No Comment, Quotation — December 10, 2007, 12:00 am

de Tocqueville on the War in Algeria


Pour ma part, j’ai rapporté d’Afrique la notion affligeante qu’en ce moment nous faisons la guerre d’une manière beaucoup plus barbare que les Arabes eux-mêmes. C’est, quant a présent, de leur côté que la civilisation se rencontre. Cette manière de mener la guerre me paraît aussi inintelligente qu’elle est cruelle. Elle ne peut entrer que dans l’esprit grossier et brutal d’un soldat. Ce n’était pas la peine en effet de nous mettre à la place des Turcs pour reproduire ce qui en eux méritait la détestation du monde. Cela, même au point de vue de l’intérêt, est beaucoup plus nuisible qu’utile ; car, ainsi que me le disait un autre officier, si nous ne visons qu’à égaler les Turcs nous serons par le fait dans une position bien inférieure à eux : barbares pour barbares, les Turcs auront toujours sur nous l’avantage d’être des barbares musulmans. . . Pour moi, je pense que tous les moyens de désoler les tribus doivent être employés. Je n’excepte que ceux que l’humanité et le droit des nations réprouvent.

I for my case report back from Africa with the pathetic notion that at this moment we are in our way of waging war even more barbaric than the Arabs themselves. These days, they represent civilization, we do not. This way of waging war seems to me as idiotic as it is cruel. It can only be found in the head of a coarse and brutal soldier. Indeed, what purpose was served by replacing the Turks only to reproduce what the world so properly detested about them? This, even for the sake of interest is more noxious than useful; for, as another officer was telling me, if our sole aim is to equal the Turks, in fact we shall never reach that goal: barbarians for barbarians, the Turks will always outdo us because they are Muslim barbarians. . . I personally believe that we must avail ourselves of every tactic to destroy the warring tribes, but we may not reach to those means which humankind and the law of nations forbid.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Travail sur l’Algérie (1841) in: Œuvres complètes vol. 3, pp. 704-05 (Pléiade ed. 1991)(S.H. transl.)

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