The Wretched of the Earth Book Cover

The Wretched of the Earth and Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War – Comparative Reaction Essay

In the selection from The Wretched of the Earth, by Franz Fanon, the author argues that violence is a necessary part of decolonization. At first glance, this seems like a difficult argument to make, but Fanon frames violence in a way that emphasizes its use as a tool and a reaction more than something to be enjoyed and promoted. According to Fanon, violence is necessary because colonialism itself is violence that will not be stopped by other means. Violence is a trigger and point of departure that creates the impetus for decolonization by making the situation untenable for the colonizer and, further, acts as a unifying factor.

Compared to Mouloud Feraoun’s Journal, which is personal and conveys a sense of what it was like to live through the Algerian revolution, Fanon’s work is much more abstract. He was not writing from within an anti-colonial environment, but was rather making observations about colonialism in general. Fanon’s work heavily emphasizes dichotomies, both between capitalism and socialism and the colonizer and the colonized, which is to be expected given the author’s context of the Cold War and how that conflict impacted national struggles around the world.

Is violence a necessary part of the decolonization process? Fanon addresses the voluntary decolonization of some areas as a reaction to violence in other areas. In other words, voluntary decolonization was really forced, because it was done to avoid further violence. When considering this, I thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s movement of non-violence, when he was attempting to free India from British colonial control. Gandhi’s movement was successful (though not entirely because of his movement alone) in pushing out the British, but how does it fit into Fanon’s theory?

Fanon makes the point that violence acts as a vehicle for driving otherwise separate peoples in one direction (73). This sounds like he is arguing that by unifying people, violence constitutes the nation through experiencing a common hardship, which serves as a unifying memory for future generations. The Revolutionary War of the United States against Britain is an example of violence creating a common enemy, but it did not result in a unified nation. The failure of the new country’s economy was the driving force behind greater unification of the former colonies under a stronger central government, which turned those former fighters into a more unified people, or American nation.

India also does not fit neatly into this rubric. Gandhi’s movement called explicitly for non-violence. There was common suffering among those who took part in the movement, but Fanon’s theory seems to suggest that this common suffering must escalate into a violent movement before independence can be attained, or a sense of nationhood can be developed. Does this only work in areas where people did not have a unified sense of culture beforehand? Modern India is composed of a multitude of groups that loosely fit into the same cultural category through religious affiliation, but which were historically multiple kingdoms and other political units. Is non-violence just as strong a unifying factor, or was the violence inflicted on India what caused them to become unified? In other words, does mutual suffering create nationhood rather than mutual violence against another group?

Fanon’s obsession with and aggrandizement of violence reads like intellectualized grand-standing to call attention to his position on socialism as the better option for people in general. He mentions that individualism is a position that must be abandoned. He places capitalist countries firmly on the ‘bad’ side of the dichotomy of good and evil, in terms of colonizers and colonists, and concludes the selection provided with a call for restitution framed in terms of reparations for war damages. It is an interesting argument. How much of what Europe has today is the result of wealth accumulated from exploited countries? How much should be returned? How should it be returned and to whom? To governments? What about regions that are still politically unstable? And is there not an argument that the technological, medical, and social developments invented or refined in the West and disseminated throughout the world are not in and of themselves a form of restitution, in that they better all of humanity?

Journal, 1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War Book Cover

Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War, by Mouloud Feraoun – Reaction Essay

Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War (2000), contains the collected and translated notes of Mouloud Feraoun, an Algerian Kabyle who lived through most of the French-Algerian war and was ultimately assassinated by the OAS, an extremist group composed of French residents of Algeria that were attempting to prevent Algerian independence. Feraoun was born during the colonial period, educated in the French system and worked as an educator himself. He was intelligent, complex, and saw the conflict in a nuanced way that he feared would make him a target as the forces arrayed against each other in the country began to view the world as wholly divided between good and evil. He was especially conflicted about the education strike, because he believed that not everything inherited from the French was inherently evil, a position that was at odds with the FLN’s idolization of Islam as the native answer to French cultural domination.

The most prominent part of Feraoun’s recollections is the constant violence that he reports. The deaths become routine and he records them in a way that becomes standardized, because the killing had become standardized. Violence gripped the entire country and became a tool used both by the French and the FLN. Some violence is to be expected, but the level of violence escalated to a point that defied logic. Feraoun accuses the FLN of creating an atmosphere that will make people long for French rule, and as his memoir nears its end, that very thing begins to happen. Summary executions, rapes, round-ups, identity checks and oppressive home searches became the norm for people on both sides of the fight. Those caught in the middle tried to live their lives as best they could, but they were forced into a position where they were bound to be killed by one side or the other because there was no ideological room left to be neutral.

The French military’s use of violent tactics is more questionable than those of the “rebel” groups, not simply because one expects a rebel group to use terrorism and guerilla tactics, but because of France’s claim that Algeria is France. If Algeria is France, why were these “French” Algerians in “France” subjected to violence that a nation normally reserved for enemy nations? Feraoun compares French tactics in the villages and outlying areas to those used by Russia against Hungary. Even in a situation of martial law, would those actions be permitted in Paris? This shows that there was a distinct disconnect between rhetoric and actual policy that made clear Algeria’s place not as an integral part of France, but rather as a colony under another name, full of dangerous locals, none of whom were above suspicion. As Feraoun mentioned when trying to return to his village on the occasion of his father’s death, without the telegram from the French military official, he was a rebel commander and his cousin was a fighter as well. There was a presumption of guilt that placed all natives outside of the French nation and, as a result, outside of the state and the state’s protection.

The Assassination of Lumumba, Ludo De Witte Book Cover

The Assassination of Lumumba, by Ludo De Witte – Reaction Essay

In The Assassination of Lumumba, Ludo De Witte analyzes the events and motivations surrounding the death of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo after the country’s supposed decolonization by Belgium. De Witte was arguing against popular historiography and sentiment and attempted to provide readers with a more complete understanding of the circumstances that led to Lumumba’s assassination. De Witte analyzes documents he is given access to by the UN and the Belgian government, as well as a dissertation thesis written by Jacques Brassinne and Jean Kestergat in 1991, which he regards with suspicion since Brassinne collaborated with the Katangan government, which could have had a serious impact on the interviews Brassinne conducted. De Witte’s work opens up many questions about the decolonization process, including the influence of the Cold War, the usefulness of the United Nations as an institution, and the value of humanitarian ideals relative to strategic interests in the eyes of the international community.

De Witte’s argument for outside involvement in Lumumba’s assassination rests on three pillars: UN complicity, Belgian initiative, and the involvement of the CIA in an aborted assassination attempt. The influence attributed to the United States by De Witte in Lumumba’s eventual death is weak. De Witte clearly shows that the United States’ government’s obsession with the Cold War and the possibility of the Congo aligning itself with the USSR was seriously discussed and resulted in the CIA developing assassination plans. Had this plan been carried out, the United States would certainly bear responsibility. However, the assassination was called off when Belgium and the United Nations managed to arrange Lumumba’s death. Morally, the US incurred guilt through planning the action and intending to commit the action, but in the purest legal sense, intent without action is not a crime.

De Witte’s accusations against the United Nations are in some cases circumstantial. For example, he places blame on the institution as a result of the actions, or inactions, of individuals. It is very significant that Dag Hammerskjold willfully influenced events in a way that ensured the collapse of the legally elected and legitimate government that Lumumba was a part of, and validated the illegal government set up by Tshombe in Katanga. It makes one questions whether or not there was some unrealized link between Hammerskjold and the Belgian government that gave him an incentive to undermine Lumumba. Or, perhaps, Hammerskjold was merely representative of a neo-colonialist element within the United Nations that worked for goals contrary to those officially stated by the United Nations.

In his introduction, De Witte notes that many have understood his book to be primarily laying blame at the feet of the Belgian government. He attempts to deflect by saying that he thinks blame lies with more than one party and while that is certainly true, it is obvious that the primary motivation for removing Lumumba was to restore Belgium’s control of the Congo by using a weak parliament as a façade. The media was expertly manipulated to reiterate racist rhetoric that reduced Lumumba to a reactionary, animalistic figure without any clear plan other than to kill Europeans, reminiscent of anti-Mau Mau rhetoric in Kenya. The presence of Belgians at all stages of Lumumba’s detention, transfer and murder, as well as Belgian initiation and reinforcement of the secession of Katanga, and the intentional attempt to stamp out popular political sentiment clearly put the majority of the blame and responsibility at the feet of the Belgian government, regardless of later revelations by the 2002 Belgian parliamentary commission’s findings of active conspiracy by the royal court to assassinate Lumumba.

What is the actual purpose and value of the United Nations? How often has the organization actually effected positive change? Are humanitarian values and decolonial rhetoric smokescreens meant to place a positive veneer on continued Western control of other countries? Belgium’s actions in the Congo are reminiscent of the CIA and MI6 overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran after he nationalized the oil company formerly controlled by Britain. Lumumba was written off as being unique or unusual but he had the support of the people and his ideas, to truly decolonize his country, were part of a larger stream of thought in much of the world at that time. Unfortunately, the West still held a disproportionate amount of international power and, despite the public outcry and later support for the Stanleyville government primarily by Communist bloc countries, the Congo was allowed to remain under Belgian control.