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In Algeria Galula conducted radical experiments in what was called "revolutionary warfare" - and in these experiments lie the key to understanding the strange revolutionary roots of the theory of Counterinsurgency - and why it could so easily go wrong and lead to horror. His family were rich merchants and in the s Galula went to study at the prestigious St Cyr military college in France and rose rapidly. He arrived in the midst of the civil war being fought between the communists led by Mao Zedong and the Koumintang nationalists. A year later Galula went on a trip by himself into the interior and was captured by the communists and held for a week.
Although he was anti-communist, Galula was fascinated by the way the communists behaved towards the local people because it was different from any other troops he had seen. What Galula realised was that Mao had invented a completely new idea of how to fight a war.
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Put simply - there was no conventional army any longer, the new army were the millions of people the insurgents moved among. And there were no conventional victories any longer, victory instead was inside the heads of the millions of individuals that the insurgents lived among. If they could persuade the people to believe in their cause and to help them - then the conventional forces would always be surrounded - and would be defeated no matter how many traditional battles they won.
And the way to do it, Galula decided, was to behave exactly the same as Mao's revolutionaries - to swim among the people. Over the next eight years Galula moved around the world observing the bitter wars of liberation being fought in Greece, Malaya and in Indo China - and he saw how the French army was catastrophically defeated by the communist revolutionary army in Vietnam. And in he volunteered to go and serve in Algeria where France was fighting a war against the guerrilla army of the National Liberation Front.
Galula found that other officers had been thinking along the same lines - and he was allowed to go and set up what was called "An Experimental Operational Zone". In a book Galula wrote about his Algerian experiment, that was going to become the bible of the Counterinsurgency movement, he said:. Galula took a village that was in the centre of the insurgency and sent his men to live and work there among the population. The aim was to persuade the people of the village to turn away from the insurgents and thus rob them of their power.
The way to do this, Galula said, was through psychological tactics - both by making the villagers feel that they would be safer with the French, but also through indoctrination into a new and modern way of thinking about the world. If his soldiers and civilian advisers could do this, Galula believed, then the villagers would realise that the real way forward to a better life was not through the insurgents and their vicious tactics, but through the European vision of a new, modern democratic community created amid the harsh mountains of Algeria.
It was a highly idealistic vision - and in the BBC made a documentary about one of these experiments. It was a "protected village" high up in the Aures Mountains. Galula does not appear - but it is the area in which he was working and is clearly modelled on Galula's theories. The reporter is the brilliant James Mossman. He was deeply involved in reporting the new wars of liberation that were breaking out round the world - and was no natural supporter of the colonial powers. But he portrays the experiment sympathetically:.
The officers in charge of the new 'protected villages' make no secret of the fact that this is what they are trying to do. What started as a predominantly military-security operation has blossomed into a fully-blown social experiment ".
But there was another side to this Counterinsurgency theory. If you could persuade the local people to come over to your side - then that would leave the insurgents who lived among the people drastically weakened. And that meant you could destroy them. But to do that you had to identify the insurgents - and that meant getting information from your new "friends" the local villagers.
But sometimes they didn't want to give that kind of information, possibly because they were frightened, or they might even be an insurgent themselves, just pretending to be a villager.
And that led to the French soldiers finding ways to persuade the villagers to tell them who was an insurgent. It was called torture. Here is part of a Panorama film made only two years later in the same Aures Mountain region that revealed some of the horror that had been going on in other of the "protected villages". By the French President, de Gaulle had given Algeria its independence. The Panorama film is a very weird piece of journalism.
It treats the ALN like conquering heroes - and slaps an extraordinary piece of romantic music all over shots of them. But it then shows what it says is the reality of the protected camps and villages that the local population had been put in for "re-education".
The film alleges that torture was used in the camps - and then it shows the revolutionaries unblocking an old well outside one of the villages and sending a young boy into the well to find out what is hidden down there. There was a terrible paradox at the heart of the theory of Counterinsurgency. As formulated by people like Galula, the theory said that the colonial powers had to imitate the tactics of the revolutionary insurgents they were fighting.
They had to become like a mirror that copied Mao Zedong's revolutionary theories - but in reverse, so they could pull the people away from the insurgents. But what this also meant was that in effect the Europeans became copies of the insurgents - and that could so easily lead them to use some of the same terror tactics as their guerrilla enemy.
The paradox was that while this probably led to less deaths than pointless conventional battles - it also brought torture and murder and a copy of the terrorist mind-set into the heart of the European colonial armies. This was expressed very powerfully in the film The Battle Of Algiers made in about the struggle against the insurgents in the Casbah in Algiers. This is the scene in the script of the film where he elegantly and rationally argues the case for this logic of Counterinsurgency.
In the French military elite this ruthless extension of counterinsurgency was called "guerre revolutionaire" - or revolutionary war theory. And it captured the imagination of many of the leading officers fighting the war. But it was also going to have very strange consequences for France itself. When President de Gaulle decided to give independence to Algeria, many of the senior French army officers who had been fighting the insurgents were furious. They believed it was a complete betrayal of everything they had been fighting for, and also of the thousands of French Algerians living in Algeria.
In their anger they set up their own clandestine organisation to try and stop de Gaulle. But Galula himself was not among them.
At one point they exploded hundreds of bombs a day, killing innocent people, to try and force the FLN to resume their terrorist attacks and thus justify the return of French control. Historians who have studied the OAS have argued that this terror campaign had many of its roots in the "black ops" and techniques of subversion that had been developed by the French military in their Counterinsurgency campaign against the insurgents in the late s - techniques that they had come to believe in deeply. What had begun as a reverse copy of Mao's revolutionary theories had now mutated into a form of revolutionary terror that was trying to bring down a major European political system.
Here are some of the reports of the time - they give a good sense of the fear and uncertainty that the OAS terror was spreading through France in the early s. Many believed that the terrorism was destroying the very idea of democracy. He talks of using revolutionary war to bring down the government - the same "guerre revolutionaire" that had been used in Algiers. Instead, in the early s, he went to America to spread his idealistic vision of the theory among the US military elite. And the reason he was invited was because an ambitious young Senator had become fascinated with the whole notion of how to fight the spread of communism around the world in a new, revolutionary way.
He was John F Kennedy. Counterinsurgency ideas had first reached America in the form of a best-selling novel. It told the story of how communism was spreading through SE Asia - helped on its way by the stupid, arrogant behaviour of the Americans there. But the hero of the novel - an American engineer called Homer Atkins - behaves differently. He goes and works in local villages to help the local people develop and modernise. Then an American military officer points out that what Atkins is doing is exactly the same as Mao's revolutionary theories set out to do - "win the minds and the hearts" of the local people.