Academic journal article Military Review

Let's Take the French Experience in Algeria out of U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine

Academic journal article Military Review

Let's Take the French Experience in Algeria out of U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine

Article excerpt


THE U.S. ARMY and Marine Corps Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency, is not written from a perspective of classic strategy or strategic principles. (1) Most of the standard terms of military strategy are wholly absent, and where present they are used outside the confines of traditional military usage. While rejecting classic terms, a new conventionalism appears in the manual with lessons from the French experience in Algeria featured favorably in that convention. Together, the words Algeria, France, French, and Galula (surname of a French officer and author frequently referenced in the manual) are used at least 42 times. The FM's annotated bibliography includes several books on the Algerian counterinsurgency. (2)

But, to what end? Why do the manual writers put so much emphasis on that French experience, given that the French failed strategically, engaged in immoral conduct during the war, provoked a civil-military crisis in France, and tolerated genocide and mass population displacement in northern Africa after the withdrawal of French forces? It seems that the French government could not have achieved a worse set of results, nor could U.S. doctrine have chosen a worse model to admire, if admiration it is. (3)

Publication of FM 3-24 understandably sparked some pushback by interested commentators. Armed Forces Journal articles and subsequent blogging debates produced a slew of important questions. (4) What exactly are the supposed French "lessons learned?" What is it about the Algerian case that earns special emphasis in U.S. military instruction or about David Galula that the FM should anoint him as a counterinsurgent guru? What French lessons have entered recent U.S. doctrine, and are they the right ones? Did the French view of counterinsurgency accelerate a U.S. move away from classic strategy to another set of counterinsurgent principles? Was this switch warranted?

Galula or Trinquier?

A 1965 International Affairs book review of Roger Trinquier's Modern Warfare and David Galula's Counterinsurgency Warfare (both published in English in 1964) asserts, "Galula has a much wider view of the problem, partly no doubt because his professional experience is wider." Available English-language biographic information about Trinquier and Galula, however, indicates that Trinquier was older, more experienced, much more widely known in the French military and in France than Galula, and a more prolific writer. (5) Alistair Horne, in his 1977 A Savage War of Peace (widely considered the seminal English-language work on the war) indexes Trinquier heavily, but Galula not at all. Jean Larteguy modeled characters in his novels The Centurions and The Praetorians after Trinquier, but it would be problematic to assert that Galula's life or experiences impressed him. (6) One finds it hard to believe that Lieutenant Colonel Galula did not know Colonel Trinquier, at the time a chief of intelligence in Algeria. Still, Galula does not cite Trinquier in either of his own works, although he almost certainly read Trinquier's Modern Warfare before working on his own 1963 Pacification in Algeria (from which his less-revealing Counterinsurgency Warfare was then derived). The absence of citations of Trinquier might suggest professional jealousy, personal differences, or intentional silence on Galula's part.

Regardless of their interpersonal or professional relationship, it does not seem reasonable to assert that Galula's writing reflects French military thinking about Algeria more than that of Trinquier, who was a more important player in the events in Algeria. It is more likely that the writers of FM 3-24 favored Galula because of the formula he presented, rather than for singularity or depth of experience. They may also have preferred Galula because he did not advocate so strongly torture and terror as methods for breaking into the cellular organization of the Algerian insurgency. …

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