Thursday, December 11, 2014

Albert Camus: Algerian Chronicles (1958, 2013)

Given the recent release by the US Senate of "The Torture Report" (detailing American torture and general abuse of prisoners during the Bush-Cheney administration for several years after 9/11/2001), reading the new English translation of Albert Camus' Algerian Chronicles becomes more timely than ever. Why? Because Camus, writing of Algerian realities, and most sharply about La guerre d’Algérie / The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) -- during which the majority of Algerians broke away from France and formed an independent nation -- spends a lot of thought and energy trying to figure out practical ways to safeguard the lives of civilians (especially women and children); guaranteeing the civilized treatment of prisoners; and seeking to minimize both terrorist attacks and revenge repression. 

This was a big deal for an Algerian Frenchman, but he died in a car accident at age 46 in 1960, two years before Algeria became independent, which he had hoped would not have happened with such abruptness.  
Camus' observations sound very contemporary. Apply them to just about anywhere in 2014, substituting "France/French" and "Algeria/Algerian" with any place or people you like. 

Camus in 1945: "French colonial doctrine in Algeria since the conquest has not been notable for its coherence . . . No historical situation is ever permanent. If you are unwilling to change quickly enough, you lose control of the situation . . . Because French policy in Algeria ignored these elementary truths, it was always 20 years behind the actual situation . . ." (pages 102-103).

In 1955: "The inexcusable massacres of French civilians will lead to equally stupid attacks on Arabs and Arab property. It is as if madmen inflamed by rage found themselves locked in a forced marriage from which no exit was possible and therefore decided on mutual suicide" (page 115). 

Camus' stance was  unequivocally against the use of torture by anyone for whatever stated reason. (Let me state here that I, Erik Donald France, agree with Camus 100% against any justification for the use of torture).

". . . how can one be outraged by the massacres of French prisoners if one tolerates the execution of Arabs without trials?  Each side uses the crimes of the other to justify its own. By this logic, the only possible outcome is interminable destruction" ("A Truce for Civilians," page 142).

It's all a fascinating and still urgent existential response to the "actualities" of the world. 

For more, here's a fuller citation: Albert Camus, Algerian Chronicles. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer with an introduction by Alice Kaplan. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The Belknap Press of Haravrd University Press, 2013. Originally published by Gallimard as Chroniques algériennes, 1939-1958 (1958 and 2002). 

1 comment:

the walking man said...

I too agree, unfortunately though we are more than willing to send other despots to the World Court we have exempted our own tyrants from that jurisdiction.

before much longer we will be needing clandestine communications.