21 November 2015

Last week’s massacre in Paris was not, as almost every writer mistakenly claimed, the worst atrocity in the City Of Light since World War II.

As the renowned Mideast expert Robert Fisk quickly pointed out, an even worse atrocity occurred in Paris 54 years ago, on 17 October, 1961.

Paris chief Maurice Papon, a former Vichy official, who had sent over 1,000 Jews to their deaths during the war, unleashed his brutal riot squads on 30,000 Arab demonstrators calling for the independence of Algeria from French colonial rule. In an orgy of killing, some 200 Algerians were killed. Many were beaten senseless, then thrown from the Pont St. Michel bridge into the Seine River. 11,000 Algerians were arrested and cast into internment camps or a sports stadium.

I was in Paris when this mass killings occurred. Six months later, I was again visiting Paris when four retired French generals tried to stage a coup d’etat against the government of President Charles de Gaulle and Prime Minister Michel Debré which planned to grant Algeria independence after 132 years of French colonial rule.

French voters had backed the independence plan after a long, bloody uprising by Algerians in which one million people may have died. But France’s professional military caste and non-Arab settlers in Algeria, known as “pieds noires,” who were mostly of Spanish, Portuguese and Jewish origin were violently opposed. They plotted to overthrow or kill De Gaulle and keep Algeria French – as retold in the superb book and film, “Day of the Jackal. ”

On 21 April, 1962, army plotters called on Algeria-based elite French paratroop regiments and the Foreign Legion to fly to France, and seize the airport around Paris. The rebels were then to drive into Paris, arrest senior government officials, including De Gaulle, and impose a military regime.

22 April was one of the most exciting days I’ve seen. Aside from demonstrations by left-wing unions, Paris was deserted. Streets were empty; stores were closed. The City of Light had grown dark.

The sound of hundreds of military and police radios crackling filled the air. Side streets off Place de la Concorde were filled by vehicles carrying tough, heavily armed CRS paramilitary police and soldiers from the regular army who had not sided with the mutineers.

Tension was hair-trigger high. Fighting could begin any moment. We scanned the skies for the arriving troop transports bringing in General Jacques Massu’s paras and the Legion from Algiers.

France was poised on the very brink of civil war. The government urged its citizens to rush to the airports and plead with the paras and Legion not to march on Paris. My father’s friend, the legendary American humorist Art Buchwald, told us he too was prepared to rush to Orly Airport but “I can’t speak German!” Meaning – that most of the Legion were former German soldiers or Waffen SS from WWII.

French conscripts of the Army of the Rhine refused to join the uprising and arrested members of the Algiers coup, proving once again that professional armies threaten democratic governments. The French air force commander refused to provide transport aircraft for the army in Algeria, stranding them in North Africa.

Interestingly, a similar refusal to provide transport aircraft to the Communist die-hards who tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 caused the Soviet coup to collapse. By contrast, General Francisco Franco was able to get planes to fly Moroccan troops from North Africa to Spain, thus beginning his war to overthrow the Republican/Leftist government in Madrid.

France’s long colonial rule in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, as well as most of West Africa, brought larger numbers of menial African workers to France. So, too, “harkis,” former soldiers in France’s Algerian Army. Their offspring form today’s underclass in France: poor, living in ghettos, victims of racism and bigotry against Muslims, unable to find work, steeped in petty crime and filled by sense of bitter hopelessness.

The Algerian War fought over 50 years ago has been forgotten in the West. But not by Europe’s or North Africa’s Muslims. Nor its sequel, Algeria’s gruesome civil war in the 1990 that killed hundreds of thousands. Back then, I warned it would one day spill over into Europe.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2015

This post is in: Africa, Algeria, France, History, ISIS, Soviet Union


  1. As usual, after a traumatic event occurs, Eric cuts through the resultant mass media and politicians’ hysteria and hyperbole to give a more nuanced perspective and context. Glad to see he reads Mr. Fisk – an incredible reprter/columnist, one of the few Western journos who was reporting on the Iraq war from inside Baghdad (rather than regurgitating US Army propaganda as embedded journos)

  2. The chickens are coming home to roost. The first ones already did in Paris last week and more will come out, because they spread out all over the European yard. If NATO had been disbanded as promised at the time the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist, it never would have come this far, but that treaty, which caused a lot of immoral behavior by its members and enforced by the US, created a collective guilt for all the member states.
    It is preposterous to think one can keep on abusing a large segment of the human population without getting any repercussions. Only when NATO gets disbanded with all the treaties of it, can there be any hope for peace. Without NATO the US empire would not have been possible to come into being, nor the abuses of it being a lone superpower.
    I wonder how many people in the countries controlled by that empire would vote for the status quo in that empire. Do you think there would be a democratic majority in favor of it? We never have had a real democracy yet. Check the meaning of ‘real democracy’ and you`ll find, that what goes through for a democracy today is more fascist than democratic.

  3. Yes, the old French empire has cast a long shadow across France and the people who once lived in its former colonies, together with their children and grandchildren are still around to haunt the country. As Eric suggests, France’s past colonial sins have come back to punish it in many ways and have contributed in no small part to the breeding of modern Islamic terrorists.

    To a great extent, Britain’s past colonial sins are haunting that country, too, so it should be of little surprise to the West that a number of ISIS supporters have come from the UK. It has never fully integrated a good many of the Muslims who moved there from the former British colonies in west Africa and south Asia (esp. Pakistan), so radical Islam has a fair amount of appeal to a good many younger Muslims in that country.

  4. Eric this massacre doesn’t count because none of the people killed were members of the Christian White and they were killed by white people. This is rule of law.

  5. KeninCanada says:

    What do the french say: the more things change, the more they stay the same…

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