Current events are focusing on the middle-east and with good reason.
So this article on Camus was an interesting read.
Albert Camus’ Algerian Chronicles have never been presented, until now, in a full English translation, and this is a pity. The Chronicles contain his articles on Algerian themes for the French and Algerian press beginning in 1939 and continuing until he brought out the book in 1958, at a moment when the Algerian War had reached its halfway point.
He made a number of arguments in the course of the collected articles, and some of those arguments are well known in English even without having benefited from a complete translation. These are his positions on torture (he was opposed), terrorism (likewise), and the duty of intellectuals (they ought to keep their cool).
The Arab nationalist combatants of the National Liberation Front, or FLN, declined to make any distinction between the French Army, the French government, and the ordinary French Algerian civilians. And the FLN made war against all of them.
The two communities, Arab Algerian and French Algerian, ended up in opposite corners, even if a good many Arab Algerians fought on the French side. Terrorism on the part of the FLN—bombs tossed into crowds of random French Algerians—together with the French army’s policy of torture and other atrocities made each community odious to the other.
Camus tried to talk reason to both sides, because he wanted everyone to recognize that ultimately the war was not just a struggle for independence.
The trouble with Camus trying to talk reason and the reason for the failure of his attempts was that, as a communist who metamorphosed into the more intellectually acceptable left-liberal, his ideas were based on false premises. Communism was always an attempt to paper up and gloss over its true purpose – demoralization and destruction, a sit is in thrall to the other side and always has been – before Marx were other movements destructive icons, e.g. Voltaire.
The other problem with Camus is one that even left-liberals who visit here have – they’re wedded to the bait the narrative bases itself on – love for fellow man, equality for all, no child in poverty – bait which we should all be wedded to but then the narrative gives entirely inappropriate solutions to problems or doesn’t give them at all.
Camus was “wistful”, hopeful for good to somehow come out of the chaos but the fact of the matter is that the narrative is part of the problem in the first place – it is actually the problem in itself and causes hings to go wrong. Cause and effect.
Example is women on the front line of battle. Based on the false premise that men and women are the same, interchangeable, the ultimate result of this folly is the debilitation of our forces because other things not mentioned – beyond capacity to reason or carry a load – is the very difference in nature between the two.
The propagation of the narrative in Algeria was the same. It could never have worked for historical reasons. And there were powerful forces at large, not always for reasons of nationhood – it’s the Janjaweed excess in a different country.
What Camus actually said, in any case, was sharp enough. He told the students: “People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.”
Three days after the press conference, Camus sent a letter to Le Monde clarifying his view—and this letter, too, appears in the appendix of this volume.
He wrote: “I would also like to say, in regard to the young Algerian who questioned me, that I feel closer to him than to many French people who speak about Algeria without knowing.”
He knew what he was talking about, and his face reflected not hatred but despair and unhappiness. I share that unhappiness.”
He and I both – the left-liberal with his dreams and the cynical centre-right libertarian who knows human nature – of course we try to build on any point of reconciliation, of course we are both for peace and good things. We try to achieve them differently and when it is perfectly obvious [to us] that a policy will not achieve that, we drop it, rather than continue in the vain hope that by repeating the folly, it will somehow come good.
With our armed forces, it is madness to say we’re all at peace in an EU led Europe now – that is bollox. Germany is building up and there is trouble on the way. For our armed forces to have been let slide the way they have is utter insanity. It is only from a position of strength that one can negotiate and afford to be charitable.
Camus would disagree, citing cruelty and destruction as reasons against war. I also am against war but the way to avoid it is by being strong enough to say to the aggressor – go on, just try it. This is not being neo-con, this is being sane.
Let’s be charitable towards Camus – his motives may well have been pure and idealistic but his retreat into despair was unhelpful. Were I in any position of power in Algeria, I’d have assessed whether any reconciliation were possible or not and if the FLN were being funded from elsewhere, from where?
If reconciliation were not possible, then the choices were either withdrawal or full-on Roman style militarism. One or the other. It’s that old aphorism again:
It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism while the wolf remains of a different opinion. — W.R. Inge, 1919