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Algeria and Vietnam

by David L. Schalk

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-19-506807-6
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

A comparison of the role of intellectuals in opposing the wars in Algeria and Vietnam, respectively, by Schalk (History/Vassar). Schalk traces marked similarities between the wars themselves- -in the savagery with which they were fought; in the diplomatic and political burdens they imposed on the governments waging them; and in the ``almost uncanny'' similarity of the impact of their loss on each country, leading to the death of the Fourth Republic in France and the end of LBJ's presidency in the US. He finds a similar evolution in the activism of the intellectuals opposing both wars: initially pedagogic, composed of ``calm, rational, frequently scholarly writings'' in an effort to educate the publics and persuade the governments of the error of their ways; then moral, ``an ethically based protest and a growing sense of outrage and shame''; and finally ``counter legal,'' based on the precedent of the Nuremberg Trials, with small numbers participating in activities like refusing to pay taxes, assisting draft resisters, or destroying draft files. Schalk traces the impact of these events on antiwar intellectuals like Sartre and Camus in France and Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag in the US, while giving much less attention to those like Raymond Aron or Sidney Hook who supported the war effort. Finally, in the least satisfactory section here, he considers whether such a concerted protest could happen again, at a time when some argue, rather unconvincingly, that the intellectual is almost extinct. Valuable for outlining the major and hitherto relatively unremarked parallels between the two experiences, and for doing so in a cool and dispassionate way.