.  Che Guevara had only been dead for a few months, the Tet rising in Vietnam was still a fresh and vivid memory, and in Portuguese Africa the revolution was on the upswing.  I went to the screening not knowing what to expect and was so mesmerized that when it was over I sat there until they showed it again.  I was astounded to discover, sometime later on, that Gillo Pontecorvo had employed no documentary footage in the shooting of the film: It looked and felt like revolutionary reality projected straight onto the screen.

When I next saw it, in Bleecker Street in the Village in the early 1970s, it didn't have quite the same shattering effect.  Moreover, in the audience (as in that Cuban camp, as I later found out) there were some idiots who fancied the idea of trying "urban guerrilla" warfare inside the West itself.  The film had a potently toxic effect on Black Panthers, Weathermen, Baader-Meinhof, and Red Brigade types.  All that needs to be said about that "moment" of the Left is that its practitioners ended up dead or in prison, having advanced the cause of humanity by not one millimeter.


Well, I saw the film in Ohio.  Not with Che's friends in Cuba.  Not with the lefties in the Village.  Actually, I think I was sitting next to a farmer named Dwayne.  Obviously I have no standing here.  No one has Hitchens' experience.

But I thought there was some reason to think about the film now.

The folks at the Pentagon thought so.  Most critics think so.

Here's Hitchens on why we're all completely and stupidly wrong:


Those making a facile comparison between the Algerian revolution depicted in the film and today's Iraq draw an equally flawed analogy.  Let me mention just the most salient differences.

1.) Algeria in 1956 - the "real time" date of the film - was not just a colony of France. I t was a department of metropolitan France.  The slogan of the French Right was Algérie Française.  A huge population of French settlers lived in the country, mainly concentrated in the coastal towns.  The French had exploited and misgoverned this province for more than a century and were seeking to retain it as an exclusive possession.

2.) In 1956, the era of French and British rule in the Middle East had already in effect come to an end.  With the refusal by President Eisenhower to countenance the Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt at Suez in November of that year, the death-knell of European colonialism had struck.  There was no military tactic that could have exempted a near-bankrupt France from this verdict. General Massu in Algiers could have won any military victory he liked and it would have changed nothing.  Frenchmen as conservative as Charles de Gaulle and Raymond Aron were swift to recognize this state of affairs.

Today, it is Arab nationalism that is in crisis, while the political and economic and military power of the United States is virtually unchallengeable.  But the comparison of historical context, while decisive, is not the only way in which the Iraq analogy collapses.

The French could not claim to have removed a tyrannical and detested leader.  They could not accuse the Algerian nationalists of sponsoring international terrorism (indeed, they blamed Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt for fomenting the FLN in Algiers itself).  They could not make any case that Algerian nationalism would violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty or even threaten to do so.  Thus, French conscripts - not volunteers - and Algerian rebels were sacrificed for no cause except the lost and futile one of French reaction.  The right-wing generals of the Algeria campaign, and some of the extreme settlers, actually did conduct an urban guerrilla rearguard action of their own, in Paris as well as Algeria, and did try to bring off a military coup against de Gaulle, but they had been defeated and isolated by 1968.

I would challenge anybody to find a single intelligent point of comparison between any of these events and the present state of affairs in Iraq.


I guess we should all give up.  Hitchens wins.  Everyone else is wrong.

So maybe he's right about the war too.  We should have all been "exhilarated" watching our friends and countrymen die. 
The good war had finally started that day.