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19.3.04

The Battle of Algiers

Actually, I saw The Battle of Algiers back in February and never got around to blogging about it (see post on February 7, The Return of the Art Movie). As you may know, the movie has come back to a wider audience's attention because of the message it seemed to offer to a nation fighting a war, not against a country, but against a nebulous network carrying out devastating terrorist attacks. It was David Ignatius, in an article (Think Strategy, Not Numbers, August 26, 2003) in the Washington Post, who first reported that American military officials had viewed a special screening of Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 faux-documentary about the French army's brutal crackdown on an uprising in Algiers:

Pentagon sources report one hopeful sign that the military is thinking creatively and unconventionally about Iraq. The Pentagon's special operations chiefs have scheduled a showing tomorrow in the Army auditorium of "The Battle of Algiers," a classic film that examines how the French, despite overwhelming military superiority, were defeated by Algerian resistance fighters. A Pentagon flier announcing the film puts it in eerie perspective: "How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. . . . Children shoot soldiers at point blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film."
In fact, in a more recent review ('65 classic 'Battle of Algiers' still electrifies and challenges, February 27) in the Boston Globe, Ty Burr claims that the August showing was only the latest example of an established practice: "For years the Pentagon has screened this film to military personnel headed for insurgent hotspots—it was shown there as recently as August. . . . 'Battle' is cauterizing in its evenhandedness, showing the vengeful madness and the passionate reason on both sides of the conflict."

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