28 APRIL 1961, Page 5

The General and the Generals From DARSIE GILLIE PARIS T HE

Algerian mutiny has ended as suddenly as it began—with very little bloodshed, two men killed, a few wounded; and the thunderstorm appears to have cleared the air. The Europeans of Algeria who felt they were threatened with exile, and the officers who believed they were being betrayed by treachery at home, have again been shown that they are in the grip of history : that they are in the grip of events which can be modified but not avoided. In May, 1958, the French internal crisis of confidence happened to correspond with an Algerian crisis of protest; since then Paris and Algiers have been moving away from each other. Paris wants peace and decolonisation; Algiers and the parachutist colonels are alone in a hard world. The road is open on the French side at least for negotiation with the Algerian rebels; they have been prepared by a moment in history during which their leaders and de Gaulle seemed to be allies.

The leaders of the mutiny are now referred to on the wireless as 'the ex-generals' and 'the felons.' But however wrong-headed they may have been, however disastrous could have been their victory (and has been their opposition to a healthy development of French policy, if not in Indo-China then in North Africa), it is right in the moment of their defeat to remember that the motives of many of them were not just a fanati- cism or old-fashioned imperialism or devotion to their financial interests. There was, as in most tragedies, a motive of honour. There is the case of General Challe, which has caused most per- plexity; an able hard-headed soldier, much re- spected during his nine months as number two to General Norstadt. Why did he resign last Janu- ary from that job, over Algeria, where he had no longer any responsibility? Was it because during the barricade insurrection of last year he had kept the Army loyal by pledging himself to the de Gaulle policy, not realising that this would mean independence for Algeria, as it now admittedly does? Was it to stand by this pledge that he sacrificed an honourable retirement?

The reflection is not merely of human interest; men of Challe's character are numerous in the French Army. They are above all numerous in those sections which have now been fighting colonial wars for fifteen years, and have little place in the French Army of the future which, integrated or unintegrated, will be an army of the nuclear age. There is a significant symbolism in the explosion of the last of the French experi- mental bombs in the Sahara in the middle of the mutiny. It was the death-knell of the old army. President de Gaulle has been applauded by the West in so far as his policy has been directed towards `decolonisation,' a word he has now made his own. The difficulty of carrying out his policy without an open breach with the leaders of the Army is now evident, and it is a difficulty for which he himself bears some personal responsi- bility. Sixteen years ago he allowed Admiral d Argenlieu. as his representative in Indo-China, to follow a different policy from that laid down at home. He is in fact co-responsible with nearly all the important civilian politicians in France for not laying down clearly the principles of de- colonisation many years ago. The professional soldiers, the mercenaries and the colonial troops were sent out to fight wars with nineteenth- century slogans while the politicians, without properly explaining themselves to the pub- lic, their military executants or perhaps them- selves, were preparing a retreat in the opposite direction. President de Gaulle cannot escape his share of this indictment. He has been moving for years in the right direction; but during most of them, if he did know his ultimate goal, he kept the secret well guarded. It is this refusal by France's political leaders, including the President, to fight the battle for decolonisation openly that has led to this tragedy and disaster.

For the thunderstorm has left a stricken field behind it Of the four leaders, one was recently number two to General Norstadt and was per- sonally decorated last year by President de Gaulle with the highest rank in the Legion of Honour. Two of them are ex-C-in-Cs in Algeria. Of the men who went over to them, one was for a long time principal military adviser to M. Debre when Prime Minister. Of the men now under fortress arrest in France one, General Grout de Beaufort, was head of President de Gaulle's personal mili- tary staff from June, 1959, to the beginning of last year, and was thereafter Director of the Institute of Higher National Defence Studies. An- other was commander of the French troops in Germany until last March. After them come all the brigadiers and colonels of the parachutists including the preachers of pestilent forms of psychological warfare, many of whom the Army is certainly well rid, but who were the principal intellectual lights it possessed. The President has also had against him the heirs of Vichy using against him the claim to a right to mutiny he used in June, 1940. And these are not his only opponents: the Chief of Staff of the mutiny, General Godard, former Director of Security in Algeria. was a leader of the Maquis during the • German occupation of France. One of the President's aims has been to carry out his policy in Algeria without tearing the seamless robe of French military unity. A huge rent has now been torn in it. This is a personal defeat of which he must be most sensible. But there is another aspect of his rule which now stands open to question. He has avoided the use of a power machine like Fascist or Communist parties by a combination of austere detachment from political organisations and immense prac- tical skill. Dictatorship as experienced under any totalitarian regime has been avoided in France by the encouragement of political apathy. Yet it was this apathy which the mutineers hoped to exploit, and which they nearly did exploit suc- cessfully. What the President calls 'republican legitimacy' has been saved by a practical rally to his support which was not of the same charac- ter as the applause (quite genuine) which he received during his royal progresses through France. It was the republican opposition that ral- lied him—and which is now being told by some wise persons that it ran to Nanny when the parachutists appeared on the horizon. It was not so much an amiable Nanny as an unsympathetic governess in the person of the Prime Minister, M. Michel Debre, that addressed the National Assembly when it met on Tuesday as the con- stitutional consequence of the President's assumption of full powers under Article 16. Similarly it was the conscripts' resistance that enabled the loyalist officers to reverse the sur- prise with which the mutiny first swept Algeria.

If France is to be a great modern society, as the President passionately desires, with every technique at her disposal and her sons leading again in the exploration of the atom and the galaxies, the President's old-fashioned paternal- ism is surely insufficient, however skilfully exer- cised. His government on this occasion profited from the mobilisation of the trade unions for a wages battle: the latter was suspended for the duration of the crisis and, instead, the unions added their deep roar of anger to the President's own moving and resolute broadcast on Sunday night. Once again de Gaulle has saved France from a military coup d'etat, but with the help of the men whom he is content to leave in despised opposition. Will he leave them there?