Monday, January 19, 2004

The Battle of Algiers
On Saturday night, I saw The Battle of Algiers, the classic 1965 film about the FLN's resistance of the French in the 1950s. It remains one of the most powerful illustrations of the difficulties of a counter-insurgency campaign, showing that even if the campaign is successful, as France's was, the political effects may be so harmful as to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, also in France's case, because the Algerian war led metropolitan France to the brink of civil war and ushered in de Gaulle and the Fifth Republic. It is relevant to both Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and, to some extent, the American occupation in Iraq. The New York Times ran an article about "Algiers" and a forthcoming documentary on Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara entitled The Fog of War, reprinted in the Chicago Tribune. McNamara, of course, presented with a similar war of insurgency, chose to refight World War II on the Mekong River delta instead of fighting a counter-insurgency campaign as the French did in Algeria (and the Americans did in the Philippines in the first decade of the twentieth century). (For more on America's counter-insurgency wars consult Max Boot's excellent book The Savage Wars of Peace.)

One more note about the film: I saw it at a theater in Chicago that specializes in old and independent films. I should have expected that people in the audience would applaud when the Algerians blew up French special forces, but it was still disgusting, especially considering that the film does not glorify either side, but rather presents the war as it was.
Across the pond
I recently visited the United Kingdom, where I met some friends, including Fredrik, a former AEI colleague. This was only my second trip to Britain. Some observations:
1) I'm slightly unsettled at how America is presented to Britons, especially when one considers that "Jerry Springer: the opera" enjoys some popularity on the London theater circuit and Michael Moore's latest screed is ubiquitous. While I do not doubt the importance of the 'special relationship,' I wonder if culture will steer British attitudes further in the direction of those held by their continental counterparts.
2) Fast food: despite widespread criticism of the globalization of fast food (including the opening of the first Starbucks in Paris), McDonald's, KFC, and Starbucks are apparently quite popular.
3) England outside of London is a nice change. I was in Manchester for several days and heard nary an American accent and few American chain stores aside from the expected Starbucks. Having seen the Other England, I'm more convinced that the UK has no business being at the 'heart of Europe.' The English remain distinctly English, and it would be a tragedy if opportunistic politicians were to fold the English identity into a fictitious 'European' identity.

In another week, I will be returning to Washington to work at the American Enterprise Institute, and will do my best to post on what I see and hear in D.C.