War and Memory in the Twentieth Century

By Martin Evans; Ken Lunn | Go to book overview

5
Rehabilitating the Traumatized War
Veteran: The Case of French Conscripts
from the Algerian War, 1954-1962

Martin Evans

Between 1954 and 1962 3 million French conscripts fought in the Algerian war. 1 For France this was the longest war of decolonization and in the minds of many conscripts the enormity of this trauma has left an indelible imprint on their lives, marking them out as the 'Algerian generation'. Yet in terms of public remembrance their experience has remained largely forgotten, overshadowed by the memories of the First World War and the Second World War. Taking this official marginalization as a starting point, this chapter explores the nature of conscripts' memories within contemporary France. The first part will examine the role of the largest Algerian ex-servicemen's organization, the FNACA, outlining how, in the face of public neglect and exclusion, it has attempted to foster a new mood of recognition and reconciliation towards Algerian veterans. The second part will then focus on Bertrand Tavernier The Undeclared War (La Guerre Sans Nom), a film portrait of Algerian veterans in the Grenoble region, released in 1992 to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the war. In doing so it will examine how Tavernier draws upon personal testimonies to emphasize one image above all else: the manner in which the war continues to be a source of terrible social and psychological wounds.

For French conscripts the contours of their memories are firmly rooted in the highly particular nature of the Algerian war. What characterized military service in Algeria first and foremost was diversity of experience. For reservists recalled to fight for six months in 1956; for conscripts whose military service was eventually lengthened to twenty-seven months; for professional soldiers; for the tiny minority of deserters; for those soldiers who rebelled against de Gaulle's pro-independence policy in the putsch of April 1961: no one group participated in the war in the same way, with the result that each group has asserted a different, and often openly

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