Maurice Vaïsse

The Algiers Putsch Publication date : March 31, 2021

Maurice Vaïsse is professor emeritus of the history of international relations at Sciences Po.
22 April 1961, Radio-Algiers: “This is Radio-France. The army has seized control of Algeria and the Sahara…” This was the beginning of a putsch by French generals, the subject of Maurice Vaïsse’s book.

“This book is not a history of the Algerian War, but a narrative and a reflection on a Franco-French conflict regarding the origins and the revolt of April 1961 and its aftermath.” Its focus is the Putsch of Algiers itself, excluding the episode of the pro-colonialist OAS terrorist group. “The event itself was short-lived: four days, barely five nights. And yet, the short duration of the putsch was related to a lengthy time for the French army:” it revealed an unrest. Beginning in 1940, the clear distinction between the military and political spheres were blurring: World War II and decolonization conflicts were inverting relationships, leading to the putsch (Ch. 1), following recurring crises opposing the army and the nation (Ch. 2). Why this failure (Ch. 3) and what were the consequences of it (Ch. 4)? The goal of this book is to take stock of the event and analyze its place in contemporary French history.

Maurice Vaïsse resumes here an undertaking first begun close to 40 years ago, this time with the help of archival resources that were inaccessible before, which substantiate, enrich, and considerably clarify the work. In his book, there is history and facts, and rigorous analysis. There is also, from the archives to first-hand accounts, the emotion of a man for whom Algeria was not foreign – he was born in Algiers and was there in April 1961 – and whose throat we can sense tightening before the failure, however inevitable it may have been, of French policy, and the suffering of the people.

“What I believe is new in this book,” writes the author, “concerns on the one hand the behavior of the corps of generals, and on the other, the role of General de Gaulle.” The human dimension of the putsch is in the forefront, in the attitude of the General, the expectations of the populations concerned, and the motivations of those involved in the putsch. The work concludes with a melancholic text by Pierre Racine: “Adieu Algeria,” and its appendices provide the rather poignant deposition of the commander Denoix de Saint-Marc, illustrating the tragic dimension of a conflict of duties and loyalties, and the heartache of “honor.”