Modern World History Discussion Preparation: The Battle of Algiers Instructions

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Section: 12.1 12.2 (circle one)

Modern World History

Discussion Preparation: The Battle of Algiers


Over the next two and a half days in class, we will be watching the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. This film is a fictional but highly realistic account of the Battle of Algiers, a yearlong campaign in Algeria’s war for independence from the French. As we watch the video, you should take detailed notes on specific scenes, characters, and actions that will help you engage in our discussion of the unit’s essential question: Is violence for political ends ever justified? In addition, you should prepare to answer five of the questions on this sheet, in at least one paragraph each. You must answer Question #10; the other four questions are your choice. The responses to these questions are due at the beginning of class on Friday, November 22. Your answers will be incorporated into your grade for the teacherless discussion, which is a major assessment.

Key Terms and People

Casbah: a densely populated neighborhood in the center of Algiers, which became the epicenter of activity for Algerian nationalists during the Battle of Algiers.
Ali la Pointe: a petty criminal turned FLN activist who features prominently in the film.
FLN: the National Liberation Front, the main organization organizing Algerians in support of independence from France.
El-hadi Jafar: an FLN commander who recruited Ali la Pointe.
Paras: shorthand for “paratroopers,” the special military forces sent to Algiers by the French in January 1957 to defeat the FLN.
Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu: the commander of the French paratroopers in Algiers.

  1. The FLN used a variety of radical, violent tactics in the Battle of Algiers: assassinating police officers, planting bombs in cafes and office buildings, and targeting civilian pieds-noirs (settlers). Evaluate these tactics. Were they justified? Were they successful? What was their effect on the French occupation of Algeria?

  2. Civilians were involved in the war in a variety of ways, willingly or unwillingly. Describe how ordinary people contributed to the FLN’s effort, and evaluate their role. Is it fair to use civilians in this way? Why might the FLN want to employ civilians in the resistance?

  3. Women played a major role in the Battle of Algiers. Describe how women contributed to the FLN’s efforts, and explain why the FLN chose to employ women in these ways.

  4. In response to terrorist attacks by the FLN, the French imposed a variety of harsh restrictions on civilians. Describe some of these restrictions and evaluate them. Were they successful in stopping or slowing down the FLN’s campaign for independence? Did they provoke backlash by Algerians?

  5. Evaluate the French decision to set off a bomb in the Casbah as a way of retaliating for the assassinations of several police officers. Was this decision justified? What were its effects? Was it ultimately successful?

  6. Describe the bombings that started the Battle of Algiers. How were they carried out? How might they have affected ordinary people living in Algiers?

  7. In the second half of the film, FLN fighters make repeated reference to the importance of winning the support of the United Nations. Why did both sides care so much about winning the support of the rest of the world? How do you think the tactics used by both sides might have affected the opinions of people in other countries?

  8. Both the FLN and the French regularly transmitted messages to the people of Algiers by loudspeaker or by radio, describing the state of the battle and making predictions about its future. (The importance of these messages is dramatized in the scene when a young boy steals the microphone from the French officers and broadcasts a pro-Algerian message over the loudspeakers.) How did these messages differ? Why were they so important to both sides?

  9. Describe and evaluate the use of torture against captured FLN members. How does Colonel Mathieu justify the use of torture? Evaluate his justification. Is torture necessary, from the French perspective? Is it effective?

  10. This question is mandatory. The Battle of Algiers, as portrayed in the film, concluded in 1957 with the death of Ali la Pointe, the last surviving member of the FLN’s executive bureau in Algiers. However, as you know, Algeria went on to achieve independence five years later. Who won the Battle of Algiers? How might French and Algerian tactics during the Battle of Algiers have influenced the future course of the war?

Honors Option

Write a 2-3 page paper evaluating how Pontecorvo’s decisions in directing The Battle of Algiers convey a particular message about the Algerian independence movement and the FLN. Your response might address the movie’s documentary style, the focus on Ali la Pointe, the frank and explicit depiction of torture and atrocities on both sides, or any other choices Pontecorvo made about how to depict the war. This paper is due Wednesday, November 27.

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