Monday, November 12, 2007

Battle of Algiers, part II

Buck's comment on my previous post made me realize that most readers probably have never heard of this movie before, much less understand its significance.

First, in order to understand the significance of the movie you have to understand the importance of the Algerian war of independence and the French struggle against the FLN. Americans too often make the mistake of relating every insurgency back to Vietnam. The American experience in Vietnam was an important war in the history of insurgency, as the Vietnamese made several improvements and additions to the standard strategy, but in no way was it the most important. Vietnam after 1968 (and even before, to a lesser extent) wasn't really an insurgency at all. It's kind of hard to classify a war as an insurgency when the troops you are doing the majority of the fighting against are NVA regulars.

Much better examples are found in the French experiences in Indochina and especially Algeria. Britain's war in Malaya is also a good example, one that Lt Col Nagl uses to great effect in his book, but isn't the best because the British had several things going in their favor, such as racially different outsiders doing the majority of leading and fighting of the insurgency, fighting on an easy to isolate peninsula, and, to put it bluntly, a rather idiotic strategy on the part of the insurgents. And even then it took them 12 years. Something to think about.

Back to the French, the campaigns in Indochina and Algeria are particularly notable because the French lost both wars; however, unlike the American military after Vietnam they didn't bury their heads in the sand following the loss and instead put their efforts to figuring out what worked and what didn't. The result was some of the best counter-insurgency literature around.

Abu Muqawama (a great COIN blog, by the way...if you're into that sort of thing you definitely need to check him out) has several recommendations in this area, including a whole reading list. However, if you're too lazy to check out the books or you just like a good movie, The Battle of Algiers is for you. As I said in the previous post, it is balanced to both sides and even handed in showing the brutality even though it was made by an Italian communist and based off the memoirs of one of the leaders of the insurgency intended as propaganda for his militants.

The bottom line is that this would be the movie I would show someone to break them free of "Big Military" and to start thinking insurgency/counterinsurgency. It's not comprehensive, but it's a great start.