Fall 2015 -- History 224 -- Professor Patch

Home Up Syllabus Slideshows


1.      From Colonel Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare (New York:  Frederick A. Praeger, 1964):

2.      Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961).

3.      “British Anger at Terror Celebration,” The Times [of London], July 20, 2006, by Ned Parker and Stephen Farrell.


1.               From Colonel Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare (New York:  Frederick A. Praeger, 1964):


          Since the end of World War II, a new form of warfare has been born.  Called at times either subversive warfare or revolutionary warfare, it differs fundamentally from the wars of the past in that victory is not expected from the clash of two armies on a field of battle.  This confrontation, which in times past saw the annihilation of an enemy army in one or more battles, no longer occurs.

          Warfare is now an interlocking system of actions—political, economic, psychological, military—that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime.  To achieve this end, the aggressor tries to exploit the internal tensions of the country attacked—ideological, social, religious, economic—any conflict liable to have a profound influence on the population to be conquered.  Moreover, in view of the present-day interdependence of nations, any residual grievance within a population, no matter how localized and lacking in scope, will surely be brought by determined adversaries into the framework of the great world conflict.  From a localized conflict of secondary origin and importance, they will always attempt sooner or later to bring about a generalized conflict.

          On so vast a field of action, traditional armed forces no longer enjoy their accustomed decisive role.  Victory no longer depends on one battle over a given terrain.  Military operations, as combat actions carried out against opposing armed forces, are of only limited importance and are never the total conflict. 



           The war in Indochina and the one in Algeria have demonstrated the basic weapon that permits our enemies to fight effectively with few resources and even to defeat a traditional army.

          This weapon is terrorism.

          Terrorism in the service of a clandestine organization devoted to manipulating the population is a recent development.  After being used in Morocco in 1954, it reached its full development in Algiers in December 1956, and January 1957.  The resultant surprise gave our adversaries an essential advantage, which may have been decisive.  In effect, a hundred organized terrorists were all that was necessary to cause us to give up the game quickly to the Moroccans.

          Terrorism, then, is a weapon of warfare, which can neither be ignored nor minimized.  It is as a weapon of warfare that we should study it.

          The goal of modern warfare is control of the populace, and terrorism is a particularly appropriate weapon, since it aims directly at the inhabitant.  In the street, at work, at home, the citizen lives continually under the threat of violent death.  In the presence of this permanent danger surrounding him, he has the depressing feeling of being an isolated and defenseless target.  The fact that public authority and the police are no longer capable of ensuring his security adds to his distress.  He loses confidence in the state whose inherent mission it is to guarantee his safety.  He is more and more drawn to the side of the terrorists, who alone are able to protect him.

          The intended objective, which is to cause the population to vacillate, is thus attained.

          What characterizes modern terrorism, and makes for its basic strength, is the slaughter of generally defenseless persons.  The terrorist operates within a familiar legal framework, while avoiding the ordinary risks taken by the common criminal, let alone by soldiers on the field of battle, or even by partisans facing regular troops.      ...

          The soldier meets his adversary on the field of battle and in uniform.  He fights within a framework of traditional rules that both sides respect.  Aware of the dangers that confront him, the soldier has always had a high regard for his opponent, because both run the same risks.  When the battle is over, the dead and the wounded of the two camps are treated with the same humanity; prisoners are withdrawn as quickly as possible from the battlefield and are simply kept from fighting again until the end of the war.         ...

          But the case of the terrorist is quite otherwise.  Not only does he carry on warfare without uniform, but he attacks, far from a field of battle, only unarmed civilians who are incapable of defending themselves and who are normally protected under the rules of warfare.  Surrounded by a vast organization, which prepares his task and assists him in its execution, which assures his withdrawal and his protection, he runs practically no risks—neither that of retaliation by his victims nor that of having to appear before a court of justice.  When it has been decided to kill someone sometime somewhere, with the sole purpose of terrorizing the populace and strewing a certain number of bodies along the streets of a city or on country roads, it is quite easy under existing laws to escape the police.

          In Algiers, during 1956, the F.L.N. set up the clandestine warfare organization already described, and it was impossible for the police forces to arrest a single terrorist.  In the face of the ever increasing number of attacks, the police ought to have acknowledged their impotence and appealed to the army.

          Without the massive intervention of the army (in particular of the Tenth Parachute Division) at the beginning of 1957, the entire city would have fallen into the hands of the F.L.N., the loss carrying with it the immediate abandonment of all Algeria.

          ....The atrocities committed by the F.L.N. in Algeria to maintain its hold over the populace are innumerable.  I will cite but one example to demonstrate the degree to which they were carried in certain areas.  In the month of September 1958, the forces of order took possession of the files of a military tribunal of one of the regions of the F.L.N.  In the canton of Michelet alone, in the arrondissement (district) of Fort-National in Kabylie, more than 2,000 inhabitants were condemned to death and executed between November 1, 1954, and April 17, 1957.


          The terrorist should not be considered an ordinary criminal.  Actually, he fights within the framework of his organization, without personal interest, for a cause he considers noble and for a respectable ideal, the same as the soldiers in the armies confronting him.  On the command of his superiors, he kills without hatred individuals unknown to him, with the same indifference as the soldier on the battlefield.  His victims are often women and children, almost always defenseless individuals taken by surprise.  But during a period of history when the bombing of open cities is permitted, and when two Japanese cities were razed to hasten the end of the war in the Pacific, one cannot with good cause reproach him.

          The terrorist has become a soldier, like the aviator or the infantryman.

          But the aviator flying over a city knows that antiaircraft shells can kill or maim him.  The infantryman wounded on the battlefield accepts physical suffering, often for long hours, when he falls between the lines and it is impossible to rescue him.  It never occurs to him to complain and to ask, for example, that his enemy renounce the use of the rifle, the shell, or the bomb.  If he can, he goes back to a hospital knowing this to be his lot.  The soldier, therefore, admits the possibility of physical suffering as part of the job.  The risks he runs on the battlefield and the suffering he endures are the price of the glory he receives. 

          The terrorist claims the same honors while rejecting the same obligations.  His kind of organization permits him to escape from the police, his victims cannot defend themselves, and the army cannot use the power of its weapons against him because he hides himself permanently within the midst of a population going about its peaceful pursuits.

          But he must be made to realize that, when he is captured, he cannot be treated as an ordinary criminal, nor like a prisoner taken on the battlefield.  What the forces of order who have arrested him are seeking is not to punish a crime, for which he is otherwise not personally responsible, but, as in any war, the destruction of the enemy army or its surrender.  Therefore he is not asked details about himself or about attacks that he may or may not have committed and that are not of immediate interest, but rather for precise information about his organization.  In particular, each man has a superior whom he knows; he will first have to give the name of this person, along with his address, so that it will be possible to proceed with the arrest without delay.

          No lawyer is present for such an interrogation.  If the prisoner gives the information requested, the examination is quickly terminated; if not, specialists must force his secret from him.  Then, as a soldier, he must face the suffering, and perhaps the death, he has heretofore managed to avoid.  The terrorist must accept this as a condition inherent in his trade and in his methods of warfare that, with full knowledge, his superiors and he himself have chosen.  Once the interrogation is finished, however, the terrorist can take his place among soldiers.  From then on, he is a prisoner of war like any other, kept from resuming hostilities until the end of the conflict.


          Although violence is an unavoidable necessity in warfare, certain unnecessary violence ought to be rigorously banned.  Interrogations in modern warfare should be conducted by specialists perfectly versed in the techniques to be employed.

          The first condition for a quick and effective interrogation is to have interrogators who know what they can ask the terrorist under questioning.  For this, it is first of all essential to place him precisely within the diagram of the organization to which he belongs.  A profound knowledge of the organization is required.  It is useless to ask a funds collector about caches of weapons or bombs.  Every clandestine organization is strictly compartmented, and he would know nothing about them.  To ask him would be a useless waste of time.  On the other hand, he does know to whom he remits the funds and under what conditions.  This is the only subject about which he should be questioned.

          It is known that the ordinary terrorist operates as part of a three-man team; therefore he knows his comrade and his demi-cell superior.  This is the only information he will be able to furnish, but he must give it quickly; otherwise, the individuals sought will have the time to disappear, the thread will be broken, and a lengthy search will quite often come to naught.

          The interrogators must always strive not to injure the physical and moral integrity of individuals.  Science can easily place at the army's disposition the means for obtaining what is sought.

          But we must not trifle with our responsibilities.  It is deceitful to permit artillery or aviation to bomb villages and slaughter women and children, while the real enemy usually escapes, and to refuse interrogation specialists the right to seize the truly guilty terrorist and spare the innocent.

Back to top


2.               Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

          Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was born in Martinique, the descendant of African slaves.  He served with distinction in the Free French forces during the Second World War, became a psychiatrist, and worked at a hospital in Algiers when the National Liberation Front began its uprising in 1954.  Shocked by his observation of the psychological consequences of police torture, Fanon went underground in 1956 and became one of the National Liberation Front's most famous spokespersons.  The following excerpts come from his classic study of the debilitating psychological impact of colonialism on subject peoples.  Although Gandhi had demonstrated in India that nonviolent techniques could lead to impressive success against a colonial power, Fanon insisted that violence against European "settlers" offered the best hope for oppressed Africans to regain self-respect and to forge genuine nations.  He also formulated a sweeping indictment of the tendency of educators around the world to rely on European texts and European role models that continues to inspire debates about “eurocentrism” in academic circles.


SOURCE: Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1963 [first published in French in 1961), pp. 36-37, 51-58, 92-98, 101-05, 311-13.


          Decolonization... is a program of complete disorder.  But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding.  Decolonization, as we know, is a historical process: that is to say that it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content.  Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature... Their first encounter was marked by violence and their existence together--that is to say the exploitation of the native by the settler--was carried on by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons.  The settler and the native are old acquaintances.  In fact, the settler is right when he speaks of knowing "them" well.  For it is the settler who has brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence.  The settler owes the fact of his very existence, that is to say, his property, to the colonial system.

          Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally.  It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history's floodlights upon them.  It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity.  Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men.  But this creation owes nothing of its legitimacy to any supernatural power; the "thing" which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself.

          In decolonization, there is therefore the need of a complete calling in question of the colonial situation.  If we wish to describe it precisely, we might find it in the well-known words: "The last shall be first and the first last."  Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence. ...

          The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it.  For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists.  That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things, and to make them climb at a pace (too quickly, some say) the well-known steps which characterize an organized society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of violence.

          You do not turn any society, however primitive it may be, upside down with such a program if you have not decided from the very beginning, that is to say from the actual formulation of that program, to overcome all the obstacles that you will come across in so doing.  The native who decides to put the program into practice, and to become its moving force, is ready for violence at all times.  From birth it is clear to him that this narrow world, strewn with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence.

          . . .

           A world divided into compartments, a motionless, Manicheistic world, a world of statues:  the statue of the general who carried out the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge; a world which is sure of itself, which crushes with its stones the backs flayed by whips:  this is the colonial world.  The native is a being hemmed in; apartheid is simply one form of the division into compartments of the colonial world.  The first thing which the native learns is to stay in his place, and not be go beyond certain limits.  This is why the dreams of the native are always of muscular prowess; his dreams are of action and of aggression.  I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, climbing; I dream that I burst out laughing, that I span a river in one stride, or that I am followed by a flood of motorcars which never catch up with me.  During the period of colonization, the native never stops achieving his freedom from nine in the evening until six in the morning.

          The colonized man will first manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited in his bones against his own people.  This is the period when the niggers beat each other up, and the police and magistrates do not know which way to turn when faced with the astonishing waves of crime in North Africa. ...The settler keeps alive in the native an anger which he deprives of outlet; the native is trapped in the tight links of the chains of colonialism.  But we have seen that inwardly the settler can only achieve a pseudo petrification.  The native's muscular tension finds outlet regularly in bloodthirsty explosions-- in tribal warfare, in feuds between septs, and in quarrels between individuals.

          Where individuals are concerned, a positive negation of common sense is evident.  While the settler or the policeman has the right the livelong day to strike the native, to insult him and to make him crawl to them, you will see the native reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another native; for the last resort of the native is to defend his personality vis-à-vis his brother.  Tribal feuds only serve to perpetuate old grudges buried deep in the memory.  By throwing himself with all his force into the vendetta, the native tries to persuade himself that colonialism does not exist, that everything is going on as before, that history continues.  Here on the level of communal organizations we clearly discern the well-known behavior patterns of avoidance.  It is as if plunging into a fraternal bloodbath allowed them to ignore the obstacle, and to put off till later the choice, nevertheless inevitable, which opens up the question of armed resistance to colonialism. ...

          Meanwhile, however, life goes on, and the native will strengthen the inhibitions which contain his aggressiveness by drawing on the terrifying myths which are so frequently found in underdeveloped communities.  There are maleficent spirits which intervene every time a step is taken in the wrong direction, leopard-men, serpent-men, six-legged dogs, zombies-- a whole series of tiny animals or giants which create around the native a world of prohibitions, of barriers and of inhibitions far more terrifying than the world of the settler. ... 

          The atmosphere of myth and magic frightens me and so takes on an undoubted reality.  By terrifying me, it integrates me in the traditions and the history of my district or of my tribe, and at the same time it reassures me, it gives me a status, as it were an identification paper.  In underdeveloped countries the occult sphere is a sphere belonging to the community which is entirely under magical jurisdiction.  By entangling myself in this inextricable network where actions are repeated with crystalline inevitability, I find the everlasting world which belongs to me, and the perenniality which is thereby affirmed of the world belonging to us.  Believe me, the zombies are more terrifying than the settlers; and in consequence the problem is no longer that of keeping oneself right with the colonial world and its barbed-wire entanglements, but of considering three times before urinating, spitting, or going out into the night. ...

          It has always happened in the struggle for freedom that such a people, formerly lost in an imaginary maze, a prey to unspeakable terrors yet happy to lose themselves in a dreamlike torment, such a people becomes unhinged, reorganizes itself, and in blood and tears gives birth to very real and immediate action.  Feeding the moudjahidines [Muslim holy warriors], posting sentinels, coming to the help of families which lack the bare necessities, or taking the place of a husband who has been killed or imprisoned: such are the concrete tasks to which the people is called during the struggle for freedom.

          In the colonial world, the emotional sensitivity of the native is kept on the surface of his skin like an open sore which flinches from the caustic agent; and the psyche shrinks back, obliterates itself and finds outlet in muscular demonstrations which have caused certain very wise men to say that the native is a hysterical type.  This sensitive emotionalism... will find its fulfillment through eroticism... 

          On another level we see the native's emotional sensibility exhausting itself in dances which are more or less ecstatic.  This is why any study of the colonial world should take into consideration the phenomena of the dance and of possession.  The native's relaxation takes precisely the form of a muscular orgy in which the most acute aggressivity and the most impelling violence are canalized, transformed, and conjured away.... 

          One step further and you are completely possessed.  In fact, these are actually organized séances of possession and exorcism; they include vampirism, possession by djinns, by zombies, and by Legba, the famous god of the voodoo.  This disintegrating of the personality, this splitting and dissolution, all this fulfills a primordial function in the organism of the colonial world.  When they set out, the men and women were impatient, stamping their feet in a state of nervous excitement; when they return, peace has been restored to the village; it is once more calm and unmoved.

          During the struggle for freedom, a marked alienation from these practices is observed.  The native's back is to the wall, the knife is at his throat (or, more precisely, the electrode at his genitals): he will have no more call for his fancies.  After centuries of unreality, after having wallowed in the most outlandish phantoms, at long last the native, gun in hand, stands face to face with the only forces which contend for his life-- the forces of colonialism.  And the youth of a colonized country, growing up in an atmosphere of shot and fire, may well make a mock of, and does not hesitate to pour scorn upon the zombies of his ancestors, the horses with two heads, the dead who rise again, and the djinns who rush into your body while you yawn.  The native discovers reality and transforms it into the pattern of his customs, into the practice of violence and into his plan for freedom.

          . . .

          When the native is tortured, when his wife is killed or raped, he complains to no one.  The oppressor's government can set up commissions of inquiry and of information daily if it wants to; in the eyes of the native, these commissions do not exist.  The fact is that soon we shall have had seven years of crimes in Algeria and there has not yet been a single Frenchman indicted before a French court of justice for the murder of an Algerian.  In Indochina, in Madagascar, or in the colonies the native has always known that he need expect nothing from the other side.  The settler's work is to make even dreams of liberty impossible for the native.  The native's work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler. ...

          But it so happens that for the colonized people this violence, because it constitutes their only work, invests their characters with positive and creative qualities.  The practice of violence binds them together as a whole, since each individual forms a violent link in the great chain, a part of the great organism of violence which has surged upward in reaction to the settler's violence in the beginning.  The groups recognize each other and the future nation is already indivisible.  The armed struggle mobilizes the people; that is to say, it throws them in one way and in one direction.

          The mobilization of the masses, when it arises out of the war of liberation, introduces into each man's consciousness the ideas of a common cause, of a national destiny, and of a collective history.  In the same way the second phase, that of the building-up of the nation, is helped on by the existence of this cement which has been mixed with blood and anger.  Thus we come to a fuller appreciation of the originality of the words used in these underdeveloped countries.  During the colonial period the people are called upon to fight against oppression; after national liberation, they are called upon to fight against poverty, illiteracy, and underdevelopment.  The struggle, they say, goes on.  The people realize that life is an unending contest. 

          We have said that the native's violence unifies the people.  By its very structure, colonialism is separatist and regionalist.  Colonialism does not simply state the existence of tribes; it also reinforces it and separates them.  The colonial system encourages chieftaincies and keeps alive the old Marabout confraternities.  Violence is in action all-inclusive and national.  It follows that it is closely involved in the liquidation of regionalism and of tribalism.  Thus the national parties show no pity at all toward the caids and the customary chiefs.  Their destruction is the preliminary to the unification of the people.

          At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force.  It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.  Even if the armed struggle has been symbolic and the nation is demobilized through a rapid movement of decolonization, the people have the time to see that the liberation has been the business of each and all and that the leader has no special merit. ...When the people have taken violent part in the national liberation they will allow no one to set themselves up as "liberators."  They show themselves to be jealous of the results of their action and take good care not to place their future, their destiny, or the fate of their country in the hands of a living god.

          . . .

          In Europe, apart from certain slight differences (England, for example, was some way ahead) the various states were at a more or less uniform stage economically when they achieved national unity.  There was no nation which by reason of the character of its development and evolution caused affront to the others.

          Today, national independence and the growth of national feeling in underdeveloped regions take on totally new aspects.  In these regions, with the exception of certain spectacular advances, the different countries show the same absence of infrastructure.  The mass of the people struggle against the same poverty, flounder about making the same gestures and with their shrunken bellies outline what has been called the geography of hunger.  It is an underdeveloped world, a world inhuman in its poverty; but also it is a world without doctors, without engineers, and without administrators.  Confronting this world, the European nations sprawl, ostentatiously opulent.  This European opulence is literally scandalous, for it has been founded on slavery, it has been nourished with the blood of slaves and it comes directly from the soil and from the subsoil of that underdeveloped world.  The well-being and the progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians, and the yellow races.  We have decided not to overlook this any longer.  When a colonialist country, embarrassed by the claims for independence made by a colony, proclaims to the nationalist leaders: "If you wish for independence, take it, and go back to the Middle Ages," the newly independent people tend to acquiesce and to accept the challenge; in fact you may see colonialism withdrawing its capital and its technicians and setting up around the young State the apparatus of economic pressure. ...Thus we see that the accession to independence of the colonial countries places an important question before the world, for the national liberation of colonized countries unveils their true economic state and makes it seem even more unendurable.  The fundamental duel which seemed to be that between colonialism and anticolonialism, and indeed between capitalism and socialism, is already losing some of its importance.  What counts today, the question which is looming on the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth.  Humanity must reply to this question, or be shaken to pieces by it. 

          ...Colonialism and imperialism have not paid their score when they withdraw their flags and their police forces from our territories.  For centuries the capitalists have behaved in the underdeveloped world like nothing more than war criminals.  Deportations, massacres, forced labor, and slavery have been the main methods used by capitalism to increase its wealth, its gold or diamond reserves, and to establish its power.  Not long ago Nazism transformed the whole of Europe into a veritable colony.  The governments of the various European nations called for reparations and demanded the restitution in kind and money of the wealth which had been stolen from them: cultural treasures, pictures, sculptures, and stained glass have been given back to their owners.  There was only one slogan in the mouths of Europeans on the morrow of the 1945 V-day: "Germany must pay."  ...Herr Adenauer [Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 to 1963] has renewed the promise of his people to go on paying to the state of Israel the enormous sums which are supposed to be compensation for the crimes of the Nazis.

          In the same way we may say that the imperialist states would make a great mistake and commit an unspeakable injustice if they contented themselves with withdrawing from our soil the military cohorts, and the administrative and managerial services whose function it was to discover the wealth of the country, to extract it and to send it off to the mother countries.  We are not blinded by the moral reparation of national independence; nor are we fed by it.  The wealth of the imperial countries is our wealth too.  ...We ought to emphasize and explain to the capitalist countries that the fundamental problem of our time is not the struggle between the socialist regime and them.  The Cold War must be ended, for it leads nowhere.  The plans for nuclearizing the world must stop, and large-scale investments and technical aid must be given to underdeveloped regions.  The fate of the world depends on the answer that is given to this question.

          . . .

          Come, then, comrades; it would be as well to decide at once to change our ways.  We must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind.  The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent, and resolute.

          We must leave our dreams and abandon our old beliefs and friendships from the time before life began.  Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry.  Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe.  For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience.  Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration. ...

          Come, then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different.  We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.

          Europe now lives at such a mad, reckless pace that she has shaken off all guidance and all reason, and she is running headlong into the abyss; we would do well to avoid it with all possible speed. ...

          Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe.  It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.

          Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe?

Back to top

3.  “British Anger at Terror Celebration,” The Times [of London], July 20, 2006, by Ned Parker and Stephen Farrell:

SOURCE: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article690085.ece

          The [Israeli] rightwingers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister, are commemorating the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of British rule, that killed 92 people and helped to drive the British from Palestine. They have erected a plaque outside the restored building, and are holding a two-day seminar with speeches and a tour of the hotel by one of the Jewish resistance fighters involved in the attack.

            Simon McDonald, the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv, and John Jenkins, the Consul-General in Jerusalem, have written to the municipality, stating: “We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated.”  In particular they demanded the removal of the plaque that pays tribute to the Irgun, the Jewish resistance branch headed by Menachem Begin, the future Prime Minister, which carried out the attack on July 22, 1946.  The plaque presents as fact the Irgun’s claim that people died because the British ignored warning calls. “For reasons known only to the British, the hotel was not evacuated,” it states.  Mr. McDonald and Dr Jenkins denied that the British had been warned, adding that even if they had, “this does not absolve those who planted the bomb from responsibility for the deaths”.  On Monday city officials agreed to remove the language deemed offensive from the blue sign hanging on the hotel’s gates, though that had not been done shortly before it was unveiled last night.

            The controversy over the plaque and the two-day celebration of the bombing, sponsored by Irgun veterans and the right-wing Menachem Begin Heritage Centre, goes to the heart of the debate over the use of political violence in the Middle East.  Yesterday Mr Netanyahu argued in a speech celebrating the attack that the Irgun were governed by morals, unlike fighters from groups such as Hamas.

            “It’s very important to make the distinction between terror groups and freedom fighters, and between terror action and legitimate military action,” he said. “Imagine that Hamas or Hezbollah would call the military headquarters in Tel Aviv and say, ‘We have placed a bomb and we are asking you to evacuate the area’.”

            But the view of the attack was very different in 1946 when The Times branded the Irgun “terrorists in disguise”. Decades later, Irgun veterans are unrepentant. Sarah Agassi, 80, remembers spying in the King David Hotel.  She and a fellow agent posed as a couple. They danced tangos and waltzes, sipped whisky and wine while they cased out the hotel.  On the day her brother and his fellow fighters posed as Arabs delivering milk and brought seven milk churns, each containing 50kg of explosives, into the building. Ms Agassi waited across the street until her brother rushed out. She said that she then made the warning call to the British command in the hotel.

            Sitting in the luxurious hotel lobby, she expressed no regret. “We fought for our independence. We thought it was the right way . . . If I had to fight for Israel, I swear even now I would do anything.”

Back to top