Barrows on Hargreaves, 'Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism: Legacies of French Colonialism' and Singer and Langdon, 'Cultured Force: Makers and Defenders of the French Colonial Empire'

Barnett Singer, John W. Langdon
Leland Barrows

Alec G. Hargreaves, ed. Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism: Legacies of French Colonialism. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005. 272 pp. $32.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7391-0821-5.Barnett Singer, John W. Langdon. Cultured Force: Makers and Defenders of the French Colonial Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. xi + 483 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-299-19900-5; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-299-19904-3.

Reviewed by Leland Barrows (Voorhees College)
Published on H-French-Colonial (January, 2010)
Commissioned by Jyoti Mohan

Myths and Realities: Conflicting Perceptions of French Colonial History and Postcolonialism

Postcolonial studies came later to the Francophone than to the Anglophone world probably because of the trauma associated with much of French decolonization. There was also a felt need in France to come to terms with the Vichy era before turning to the almost as traumatic end of French rule in Algeria. But by the 1990s, French colonial studies were rapidly coming into vogue. The two books under review, Cultured Force, a revisionist history of the French empire that stresses a biographical approach to historical narrative, and Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism, which publishes the proceedings of an interdisciplinary conference on cultural memory, are good examples of the varied types of writing that the rekindled interest in the French empire is spawning.

“Biographical study,” the authors of Cultured Force inform their readers, “provides a relatively painless way to introduce people to an era’s subtleties,”enabling them to develop an awareness of the relativity and the contradictions of received truths, particularly those reflecting the history of modern imperialism and colonialism (p. 3). Inspired by the pace-setting work of Alice Conklin,[1] who has attempted to integrate “French colonial-military and intellectual/cultural history,” Barnett Singer, an associate professor of history at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, and John Langdon, a professor of history at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, have chosen to examine contextually the lives of a number of French colonial figures whom they perceive as having exhibited “cultured force.” They are particularly interested in several major proconsuls: Robert Thomas Bugeaud, Louis Léon César Faidherbe, Joseph Simon Gallieni, and Hubert Gonçalve Lyautey, as well as Marcel Bigeard, a remarkable military leader and hero of the Indochina and Algerian wars who was not a proconsul. They also examine the case of Joseph Joffre, whom they perceive as an anti-hero.

These men, with the exception of Joffre, the authors argue, were humane and very gifted intellectually, displaying clear talents in science, literature, and anthropology, as well as the capacity to intellectualize their military and administrative duties and to empathize with the native peoples whom they conquered and ruled. The authors evoke other colonial figures ranging from Joseph-François Dupleix and Louis-Antoine de Bougainville to Charles Noguès and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, each of them displaying more or less “cultured force.” According to the authors, the greatest failure among them, Joffre, was the most barren intellectually.

While concentrating on selected biography, Singer and Langton are careful to fill a comprehensive introduction and spaces between successive biographies with short background accounts covering not only the general history of the first and second French colonial empires but also, by comparison, aspects of the histories of Dutch rule in Indonesia, Belgian rule in the Congo, and the eighteenth-century Franco-British struggle for India. The book as a whole resurrects the balance-sheet approach to imperial and colonial history, the authors arguing that there was a clearly positive side to French colonialism that must not be overlooked and that gains perspective and substance when the intellectual outlook and achievements of given protagonists are recognized and added to the positive side of the ledger. The authors also imply without really stating it that some former colonies might have been better off had they remained colonies or had, as in the case of Algeria, they been fully assimilated to the metropole.

But this approach has its ambiguities as does also the designation “cultured force,” which is not the best choice of words. “Cultivated” would have been a better choice, leaving “cultured” as a descriptor for pearls and yoghurt. Then too, does cultivated (or cultured) force make one an intellectual? The authors do not give a clear answer; rather, they imply that almost anybody who applies thought to action and is successful is a practitioner of “cultured force.”Thus, by this standard, Marshal Bugeaud, who is usually not considered to have been very “cultured,” has his place on the list, but not Marshal Joffre, whose military leadership in World War I was disastrous. Joffre, nevertheless, and as the authors stress, was a clear master of self-promotion; thus, he too could be said to have applied thought to action. By the standards of the authors then should Joffre not also be counted as a practitioner of “cultured force”?

Alec G. Hargreaves, director of the Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies at Florida State University, is the compiler and editor of Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism. He has skillfully edited and assembled fourteen essays drawn from the presentations at an international conference held at Florida State University in 2003 on “Cultural Memory in France: Margins and Centers.” The selections reflect the ways in which “the politics of memory in the colonial field are inflected by the cultural forms in which the past is represented and reworked” (p. 5). Here the focus is on symbols, meaning, and representational forms rather than on biography. But there is overlapping and some dovetailing of subject matter between the two books; however, for Hargreaves and his contributors, the balance sheet of French colonialism is almost wholly negative.

Thomas-Robert Bugeaud of Algerian fame is the first proconsul whom Singer and Langdon present in detail. But first, an introduction gives an overview of the book and a first chapter highlights the first French colonial empire, particularly French India and the achievements of Joseph-Francois Dupleix and Thomas-Arthur de Lally-Tolendal (who was a pro-Jacobite Irish nobleman in French service). The focus then moves to the West Indies, particularly Saint-Domingue, where the best example of “cultured force” was François-Dominique Toussaint-Louverture, the reluctant hero of Haitian independence. The education of the latter, the authors point out, reflected the best of the French Enlightenment that, as they also point out, was indirectly financed by the very profitable slave-worked plantation system that developed in Saint-Domingue. France would end up betraying Toussaint-Louverture.

The authors’ treatment of Bugeaud benefits from recent scholarship, particularly studies by Anthony Thrall Sullivan and Jean Pierre Bois that downplay Bugeaud’s alleged proto-fascism and brutality in dealing with Algerian foes and metropolitan dissidents in order to underline his passion for agricultural innovation in France and then in Algeria and his concern for the welfare of those Algerians who accepted French rule.[2] The authors stress that he was responsible neither for the 1834 rue Transnonain massacre nor for the 1848 June Days repression. Strangely, however, they reiterate praise (p. 68) for Bugeaud’s introduction of the wide three-meter-long flannel belt that soldiers wrapped around their stomachs to ward off dysentery, but they fail to explain how wrapping one’s stomach in flannel could prevent or cure this particular ailment. The authors confirm that Bugeaud was a major military innovator, evoking, among other things, his rediscovered and highly original manuscript on urban warfare, La guerre des rues et des maisons.[3] This work, which was known to Adolph Thiers, probably influenced his approach to the military suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871.

The authors move on to Louis Léon César Faidherbe, the engineer officer who is best remembered for his two periods of governorship of Senegal (1854-61 and 1863-65) and his respectable showing as Commander of the Army of the North in the Franco-Prussian War. The account given by Singer and Langdon is a more or less standard one; however, it underlines Faidherbe’s scholarly work in African history, anthropology, and linguistics and in general his wish to promote the academic study of Algeria and West Africa. The authors do not mention that the Polytechnic Institute in Paris, from which Faidherbe graduated in 1840, and his assignment to the Engineer Corps, the arme savante of the French army, preconditioned him to be scholarly.

Singer and Langdon, who are familiar with some of my own writings on Faidherbe, particularly my 1974 UCLA PhD dissertation, “General Faidherbe, the Maurel and Prom Company, and French Expansion in Senegal,” fault me for claiming that Faidherbe’s administration of Senegal was “an end point in the history of earlier French imperialism” and for attributing “the frenzied colonization of the Western Sudan during the 1880’s to trends that had nothing to do with Faidherbe’s earlier, pathbreaking efforts eastward through Senegal” (pp. 91-92). I neither stated nor implied any such thing. I simply argued (and still argue) that Faidherbe’s objectives while actually governor of Senegal were limited and that one must make a distinction between what Faidherbe wrote and did while he was governor and what he wrote and did (and what was written in his name) much later.

Having served as commandant of the army engineers in Saint-Louis for two years before being named governor, Faidherbe had become aware of the efforts of preceding governors, notably André Brue between 1697 and 1720, whom the authors do not mention, to expand the French presence towards the upper Niger River, and after 1878 would lend his support to the eastward push of the French government and military authorities in Senegal and the Sudan.[4] By then, Faidherbe was elderly and ailing. It seems clear that in his later years he welcomed and gave support to initiatives that were proposed by others, particularly when they reflected his previous interests and achievements as governor.

Unfortunately, Singer and Langdon, who have assembled an impressive twenty-two-page bibliography plus eighty-nine pages of detailed endnotes, including journal citations not appearing in the bibliography, never got around to consulting my most recent study of Faidherbe, “L’Oeuvre du general Faidherbe et les débuts de l’Afrique Noire Française,” in which I address the question of Faidherbe’s post-Senegalese career and influence on the further French occupation of West Africa.[5]

Possibly Langdon and Singer disapprove of my insistence that the owners and managers of the Maurel and Prom trading firm pushed Faidherbe, while he was actually the governor, in the direction of a limited occupation of Senegal rather than an all-out Algerian-style conquest. Yet this influence is amply proven by archival materials, particularly those available in the archives of this firm that was headquartered in Bordeaux at the time (1969 and 1973) that I consulted them.

Singer and Langdon have unfortunately repeated a well-known canard about Faidherbe, according to which he threatened to resign from the governorship of Senegal if the ministry were to allow the recruitment of African contract labor in Senegal for the French West Indies by the powerful French trader, Victor Régis (p. 105). That Faidherbe penned a letter to the minister of the navy, dated November 15, 1857, requesting permission to resign, is a fact. A copy can be found in Faidherbe’s personal dossier in the Archives of the French Ministry of War. The same letter is quoted, undated, on p. 386 in Faidherbe’s Le Sénégal la France dans l’Afrique occidentale (1989), positioned in the text so as to “prove” that he was prepared to resign over the issue of contract labor. But the letter itself cites fatigue and discouragement as a reason for wishing to resign, not contract labor.

Whatever Faidherbe’s reasons were for writing this letter, they clearly had nothing to do with the Régis contract that involved recruitment from the Dahomey coast that was far outside Faidherbe’s jurisdiction. The French government permitted the recruitment of such contract labor until 1862. And besides, while Faidherbe was on post, and regardless of what he may have thought at the time about Western Hemisphere slavery, he scrupulously avoided interfering with traditional slavery in Senegal outside the very restricted limits of directly administered French territory.[6] Likewise, he founded no “villages de liberté”; rather, the first such villages were created and the term was coined by Galliéni in 1887, primarily to provide a labor pool for the French forces involved in conquering the Upper Senegal-Niger region. Local Africans referred to the inhabitants of these villages as “les captifs du commandant.”[7]

In order to underline the superiority of Galliéni and the mediocrity of Joffre, Singer and Langdon intertwine them in chapter 4. The account given of Gallieni’s two postings to Senegal and Soudan (1877-81 and 1886-88) and his two negotiations with Almamy Ahmadou Tall are fairly standard as are the descriptions of his posting to Tonkin (1892-96) and then as governor of Madagascar (1896-1905). The high point of the chapter is a description of how Gallieni initiated the first Battle of the Marne in September 1914 despite the foot-dragging bordering on opposition of Marshal Joffre, the French commander in chief. The authors portray Gallieni as a tragic hero who saved Paris but failed to overcome Joffre’s opposition to an immediate pursuit of the Germans that might have won the war for France in September 1914. They portray Joffre as an opportunistic narcissist who through a few spectacular actions, like his march on Timbuktu in 1894, and his self-promotion, despite his mediocrity, got himself named chief of the French General Staff in 1911, a position for which he was not qualified. Thanks to his errors from September 1914 until he was relieved of his command in December 1916, thousands of French and British lives were lost.

The analysis of the actions of Galliéni and Joffre during World War I and the clear conclusion of the authors that Galliéni was the real victor of the First Battle of the Marne is what makes this chapter most interesting. But their point is hardly original, having been made earlier by others including Emile Mayer (a French Liddell-Hart) in 1928 and very well restated by Virgil Matthew in his 1967 UCLA PhD dissertation, “Joseph Simon Gallieni 1849-1916: Marshal of France,” that the two authors have not cited.[8]

An evident weakness of Cultured Force is that the different parts of the book do not always fit seamlessly together, possibly the result of problematic communication between its two authors. For instance, while chapter 3 evokes Faidherbe’s dispatch of the Mage/Quintin expedition to Ségou (1863-66) (p. 107), chapter 4 on Gallieni claims that the zone between the Upper Senegal and the Niger valley was “a region largely cut off to whites since the expeditions of Mungo Park” (p. 119). Likewise, the claim in chapter 4 that when Gallieni first arrived in Senegal in 1876 the French “still had a totally secure foothold only near the coast” (p. 119) would seem to confirm my own conclusions, which the authors reject in chapter 3, about the limited nature of Faidherbe’s system of pacification in Senegal while he was actually governor. The same problem holds true for the parts of the chapters that chronicle French involvement in Indochina: one comes across repetitions and contradictions. Page 19 informs the reader that Tonkin was a protectorate, administered by a resident superior, whereas chapter 7, p. 247, states that Tonkin was administered as a colony, presumably like Cochin China, the latter having been annexed piecemeal in 1862 and 1867 at a time when French colonial policy still favored direct rule and assimilation. Surprisingly, no mention is made of the fact that Saigon itself was first occupied in 1859 by naval troops led by Captain Jean-Bernard Jauréguiberry, the future governor of Senegal (1861-63) and twice minister of the navy between 1879 and 1883. In contrast, Memory and Empire, an edited compilation of the work of fourteen authors (who are clearly identified) does not reveal any such lapses in organization.

Chapter 5 takes up the life story of Marshal Lyautey. The account is more or less standard but with refinements derived from André Le Révérend’s magisterial writings on Lyautey’s life, career, and literary efforts plus contributions from the writings of William Hoisington and Douglas Porch on Lyautey and Morocco.[9] The chapter reveals nothing particularly new about Lyautey.

Unlike Porch, Singer and Langton are not at all convinced of Lyautey’s homosexuality but while evoking his late (at age 59) but successful marriage to Inès Fortoul, they fail to mention that he broke off two prior near engagements with eligible young women, the first one in 1885, the second in 1893. In the first case, the problem was that he felt that his on-and-off commitment, at the time, to his ancestral Catholicism prevented him from acceding to her family’s demand that he commit himself totally and irrevocably to Catholicism.[10]

Although the authors evoke Lyautey’s study trip to Italy in 1883, they fail to mention a more important three-month excursion, this time as a tourist, that took him to Austria, Hungary, Romania, the Ottoman Empire, Greece, and Italy. One reason for the trip was to avoid having to make a marriage commitment to Lucie Baignières, his second possibility for a wife.[11] More importantly, Lyautey’s visit to Romania permitted him to meet and be influenced by the British engineer officer, Sir Charles Hartley. The latter had spent most of his career as chief engineer of the International Danube Commission, set up in 1856, in which position he had played a key role in the dredging of the middle channel (Braţul Sulina) of the Danube river delta and the construction of levies that had opened the lower course of the river to world maritime commerce. Hartley is the model of the colonial officer, cited in Le Role colonial de l’armée, who, in a backward (colonial) setting, devotes his life to building and modernizing rather than to fighting and dominating.[12]

Lyautey is the last of the proconsuls to be given a full chapter of his own, for the next chapter, titled “Heirs to Lyautey,” chronicles the ups and downs of the French empire from the 1920s to the end of World War II, emphasizing the defeat of Abdel Krim in the Rif war, the French debacle in their Syrian/Lebanese mandate, and the struggle in the African and Near Eastern parts of the empire between Vichyites and Free French during World War II. Much space is devoted to short biographical sketches of such grandees as General Charles Noguès, a worthy later successor to Lyautey in Morocco (1936-43), General Georges Catroux, the most senior French general to rally to General Charles de Gaulle and his Free French movement in 1940, and the civilian governor of Chad, Félix Eboué, who rallied his colony to General de Gaulle on August 26, 1940.

Chapter 7, titled, “The Twilight of French Colonialism,” is mainly devoted to the 1945-54 Indochina War which ended for the French with the fall of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. The chapter emphasizes the missed chances to avoid this war, which the authors attribute to de Gaulle’s poor choice of post-Vichy officials for leadership positions in Indochina, and the question, which is further developed in chapter 8, of the abandonment of native allies: the upper Tonkin Thais and many Vietnamese in the case of Indochina and large numbers of pro-French Algerians in 1962.

The fleeting successes of Marshal Jean de Lattre de Tassigny in Vietnam between December 1950 and his death in January 1952 are contrasted with the utter strategic failure of General Henri Navarre, who gambled with Dien Bien Phu and lost. Again, the reader is confronted with inconsistencies between chapters. The introduction informs the reader that both Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh graduated from a French lycée in Hanoi, but on p. 249 in chapter 7 we learn that Ho’s lycée was in Hué. In reality, both Ho and Giap attended the so-called National Academy, the Quoc Hoc, a kind of lycée for Vietnamese youth in Hué, but at different times, and neither one graduated.

Throughout the chapters on Indochina, the authors persist in referring to the Vietnamese as "Annamese" (rather than as "Annamites," the correct term if this designation is considered appropriate) and in suggesting that the French partitioning of Vietnam into Cochin-China, Annam, and Tonkin was based on some precolonial Vietnamese usage, which was not the case. According to historian Joseph Buttinger, these divisions were completely foreign to Vietnamese self-designation and usage, having been invented or adapted by the French as a form of administrative divide-and-rule.[13] It is also true that the ethnic Vietnamese, who had a northern origin and called their state "Dai Viet," for many centuries after winning independence from China in 939 AD, expanded southward at the expense of prior inhabitants: the Chams and the Khmers. Although one might argue, as Singer and Langdon do, that the Vietnamese had been as imperialistic towards their southern neighbors as the French were with them (p. 18), their expansion southward has more of a resemblance to American Manifest Destiny than to European sea-borne colonialism.

With chapter 9, the authors revert back to biography, giving an account of the career of the paratrooper General Marcel Bigeard. The reader follows him as he escapes, on his third attempt, from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany to the Indochina War, including surrender at Dien Bien Phu, and then into the Algerian Independence War, out of which he was transferred in 1960. The chapter is appropriately subtitled “Last of the Line in Vietnam and Algeria.” This chapter (and to some extent, the previous one) dovetails with several of the articles making up the Hargreaves compilation. The difference is that the Hargreaves authors are unequivocally condemnatory of the French colonial project whereas Singer and Langdon evoke more nuanced realities such as the French contributions to education, public works, and public health services in their overseas possessions, that in Vietnam, for instance, led to the doubling of the population from the 1880s to World War I (p. 20). They also evoke the numbers of Algerians who would have preferred continued French rule and full assimilation to France to rule by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), with its calculated and targeted brutality. But they also castigate the irresponsible treachery of the French in abandoning pro-French segments of local populations, particularly the harkis of Algeria.

In compiling Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism, Hargreaves has grouped the fourteen contributions under three headings: “North America and the Caribbean” (four articles), “Africa and Asia” (seven articles), and “Postcolonial Migration” (three articles).

Catherine Reinhardt, coordinator of the Modern Languages Teacher Credential Program at California State University at Fullerton, contrasts the official French commemoration in 1998 of the 150th anniversary of the French emancipation decree of 1848 ending slavery in the French colonies with the commemoration in Martinique and Guadeloupe of slave rebellions, particularly in Guadeloupe of the revolt that preceded the official emancipation ordered by the National Assembly in Paris. The official commemoration, she asserts, implied that the slaves had been passively waiting for Victor Schoelcher to free them, while the popular memory of the event and of slavery itself in the islands, often expressed in works of sculpture and painting, suggests a much more active struggle for freedom.

Given the date of publication, 2005, this volume could not have been complete without a commentary on the bicentennial (2004) of Haitian independence. This commentary is provided by Nick Nesbitt, associate professor of French at Miami University of Ohio, who underscores the uniqueness of the Haitian revolution. As the product of the one successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere, independent Haiti successfully challenged the Atlantic plantation economy, giving birth not only to decolonization but also to neocolonialism. Saint-Domingue, the slave-generated wealth of which in the second half of the eighteenth century provided two-thirds of France’s export earnings, funding, as Singer and Langdon have also indicated, the French Enlightenment, actualized the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a major product of this Enlightenment. Nesbitt takes particular aim at the self-righteous tone of the January 2004 Régis Debray report titled Haïti et la France which suggests that Haiti bears much of the responsibility for its underdevelopment and that the indemnity of 150 million francs (later reduced to 90 million francs) that France required the government of President Jean-Pierre Boyer to pay in order to obtain French recognition was the result of a "propaganda campaign ... without juridical foundation" (p. 47, n. 1). Nesbitt might have added that Boyer was persuaded to agree to the indemnity by the presence of fourteen warships that King Charles X of France had sent to Port-au-Prince in 1825, thus making the matter more than a question of propaganda. No doubt also Boyer knew that the Monroe Doctrine, first enunciated in December 1823, did not include Haiti, the independence of which the United States did not recognize until 1862. For Nesbitt, Haiti is emblematic of what became the usual if unfortunate relations between First and Third World countries.

Moving to Guadeloupe and the Guadeloupian author Maryse Condé, Nicole J. Simek, a graduate student in French at Princeton University, examines the extent to which Conde’s novel, La Belle Créole (2001) reflects its author’s position that “fundamental changes in memory and community might be brought about through globalization” (p. 51). According to Simek’s analysis, the novel, set in Guadeloupe at a time of severe communal unrest and detailing the accidental killing of a white creole (békée) woman by her black lover, followed by the lover’s suicide after his acquittal in a trial for murder, would indicate that whatever fundamental changes in memory and community may occur, our actions are still, to a certain extent, determined by our past.

The final contribution to this section, by Jean-Luc Desalvo, associate professor of French at California State University at San Jose, evokes the feelings of two francophone Canadian writers of Acadian origin, Antonine Maillet and Claude LeBouthillier, who argue that Acadians, by being expelled from Acadie (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) in 1755, were in a sense expunged from history. The compiler, Hargreaves, equates this uprooted francophone population, which has maintained a separate Acadian identity even while living in a francophone region of Canada, with the uprooted post-1962 pieds-noirs of Algeria, now, for the most part, resident in France (pp. 5-6). Unfortunately, Desalvo does not make particularly clear that despite the deportation of 1755, the authors he presents are from New Brunswick, which after Quebec, is the most francophone of the Canadian provinces. They thus live in a province that is relatively close geographically and culturally to the original Acadie (some of it, indeed, having been part of Acadie). It is difficult to grasp the legitimacy of the Acadian complaints, as Desalvo presents them. Neither he nor apparently Maillet and LeBouthillier have anything to say about the Cajuns (Acadiens) of Louisiana, whose place of exile is very far from Acadie and in a very Anglophone milieu.

The seven articles comprising the middle section on Africa and Asia are mostly concerned with memories of the Indochina and Algerian wars, particularly, in the case of the latter, by the engagement, by the French public since about 1999, with the reality of torture as practiced by the French army in Algeria.

The first article in the set, however, is the exception that evokes a more positive contemporary French perception of the colonial past, that of the 1924 Citroën Central African expedition that linked French North Africa with Madagascar. The motion picture based on the expedition, La croisière noire (1926), became a major hit that has been repeatedly shown, up to the present. However, as author Alison Murray Levine, visiting professor of French at Colby College in Maine, points out, later editions of the film have been sanitized, with blatant references to colonialism expunged. Nor are audiences reminded of the forced labor that went into preparing useable roads for the vehicles to traverse. Of course, popular interest in the expedition was also the result of André Citroën’s talent for public relations and the fact that Citroën cars have always been very popular in France. The Croisière noire spawned a number of travel exploits involving the former French African colonies including, since 1978, the Rally Paris-Dakar (which was cancelled in 2008 owing to Al Qaeda threats in Mauritania and moved to South America in 2009). Despite the overtones of neocolonialism associated with the Paris-Dakar and nostalgia for croisière noire-type feats of “automobility” in Africa, Levine argues that the apparent recourse to “nostalgia is an attempt to rescue individual memories of empire from a collective memory that has become socially unacceptable” (p. 95).

Reverting to a more somber note, Hee Ko, a graduate student in history at the University of California at Berkeley, examines the ambiguities of comparisons of the resistance in occupied France during World War II and Viet Minh opposition to the reimposition of French rule in Vietnam after 1946. Although French Communists and other leftists easily equated the Viet Minh with the French resisters, the French Right, George Bidault among others, just as easily came to equate the Viet Minh with the Nazis of World War II and the French forces in Indochina as analogous to the French resisters who combated the German Nazis and French collaborators. What seem like obvious historical analogies can be interpreted in opposing directions, just as memory, according to Pierre Nora, "accommodates only those facts that suit it" (p. 108).

Marie-Pierre Ulloa, a doctoral student in history at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris, picks up the analogy of anti-French colonial resisters and the French World War II resistance. She examines the trial in 1960 of members of the Jeanson network of French supporters of the FLN, particularly those who carried funds raised among the Algerian workers in France to the FLN leadership in Tunisia and elsewhere. Although some members of this group equated themselves with the French resisters of World War II, Francis Jeanson himself did not. For him, the only persons in the Algerian Independence War who could properly claim the mantle of the French Resistance were the Algerian freedom fighters themselves. While Ulloa views the network members as heroes, Langdon and Singer remind the reader that the money transported was “shakedown money” that FLN militants forced Algerian workers to contribute on the threat of being killed if they refused to do so (p. 325).

The next two chapters, “Intimate Acts and Unspeakable Relations: Remembering Torture and the War for Algerian Independence” by Joshua Cole, associate professor of history at the University of Michigan, and “Revisiting Ghosts: Louisette Ighilahriz and the Remembering of Torture” by Sylvie Durmelat, associate professor of French at Georgetown University, take on the question of torture as practiced by the French army in Algeria during the Algerian Independence War.

Of course, the fact that the French army tortured and engaged in summary executions in Algeria was an open secret; witness the disappearance in 1957 of Maurice Audin, a French Communist instructor in mathematics at the University of Algiers, and the publication of Henri Aleg’s The Question (1958). The matter of torture became reactualized in 2000 when the former Algerian freedom fighter Louisette Ighilahriz revealed how she had been systematically tortured and raped while in French captivity, naming a Captain Graziani as one of the rapists, and both Colonel Marcel Bigeard and General Jacques Massu as having been present while she was being raped. She was later saved from almost certain execution by a now-deceased French military doctor, Commandant Francis Richaud. Almost simultaneously, General Paul Aussaresses, a former intelligence officer (one of the practitioners of “cultured force” described by Singer and Langdon), not only admitted in interviews with Le Monde and in a book, Services Secrètes (2001, that torture had taken place during the Algerian War but defended its use and confirmed its authorization by the highest French authorities. General Jacques Massu, retreating from the position that he had taken in his book La Vraie Battaille d’Alger (1971), argued that torture should not have been employed, that it had not been necessary, but “was the product of a certain atmosphere at the time” (p. 132).[14] In 2001, another Algerian freedom fighter, Malika Koriche, named General Maurice Schmitt, a lieutenant during the Algerian War and the French army chief of staff from 1987 to 1991, as one of her torturers.

Rejecting functionalist and instrumentalist explanations for torture, Joshua Cole searches for a more profound meaning of torture, finally situating it as a kind of intimate mirror image of love-making, reflecting, as in the case of the French and Algerians in colonial Algeria, the close intermingling of the two populations, one, however, attempting to maintain domination, the other, to break that domination. The chapter ends with consideration of the case of Mohamed Garne, the son of a very young Algerian mother who had been raped by French soldiers and consequently repudiated by her husband, who was later declared to have been sterile. So, because Garne’s father was clearly an unidentified Frenchman, he finally succeeds in settling in France and receiving a small stipend as a war victim.

Sylvie Durmelat adds greater detail and analysis to the revelations of Louisette Ighilahriz, both delving into the great difficulties, psychological and social, for a woman, particularly a Muslim Algerian woman, to admit to and describe her own rape, and the details of the publication, first of interviews with l’Humanité and Le Monde and then of her book, Algérienne (2001). It turns out that the published versions of this book and of Aussresses’s Services Spéciaux were much influenced by in-house editors, involving “editorial negotiation and mediations in a highly charged political context” (p. 143). The suggestion is that both authors ended up with legal problems because of the ways their texts were manipulated for publication by editors having specific agendas. For Durmelat, Ighilahriz’s search for the French military doctor who had saved her life so that she could thank him, and the inscription and then a commemorative plaque that she placed on his grave, offers additional proof of the ambiguous French-Algerian relationship, French army men having been for Ighilahriz both torturers and saviors.

The last two contributions to this section continue the discussion of the memory of the Algerian War via different literary works. First, Florence Martin, professor of French at Goucher College, analyses what she calls the “Poetics of Memory” in two works by the Algerian writer Assia Djebar, La femme sans sepulture (2002) and a set of short stories, Oran, langue morte (1997), both of which, according to Martin, reflect Djebar’s efforts to resist male attempts to erase the memory of women’s contributions to Algerian liberation--liberation not only from French rule via the Mokrani rebellion of 1871 and the Algerian Independence War (1954-62) but also, now, from the murderous chauvinism of Islamic fundamentalists. Martin compares Djebar’s story-telling to that of Sheherazade (whose name she transliterates as "Shahrazad" because that was Sir Richard Burton’s preferred transliteration) (p. 172, n. 4) and suggests that Djebar’s preference for writing in French reflects more than simply ignorance of Berber and Arabic but rather resistance to the obscurantism that has been imported into Algeria along with expertise in Arabic, the official language of the country.

In her analysis of René-Nicholas Ehni’s Algérie roman (2002), Mireille Rosello, professor of French and comparative literature at Northwestern University, shows how a French appelé (draftee) with no prior links to Algeria, who fought in the Algerian war and witnessed such atrocities as the raping and killing of small girls, designed his novel as a "paramyth" that simultaneously merges "filiation" and "affiliation." Thus, victims and torturers mingle and a younger generation of French and Algerian parentage comes of age, symbolizing the fact that France and Algeria have always been intimately linked and will continue to be so linked but on a much healthier basis than in the past.

The final section of the book, titled “Postcolonial Migration,” takes on the delicate questions of French national identity given the large immigrant population now resident in France and the increasing need to confront the reality that most of France’s immigrant population and indeed the push in favor of multiculturalism have resulted from the colonial heritage that many French people until recently were unwilling to acknowledge.

In the first article of this section, titled “Decolonizing the Past: Revisions of History and Memory and the Evolution of a (Post)Colonial Heritage,” Dayna Oscherwitz, assistant professor of French at Southern Methodist University, argues against viewing the traditional republican/nationalist vision of Frenchness (francité) and the emerging multicultural definition of Frenchness as mutually exclusive. Rather, as she demonstrates through analysis of such genres as heritage films, including Le Retour de Martin Graire (1982) and Indochine (1991), along with the writings of francophone writers of colonial origin, the two visions of France are merging. Added to this phenomenon, the lifting of taboos surrounding the Algerian War, in part because of the demand for information by the children, now adults, of the repatriated pieds-noirs, on one hand, and those of Algerian economic migrants, beurs, plus the ongoing struggles in Algeria between francophone secularists and Arabophone Islamic fundamentalists, on the other hand, that have propelled many intellectual refugees to France, has stimulated much writing on all aspects of the Algerian conflict and other aspects of the French colonial project.

The revisiting of the Algerian War and the viewing of it from both French and Algerian perspectives is further pursued by Susan Ireland, professor of French at Grinnell College in Iowa. She analyzes three novels by francophone Algerian authors: Maïssa Bey, Entendez-vous dans les montagnes (2002), Zahia Rahmani, Moze (2003), and Akli Tadjer, Le porteur de cartable (2002). Her view of the rediscovery of memory is influenced by Henri Rousso’s Le syndrome de Vichy (1990) and Benjamin Stora’s La gangrène et l’oubli (1991). The three novels call for an ending of silence and the engagement of dialogue. In particular, the third novel, Moze, deals with the most taboo of subjects in both Algeria and France, that of the harkis and their descendants. The French army disarmed and abandoned most of them in 1962, leaving them to be massacred by the victorious Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN). Those few harkis and their families who managed to escape to France were frequently placed in resettlement camps and forgotten for many years.

The final chapter of both the section and the book, by Janice Gross, Seth Richards Professor of Modern Languages at Grinnell College, “France and Algeria: Performing the ‘Impossible Memory’ of a Shared Past,” analyzes the role of theater in stimulating both reconciliation between French and Algerians but also the breakdown of rigid categories: Algerian versus pied-noir, francophone versus arabophone, and the like. The chapter begins with the surprising admission by the francophone Algerian playwright Aziz Chouaki, who settled in France in the 1990s to escape the Islamic fundamentalists, that he considers himself to be a Muslim pied-noir (p. 216). After exploring what appears to be a blatant contradiction, Gross proceeds to analyze three plays, two of them by Algerians residing in France, that explore the interpenetrations of the two communities before and after the Algerian War. First is Chouaki’s Baya (1989) that comments on the accidental assassination, after independence, of a well-integrated pied-noir who had chosen, in 1962, to remain in Algeria. The play denounces the efforts of the post-independence Algerian government to repress memories of Algeria’s multi-ethnic past. The latter theme is picked up by Slimane Benaissa’s Les fils de l’amertume (1997), the author describing himself as a “contented hybrid” living in France. A third play, Les mimosas d’Algérie (1991) by the Frenchman Richard Demarcy, takes as its inspiration the arrest and execution of Fernand Iveton, a pied-noir who had supported the FLN, for a play about a Frenchman in Algeria who suffered a similar fate for similar reasons. Gross concludes on the optimistic note that French and Algerians will increasingly agree on the broad outlines of their shared history.

Both books deal with memory but in very different ways that might not be mutually compatible or intelligible, not the least because Langdon and Singer, traditional historians, deal in provable empirical truths while Hargreaves and his panel of authors, mostly specialists in literature and intellectual history, deal in intuitive truth. The reactions of Sophie Durmelat, on one hand, and Singer and Langdon, on the other, to the attempts by General Marcel Schmitt to discredit Louisette Ighilahriz’s testimony are illustrative of the differences between empirical truth and intuitive truth. Schmitt points out that Bigeard, whom she accuses of being present and of giving the order that Graziani rape her, was not present, at that time, at Paradou-Hydra, where Ighilahriz was being held; that he would not have been wearing a red beret because he always wore a special lizard cap; and that finally, her purported rapist, Graziani, did not have green eyes, as she claimed, but black eyes (p. 144). Durmelat, who has full faith in Ighilahriz’s honesty, defends her by writing, “Schmitt willingly misinterprets as lies what is a manifestation of memory at work. Schmitt relied on inconsistencies on dates and colors, on small mistakes and memory lapses, to deny the validity of Ighilahriz’s testimony” (p. 155). Singer and Langdon, as good empiricists, exonerate Bigeard using the obvious argument, backed by Bigeard’s own writings as well as archival and press sources, that at the time of Ighilahriz’s incarceration he was on combat duty in the Algerian countryside.[15] They add the detail that Ighilahriz’s story was greatly promoted by Communist journalists working with L’Humanité. While it might be intellectually stimulating to debate the pros and cons of intuitive truths versus empirical truths, it seems evident that a person accused of a serious crime would be most likely to be acquitted if his defense attorney worked diligently to establish the empirical truths that prove his innocence.

Of course, the question of bias also enters the picture. Janice Gross, in introducing Demarcy’s play, comments that it is “based on the incident of a communist factory worker condemned to the guillotine for acting as a helpmate to fellow Algerian workers” (p. 227). For Singer and Langdon, Iveton’s helpmate activities, occurring in 1957 during the Battle of Algiers, were of a particular sort: “Iveton, a Communist militant working at a gasworks factory, caught in the act of placing a bomb ... admitted another would explode at 6:30 PM” (p. 313). Either bomb, had it exploded, would have produced a massive gas explosion, killing thousands. Furthermore, the two historians add, Paul Teitgen, the secretary general of the Algiers Prefecture of Police, who interrogated Iveton to find out where the second bomb was located, did not torture him, ostensibly because of his World War II memories of Dachau and the Gestapo (p. 313)--a significant reminder of Marie-Pierre Ulloa’s chapter on the varied evocation of the heritage of the French Resistance.

Both Aussaresses in Services Spéciaux and Massu in La vraie battaille d’Alger insisted that torture was only employed to counter the far worse atrocities committed by the FLN and to prevent more from occurring. Aussaresses himself chronicles the massacre, ordered by Youcef Zighout at the El-Halia pyrite mine near Philippeville in August 1955, and Langdon and Singer evoke the casualties caused by the bombs that went off in 1957 at the Milk Bar and the Otomat in Algiers and then a bit later at a dance being held at the Casino de la Corniche east of Algiers. Because of such incidents, “the French authorities [attempted] ... to terrorize sources of terror” (p. 321).

Neither Singer and Langdon nor the contributors to the Hargreaves volume are willing to speculate as to whether or not present-day outrage in France regarding the acts of torture perpetrated by the French military and police during the Algerian Independence War manifested itself because of a consensus that the use of torture in any circumstances is unacceptable or primarily because France lost this war in particularly humiliating circumstances. In a strictly military sense, the French army was victorious, and the full assimilation of Algeria to France might have ensued. But important segments of the French leadership did not want such assimilation to occur. One is reminded (as Singer and Langdon were [p. 435, n. 121]) of the remark attributed to General de Gaulle that he did not wish to have his home village, Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises, turned into Colombey-les-Deux-Mosquées--a frivolous comment perhaps--but one pregnant with meaning. Probably, if the French had held onto and assimilated Algeria, which they came close to doing, torture during that war would never have become an issue. It would have been relegated to a footnote in French history much as the Chivington Massacre, occurring in Colorado in 1864, was in United States history.

Both books are valuable and well worth reading: Cultured Force because it attempts an objective evaluation of French colonialism, closely linking the positive aspects of French rule to the creativity and high level of education of its most successful protagonists; Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism, not only because of its highly original interdisciplinary exploration of meanings of memory but for the certitude that it instills in the mind of the reader that France is finally willing to recognize the legitimacy of the diverse francophone world that French colonialism created. For those wishing to read further, the bibliography assembled for Cultured Force and the eighty-nine pages of endnotes are particularly rich.

The principal weakness of Cultured Force is a certain degree of sloppiness in the assembly of its parts, almost as if the text came as an afterthought once the bibliography had been compiled and the endnotes crafted.[16] The most original part of the text is chapter 9 on Marcel Bigeard, which offers an original synthesis based on interviews with Bigeard himself and his own copious writings. Chapter 2 on Bugeaud also reflects much originality. The book required more numerous and detailed maps than the four pages of general sketch maps provided. Without such maps it is very difficult to follow the military actions that are described, particularly those that occurred in Indochina.

As for Memory and Postcolonialism, one must compliment the compiler/editor for the very logical and coherent way he has assembled a set of disparate conference papers so as to create a coherent monograph. An editor’s conclusion, tying up the collection and serving as a counterweight to the editor’s introduction, would have been a useful addition.

Both books make clear that French colonial studies are alive, well, and engaged in enlarging the corpuses of a number of disciplines, not the least of which is history.


[1]. Particularly A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); “Boundaries Unbound: Teaching French History as Colonial History and Colonial History as French History,” French Historical Studies 23 (2000): 215-238; and “Colonialism and Human Rights, a Contradiction in Terms? The Case of France and West Africa, 1895-1914,” American Historical Review 103 (2000): 739-769.

[2]. Anthony Thrall Sullivan, Thomas-Robert Bugeaud, France and Algeria, 1784-1849: Politics, Power, and the Good Society (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1983); Jean-Pierre Bois, Bugeaud (Paris: Fayard, 1997).

[3]. Compiled and edited by Maité Bouyssy (Paris: J. P. Rocher,1997).

[4]. The private papers remaining in the hands of Faidherbe’s descendants which I was permitted to photograph in 1970 included a notebook that Faidherbe kept between 1852 and 1854. A series of notes indicate his fascination for Mungo Park’s two expeditions to the Niger River. He dreamed of duplicating Park’s efforts and speculated that one could only be successful in such a venture if one travelled alone, without a threatening entourage.

[5]. In Le Mois en Afrique: Etudes politiques, économiques et sociologiques africaines 235-236 (August-September 1985): 120-150; 237-238 (October-November 1985): 130-156; 239-240 (December 1985-January 1986): 120-150.

[6]. See Trevor R. Getz, Slavery and Reform in West Africa: Towards Emancipation in Nineteenth-Century Senegal and Gold Coast (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004), 86-96. Nevertheless, Faidherbe’s Le Sénégal la France dans l’Afrique Occidentale, published many years later, is dedicated to Victor Schoelcher for having devoted his whole life to the emancipation of black people.

[7]. See Babacar Fall, Le travail forcé en Afrique-Occidentale française (Paris: Editions Karthala, 1993), 30-32.

[8]. See Emile Mayer, Trois maréchaux: Joffre, Gallieni, Foch (Paris: Gallimard, 1928). They have, however, cited Matthew’s much shorter chapter in Lewis H. Gann and Peter Duignan, eds., African Proconsuls: European Governors in Africa (New York: The Free Press, 1978), 80-108.

[9]. Le Révérend, Lyautey écrivain (Gap: Ophrys, 1976), and Lyautey (Paris: Fayard, 1983); Hoisington, Lyautey and the French Conquest of Morocco (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995); and Porch, The Conquest of Morocco (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

[10]. Le Révérend, Lyautey, 106.

[11]. Ibid., 169.

[12]. In La Revue des Deux Mondes 157 (1900): 323; see also Le Révérend, Lyautey, 176-177.

[13]. Joseph Buttinger, The Smaller Dragon: A Political History of Vietnam (New York: Frederick Praeger, 1958), 21-22.

[14]. Derived from Philippe Bernard, “La Gangreène au Coeur,” Le Monde,June 22, 2000.

[15]. See in particular J’ai mal à la France/Général Bigeard (Ostwald : Editions du Polygone, 2001), and Crier ma vérité (Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 2002).

[16]. In addition to the strange choice of descriptor: “cultured” rather than “cultivated” one also learns on p. 319 that Larbi Ben M’Hidi was “hung” rather than hanged.

Printable Version:

Citation: Leland Barrows. Review of Hargreaves, Alec G., ed., Memory, Empire, and Postcolonialism: Legacies of French Colonialism and Singer, Barnett; Langdon, John W., Cultured Force: Makers and Defenders of the French Colonial Empire. H-French-Colonial, H-Net Reviews. January, 2010.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.