Another crisis of conscience in France about Algeria

LESLIE F. HANNON October 22 1960

Another crisis of conscience in France about Algeria

LESLIE F. HANNON October 22 1960

Another crisis of conscience in France about Algeria



PARIS — France seems to be approaching another crisis of conscience in her effort to crush the Algerian rebels. In its grinding sixyear course this pocket war has produced many crises, moral and military, but this one looks more serious than usual.

Early last month the intellectual Left threw down a challenge to the government of General Charles de Gaulle that went beyond the normal limits of outspoken opposition. A petition appeared over the signatures of 121 writers, university professors, publishers and artists of various kinds. It declared the "right" of Frenchmen to give aid and protection to the Algerian rebels, and also to refuse to fight against them. It said the Algerians were being oppressed in the name of the French people. It called the rebellion “a war of national independence” that was “helping to destroy the colonial system.” The signers included Jean-Paul Sartre, the dramatist and existentialist philosopher; Simone de Beauvoir, long a friend and co-worker of Sartre’s and herself a writer of international fame; award-winning actress Simone Signoret, and many other names that are respected in France if less widely known in North America. By signing the petition they had all committed a deliberate act of defiance of French security regulations that could earn them jail terms of up to five years, and fines of up to $40.000.

Sartre and Mlle, de Beauvoir were on a cultural tour of Brazil when the petition appeared, but the police duly called upon the other signatories, to find out if they had indeed signed such a petition and then to ask questions about the origin of the document. The answers in each case were “yes” to the first question, “no comment” to the rest. In the French manner an investigation was thereupon begun against “X” for "provoking insubordination and desertion in the armed forces,” and police an-

nounced their belief that the author

of the petition was a member of

the National Liberation Front

(Fl.N), the leading force in the

Algerian revolt.

f he next official move, after two weeks of deliberation, was to lay charges of sedition against twelve of the signatories — writers and journalists little known outside

France. Charges were believed

pending against more of the pc-

titioners. and three professors had

been suspended by their univer-

sities for signing.

The best - known figures among

the signatories — Sartre, Mlle, de

Beauvoir and Mile. Signoret —

were not among the first group

charged. If the government does

decide to bring a man of Sartre's

stature to trial because of his views

on this issue it could, many

Frenchmen believe, set rolling a

courtroom drama with some of the

disruptive implications of the Dreyfus case. But. having charged some

of the signers of the petition, how

can it stop short of charging all


Not only was the petition defiant

in its terms, but there was also a

calculated provocation in its tim-

ing. The government already had

on its hands the trial, by a military

tribunal, of a group accused of

actively supporting the Algerian rebels. The group includes Gloria de Herrera, an American expatri-

ate painter from Los Angeles, and the trial has been enlivened by the

legal pyrotechnics that mark the

French judicial system. One of the

defending lawyers, the well-known

counsel Gisele Halimi, dramatically renounced her brief at one stage,

charging that the state was prevent-

ing a fair trial by its refusal to

allow certain witnesses to be call-

ed. The witnesses: André Malraux, minister of cultural affairs, and Fdmond Michelet, minister of justice.

If the authorities do follow

through and press the new sedition

charges, the stage would he set for an exCONTINUED ON PAGE 90


Continued from page 12

amination of a basic and explosive question, of interest far beyond the borders of France: can freedom of speech in 1960 be stretched to allow individuals to get away with deliberate incitement to mutiny and desertion? (The Canadian government in 1940 interned Camillien Houde, mayor of Montreal, for counseling French-Canadians not to register for national service; he remained in custody without trial until the end of the war was in sight. The end of the Algerian war is not in sight yet.)

It has been obvious for a long time that the Algerian rebels enjoy a growing support among intellectuals in Metropolitan France, and that this support is going beyond the limits of official tolerance. Last April, for example, the police raided the offices of two well-known intellectual weeklies, L’Express and France-Observateur. (L’Express, published by friends of ex - Premier Pierre Mendès-France, is moderately left-wing, France-Observateur generally follows the Communist line.)

Ministry of Defense officials charged that articles in the two weeklies amounted to an invitation to desertion by members of the armed forces. Both papers denied such a purpose was included in their editorial policies, and clamored that freedom of the press was being abrogated. Police also seized two books, one called the Deserter and the other The Refusal, claiming that both lauded the point of view of youths who desert from the army or take refuge in foreign countries to avoid being drafted.

These incidents recalled, and to some extent revived, the fuss two and a half years ago over a book called The Question, by left-wing editor Henri Alleg, who said he had been tortured by French paratroopers in Algeria. The Alleg book, published in London and New York, startled many westerners. The ghastly spectre of twentieth - century torture, proved or unproved, continues to stalk in the shadows behind the outbursts of public opposition to Algerian police methods.

The trial last June of Djamila Boupacha, a 22-year-old Moslem girl accused of placing a bomb (which did not go off) in an Algiers café, produced a grisly tale in which the accused became the accuser — she gave detailed and horrifying descriptions of the third-degree methods used upon her and other members of her family. Simone de Beauvoir shook the respectable readers of Le Monde with a guest column recounting Djamila Boupacha’s evidence. That issue of Le Monde was seized in Algiers, but not in Metropolitan France.

Grandeur and screams

Later Françoise Sagan, the 24-yearold golden girl known for her bittersweet romantic novels, jumped into the fray with a guest editorial in L’Express. She also took up the Boupacha case and drew a bead on General de Gaulle, writing that she was convinced Mile. Boupacha had been tortured. Mile. Sagan added: “I don’t understand how an intelligent man who has a sense of grandeur and who has power has not yet done something about it. I can’t imagine that the fanfares of grandeur could cover the screams of a young girl.”

The pot came to the boil, though, with

the words of a man almost unknown outside France, and not too well known inside France — Francis Jeanson, a former professor of philosophy, now the most wanted fugitive in Paris.

By his own admission Jeanson is a leader, perhaps the leader, of a movement that is actively engaged in undermining the French military action in Algeria. Yet with every Paris policeman, secret serviceman and stoolpigeon looking for him, Jeanson held a clandestine press conference in the heart of the city that was attended by one French freelance journalist and fifteen foreign newspapermen. To them he boasted that three thousand men had already deserted from the French North African forces or successfully dodged the callup. It was his movement’s aim to increase this number in the months ahead. Despite police raids the organization remained intact, and was transferring abroad the astonishing sum of $800,000 a month for FLN use. Some informed Frenchmen think this must be an exaggerated figure, but the FLN is known to collect — if not extort—large sums from Algerians living and working in Metropolitan France.

The single French reporter at the audacious press conference was himself a fascinating character. His name is Georges Arnaud, and he is best known for his successful novel Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear), which was also a successful movie. Arnaud has been both a chauffeur and goldminer. In 1941 he was charged with the murder of his father, his aunt and a servant, and acquitted. He emigrated then to South America, where his adventures formed the basis of his best-seller.

Jail for his silence

Arnaud attended the Jeanson press conference as a freelance journalist and afterwards sent his report of the event with devilish intent to the arch-conservative daily Paris-Presse. Unable to ignore one of the scoops of the year, ParisPresse published Arnaud’s story under the headline: Warning — Poison. The

police swooped on Arnaud immediately and ordered him to reveal the source of his report. Pleading that a journalist was protected by the “unwritten code of the freedom of the press, Arnaud would tell the police nothing. He was thrown in jail and stayed there two months until his trial. Other writers, editors, and intellectual leaders flocked to his defense. Pierre Lazareff, editor and publisher of FranceSoir, the acknowledged champion of freedom of the p«'ess in France, and Robert Lazurick, editor of L’Aurore, appeared to argue Arnaud’s case. JeanPaul Sartre declaimed in evidence that Jeanson had confidence in Arnaud when he called him; “Arnaud cannot betray this confidence. If confidence does not exist one goes straight to national demoralization.” Arnaud was found guilty, but got off with a two-year suspended sentence. He is appealing the verdict.

These were the events that preceded the petition of the 121.

As September passed it seemed increasingly unlikely that the authorities would risk the furor that would arise if men and women of the stature of Sartre and Mile, de Beauvoir were prosecuted, let alone jailed. Yet along with the twelve already charged and the milling but articulate thousands (including a sprinkling of the world’s most spectacular phonies) who make the Left Bank the most stimulating intellectual forum in the world, they were bringing France to a crisis of conscience unique in recent history. That one word, liberté, still has a magic that fires the hearts of Frenchmen.