The events which follow took place between the months of June and December, 1956. The battalion to which I belonged was principally composed of young draftees, led by regular army officers and non-commissioned officers who had all had a year in North Africa. My company had at the time suffered the most, three dead and some twenty wounded. Cruel ambushes had prepared the ground for that psychology of hate which I saw develop in the course of those six months.
When my group arrived, there existed a wide gap between us and those young soldiers whom fear, prejudice, a desire for vengeance and the legend of the “tough soldier,” all encouraged by Captain B., had changed into specialists at war. We had not yet realized into what a melting pot of ideas we had been thrown. Those twenty-year old French boys had settled themselves into war: work details, missions, searches, “gestapism,” building fortifications, getting drunk, and medals for the most deserving. We were stop-gaps, and suspect. The men called back to active duty were not well liked in North Africa. A bad reputation had preceded us, and all the officers remembered the events of May, 1956, when hundreds of youths had withstood a regular siege by the riot-police, the C.R.S., in a barracks in the North of France. The men “recalled” were, for them, sad sacks, cowards, screwballs. Another mistake of the government which used them. Above all, the “recalled” soldier was the unwelcome influence, capable of making those impressionable youths, whom their officers had well in hand, come out of their torpor. They must uphold the respect for the hierarchy, encourage the competition for promotions (a “chief corporal” received 80,000 francs a month, a corporal 18,000 francs, a private 10,850 francs, after their original service time of 18 months.)...
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