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1954 - Algerian War

Algerian War of Independence begins - a faction of young Algerian Muslims establishes the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) as a guerrilla organization dedicated to winning independence from France

Algeria had been essentially a French protectorate since the 1830s, and by the early 20th century it had become entirely integrated into the French colonial system. It was actually considered part of France.  The system, however, was based on pitiless exploitation of the native population and the perpetuation of an apartheid social structure.  France justified this state of affairs by portraying itself to the world as the bringer of civilization and egalitarianism to a backward indigenous population.

The early twentieth century had seen the organization of some groups like the Star of North Africa and the Party of the Algerian People that agitated for Algerian independence, although none of them achieved much success. However, the end of the Second World War brought with it the end of old notions of European colonialism. The old ways of doing things were on the way out, and the more astute European powers like Britain and The Netherlands realized that colonialism was a casualty of the war.  France, however, insisted on retaining its holdings in North Africa and Indochina by force.

In the early 1950s, a patriot named Ahmad Ben Bella (with the support of Egypt’s anti-imperialist leader Gamal abd al-Nasser) created the National Liberation Front (FLN), with its military arm in Algeria being the National Liberation Army (ALN).

The insurgency began in 1954 with armed attacks on French government and military targets all over Algeria. The FLN leadership in Cairo at the same time called on all Algerians to support the fight for full independence from France. The French responded with a campaign of counter-violence in an attempt to crush the insurgency before it could gain momentum. It was inconceivable to them that Algeria could secede from France; it had been actually integrated into the structure of the French republic.

The FLN strategy was: (1) win the support of the local population by disseminating information and propaganda; (2) separate the French government from the Algerian people by methods both peaceful and violent; (3) gain control of the countryside; (4) destroy the network of French collaborators and informers; and (5) establish an alternative social system and government that would be ready to take power once the French left.

By day, the FLN would attack soft targets in an attempt to provoke overreactions from the government. By night, the insurgents would melt into the local population. These were classic guerrilla tactics, and they worked.

The conflict was brought to the cities in 1957 with calls for a nationwide strike and subsequent act of urban terrorism in Algiers. France also began to train a cadre of native loyalists called harkis to assist in fighting the FLN. By 1957 the French had over 400,000 soldiers in Algeria, but it appears that of these about 170,000 were Muslim Algerian volunteers with little stomach for fighting their countrymen.

In 1957 and 1958, the French divided the country into sectors with permanently stationed troops, and launched large-scale “search and destroy” missions against the FLN. But the overreactions of the French military forces, and the widespread use of torture and other questionable tactics, alienated many otherwise apathetic Algerians from France. On the international front, the French government was unable to gain the moral high ground. None of the major world powers were much interested in helping France retain what was rightly seen as a colonial anachronism.

The brutal conflict would drag on for seven years, until a peace agreement promising an independence referendum was agreed in 1962.


Further Reading


The Atlantic - A Chronology of the Algerian War of Independence

Business Insider - Photos Of The Brutal Franco-Algerian War

New Statesman The Return of the Repressed: The Bitter Legacy of the Algerian War

1954 - Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe, iconic superstar - a tumultuous year in the life of global celebrity Marilyn Monroe. Aside from her showbiz life, she toured South Korea and had a short-lived and volatile marriage to baseball star Joe Dimaggio

The famous picture of Marilyn Monroe, laughing as her skirt is blown up by the blast from a subway vent, was shot September 15 1954 during the filming of The Seven Year Itch. The scene infuriated her husband, Joe DiMaggio, who felt it was exhibitionist, and the couple divorced shortly afterward.

Monroe, born Norma Jean Mortensen and also known as Norma Jean Baker, had a tragic childhood. Her mother, a negative cutter at several film studios, was mentally unstable and institutionalized when Norma Jean was five. Afterward, the little girl lived in a series of foster homes, where she suffered from neglect and abuse, and later lived in an orphanage. At age 16, she quit high school and married a 21-year-old aircraft plant worker named Joe Dougherty.

In 1944, her husband was sent overseas with the military, and Monroe worked as a paint sprayer in a defense plant. A photographer spotted her there, and she soon became a popular pin-up girl. She began working as a model and divorced her husband two years later. In 1946, 20th Century Fox signed her for $125 a week but dropped her after one film, from which her scenes were cut. Columbia signed her but also dropped her after one film. Unemployed, she posed nude for a calendar for $50; the calendar sold a million copies and made $750,000.

Monroe played a series of small film roles until 1950, when Fox signed her again. This time, they touted her as a star and began giving her feature roles in the early 1950s. In 1953, she starred with Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, playing fortune hunter Lorelei Lee. Her tremendous sex appeal and little-girl mannerisms made her enormously popular.

After her divorce from baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, Monroe searched for more serious roles and announced she would found her own studio. She began studying acting with the famous Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York. She gave an impressive comic performance in Bus Stop in 1955. The following year, she married intellectual playwright Arthur Miller. She appeared in the hit Some Like It Hot in 1959.

Monroe made her last picture in 1961, The Misfits, which Miller wrote especially for her. She divorced him a week before the film opened. She attempted one more film, Something’s Got to Give, but was fired for her frequent illnesses and absences from the set, which many believed to be related to drug addiction. In August 1962, she died from an overdose of sleeping pills. Her death was ruled a possible suicide. Since her death, her popularity and mystique have endured, with numerous biographies published after her death. Her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio continued to send flowers to her grave every day for the rest of his life.


Further Reading


The Guardian - 'That Silly Little Dress': The Story Behind Marilyn Monroe's Iconic Scene

Mashable - Marilyn Monroe in Korea

Vanity Fair - Marilyn and Her Monsters

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