Noted historian and author Alistair Horne, whose book A Savage War of Peace (1977), on the French war against Algerian rebels (1954-62), has been reprinted by the New York Review with a new preface that draws parallels with the War in Iraq, will lecture and be interviewed Monday, 8 p.m., at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., in a coproduction with Moe’s Books.
Interest in a new printing of Horne’s book, with its familiar issues of torture and “asymmetrical” tactics, arose when American officers in Iraq began passing around copies and discussing its parallels, rather than those of the War in Vietnam, to Iraq, a situation officially conceived in completely different terms.
Used copies of the book began selling on Amazon.com for as much as $150—an underground bestseller. The new paperback edition is $19.95, and will be available at the event for signing.
The event was organized by Lewis Klausner, who coordinated the reading series at Black Oak Books for several years.
“Lewis came by the store, after the announcement that Black Oak was for sale,” said Owen Hill of Moe’s, who organizes the reading series there. “Things were in a state of flux, and Lewis said he was interested in producing offsite events. Then he called, asking if we wanted to coproduce an Alistair Horne appearance! We jumped at the opportunity. We’d never done offsite events, but had been talking about it, and were grateful for Lewis’ expertise. He wants to make it something a little bit like a Berkeley version of City Arts & Lectures, and plans to interview Horne onstage after the lecture.”
Horne, the author of a number of books on modern French history, draws several parallels between the Algerian War and the one in Iraq: the tactic of insurgents avoiding the occupying military and attacking police and civilian targets instead, in order to demoralize supporters of the occupation; premature declarations of the conflict being “virtually over,” “porous borders” that allowed rebels sanctuary, supplies and reinforcements from contiguous countries (Morocco and Tunisia in Algeria’s case); and, comparing American attempts to build an Iraqi army and police force to fight insurgency, the fact that more Algerians fought for the French than there were rebels—and yet France still lost after eight years’ struggle.
Horne also emphasizes that “simultaneous internal ‘civil war’” often flares up alongside “a revolutionary struggle against an external enemy”—and that “torture should never, never, never be resorted to by any Western society,” quoting a French officer that when torture was taken up by the military, beyond the scope of civilian police use of it, “the honor of the nation” was involved.
In a Washington Post book review of the new edition of Horne’s book, Thomas E. Ricks wrote, “As I wrote about the U. S. Army’s big ‘cordon and sweep’ operations that detained tens of thousands of civilian Iraqi males in the Sunni Triangle in the fall of 2003, I remembered Horne: ‘This is the way a administration caught with its pants down reacts under such circumstances ... First comes the mass indiscriminate round-up of suspects, most of them innocent but converted into ardent militants by the fact of their imprisonment.”
“When we announced the event on the Moe’s website, we got a flurry of emails from customers,” Owen Hill noted, “who had read Horne’s book on the French Commune of 1871, and were intrigued with what he had to say about Iraq. It’ll be fascinating to see how he compares the different historical situations, speaking in person.”
Admission is $5, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For more information, see www.hillsideclub.org, www.moesbooks.com or call 848-3227.