August 22, 2010 at 2:47 am | Posted in Books, France, Globalization, History, Military, World-system | Leave a comment










French Colonial Warfare and the Emergence of the

Modern World-System

France’s “new colonial expansion” began in June 1830 when an expeditionary force of 37,000 men was landed near Algiers, their purpose being “to avenge an insult to the consul of France by the local ruler, the bey of Algiers.”

In the military classic, Makers of Modern Strategy [1],

Chapter 10 is entitled: Bugeaud, Gallieni, Lyautey: The Development of French Colonial Warfare.

The author of this chapter, Jean Gottmann, a teacher in the Army Specialized Training Program at Princeton when this collection of essays on the development of military theory appeared, tells us by way of introduction:

“Colonial warfare is quite different from what is commonly known as continental warfare. It is generally fought in remote countries over large areas of unknown territory, against a foe superior in number and in his knowledge of the terrain but inferior in material organization and in means of supply from abroad. In colonial wars quality must therefore balance a probable inferiority in quantity, and a colonial war is, by its very nature, fought between adversaries of strikingly different levels of civilization.”

By levels of “civilization,” the author obviously means levels of technological development.

Expounding the theory of colonial warfare, Gottmann notes that “as far as possible,” the campaign “must avoid destruction.” One reason is “to preserve the productive potential of the theater of operations,” but more importantly “because the conquered country is to be integrated immediately after the conquest into the ‘imperial’ whole, politically as well as economically.”

“Preserving” the Enemy

Thus it is “desirable” that “the territory should be in the best possible condition when conquest has been effected. The problem is not so much ‘to defeat the enemy in the most decisive manner’ as to subordinate him at the lowest cost and in a way to guarantee permanent pacification.”

French imperialism learned how to do this in practice before it developed the body of military theory which still governs thinking in the domain of colonial conquest.

France’s “new colonial expansion” began in June 1830 when an expeditionary force of 37,000 men was landed near Algiers, their purpose being “to avenge an insult to the consul of France by the local ruler, the bey of Algiers.”

The French forces quickly took Algiers but they ran into difficulty in extending their conquest into the interior.

“The native forces were at home; their chief weapon was mobility. Gathering suddenly at unexpected points, they attacked columns, raided convoys, set French establishments afire; they attacked columns on the flanks and from the rear, inflicting heavy losses, destroying or stealing equipment. Then they disappeared, melting away into the landscape before the heavy European military machine had a chance to re-form and resume operations.”

For ten years the French “generally met disaster,” until in 1840 Marshal Thomas Bugeaud was appointed governor general and commander in chief in Algeria. In six years he pacified the country. He discarded the Napoleonic concepts of warfare that had been perfected in Europe and set out to increase the mobility of the French colonial army, converting it into a force proficient in counterguerrilla war.

One of his primary aims was to strike fear in “the natives.” “In this and many other respects Bugeaud followed the lines of the ancient Roman strategy in Africa.” As with the Romans, Bugeaud took as his principal aim not so much to defeat the indigenous population as to “subdue” them “so that after a defeat they will not attempt to reorganize for battle at another time and place.” This required the employment of economic and political means as well as the force of arms. We see that the concepts operative in modern colonial war do have a respectable age if they are not so respectable in other ways.

Bugeaud, in Gottmann’s opinion, knew how to make his study of history pay off:

“This restoration of the tactics of ancient Rome in the nineteenth century proved wise and successful: Since the epoch of Jugurtha, in defiance of time, neither the terrain nor the tactics of the natives had changed. The methods used by the Romans to conquer the province of Africa was [sic] used by the French with equal success. The thorough training in the classics given in French colleges thus proved an incalculable aid to French generals in Africa.

“Bugeaud, utilizing the Roman battle formation of the square, did not forget the importance of political action in the ancient techniques of empire building. He endeavored to weaken the enemy by internal discord and division, playing on the antagonisms between varied interests, groups, and leaders. Political warfare remained for the French, and for all other expansionist powers, one of the main weapons. Thus Bugeaud laid the foundation of a new school of military thought which developed even more in the following half century. In the ranks of the French armies he was the first soldier of the nineteenth century to renounce Napoleon’s teaching as unsuited to every particular environment. He revived old Roman methods which had yielded good results.”

Bugeaud’s concepts were further developed by Marshal Joseph Gallieni, who became famous among colonial butchers for his skill in “pacification” work in Indochina at the turn of the century, above all in Tonkin, whose capital, Hanoi, is now a familiar name even to children barely old enough to turn on a television switch. Gallieni succeeded in pacifying rebellious Tonkin in four years (1892-96). He was then transferred to Madagascar where his good works gained him even greater renown.

In Indochina Gallieni trained a younger officer from Paris, Louis-Hubert Lyautey, whom he later called to Madagascar for additional experience. Lyautey in time gained an independent niche in the history of imperialist conquest as the pacifier of Morocco. It is mainly to Lyautey that military theory owes the codification of French experience in subduing Indochina, Madagascar and North Africa. In a “brilliant article” published in 1900 Lyautey expounded these concepts.

The first concept is “progressive occupation.” Instead of columns thrusting like spears into the countryside, the front should be a “regularly progressing tide” of occupying forces.

“There was no intention, of course, of suppressing completely the column of attacking troops: Such an operation is generally indispensable at the outset to impress the enemy with his inferiority to the military force of the colonizing power,” Gottmann explains. “But no definite and lasting achievement results from the ‘coup de force’ alone, occupation must follow and here we have Lyautey’s famous statement: ‘Military occupation consists less in military operations that in an organization on the march’.” [Emphasis in original.]

And what does “an organization on the march” mean?

“It is an organization of the conquered territory set up, not behind the active front, but marching step by step with the armies as they advance. This organization must not be simply a new hierarchy imposed on the area but a network covering it, worked out in advance in the most minute detail and with the greatest care.”

General Duchemin, an ardent disciple of Gallieni, drew the following vivid analogy in describing how to handle “pirates” – as guerrilla fighters were called in those days by the imperialist bandits:

“The pirate is a plant which grows only on certain grounds … The most efficient method is to render the ground unsuitable to him … There are no pirates in completely organized countries. To pluck wild plants is not sufficient: One must plough the conquered soil, enclose it, and then sow it with the good grain, which is the only means to make it unsuitable to the tares. The same happens on the land desolated by piracy: Armed occupation, with or without armed combat, ploughs it; the establishment of a military belt encloses and isolates it; finally the reconstitution and equipment of the population, the installation of markets and cultures, the construction of roads, sow the good grain and make the conquered region unsuitable to the pirate, if it is not the latter himself who, transformed, cooperates in this evolutionary process.”

The language of this official 1895 report to the governor general of Indochina sounds rather quaint now.

Besides “an organization on the march,” a correct political approach is an absolute essential. This was stressed by Gallieni himself in instructions issued May 22, 1898, at Madagascar:

“The best means for achieving pacification in our new colony is provided by combined application of force and politics. It must be remembered that, in the course of colonial struggles, we should turn to destruction only as a last resort and only as a preliminary to better reconstruction. We must always treat the country and its inhabitants with consideration, since the former is destined to receive our future colonial enterprises and the latter will be our main agents and collaborators in the development of our enterprises.

“Every time that the necessities of war force one of our colonial officers to take action against a village or an inhabited center, his first concern, once submission of the inhabitants has been achieved, should be reconstruction of the village, creation of a market, and establishment of a school. It is by combined use of politics and force that pacification of a country and its future organization will be achieved. Political action is by far the more important. It derives its greater power from the organization of the country and its inhabitants.” [Emphasis in the original.]

This really has a modern ring! Our first concern must be reconstruction-once submission of the inhabitants has been secured … What else but such topics did Johnson discuss with his protégé Ky at Honolulu?

“As pacification gains ground,” continued Gallieni, “the country becomes more civilized, markets are reopened, trade is re-established. The role of the soldier becomes of secondary importance. The activity of the administrator begins. It is necessary, on the one hand, to study and satisfy the social requirements of the subject people and, on the other hand, to promote the development of colonization, which will utilize the natural resources of the soil and open the outlets for European trade.”

That should now read “American” trade, of course.

Besides “progressive occupation,” and “organization on the march,” Lyautey stresses the conversion of the colonial army into an administrative setup in which the police function is relegated to “special troops, the military and civilian police.”

From Terror to Reconstruction

In other words, the troops that invade a country marked for imperialist victimization deliberately aim in their first moves to strike the deepest possible fear and terror in the indigenous population by demonstrating an implacability and military superiority that appear absolutely invincible.

Then through a series of transitional stages this same occupation force moves toward reconstruction, toward the conversion of leading indigenous figures into servile agents (the “anti-Communists” of today), and finally toward domination of the country’s economy, complete control of its politics, and – in the good old days of imperialism – outright administration.

With this pattern clearly conceived from the very beginning, the imperialist conquerors try to keep their tactics supple so as to facilitate passing over into the successive stages as smoothly as possible. In fact, they seek to combine them where it can be done. “Pacification” is viewed as part and parcel of military action – the positive component of the war of conquest.

In 1903 Lyautey was sent to western Algeria where Moroccan tribes were giving the French imperialists “trouble.” His assignment was to “pacify” Morocco. This took many years, the climax coming after 1912 when he was made the resident general and commander in chief of the country, a post he kept until 1925. In a letter to Gallieni dated November 14, 1903, Lyautey outlined his objectives. Gottmann describes them as follows:

“Two points in particular deserve special comment for they were to remain the bases of Lyautey’s Moroccan strategy and policy. 1. In the field of diplomacy he advocated a loyal alliance with the sultan’s government and representatives. No action was to be taken in Moroccan territory except in agreement with the official Moroccan authorities and with their help. This ‘entente cordiale’ was the basis of the protectorate.

“2. In the field of strategy one paragraph of the letter is fundamental: ‘In fact, the final establishment of the system of protection that I project will be accomplished very gradually; it would be impossible for me to assign even an approximate date for its realization, although I incline to believe that the result can be achieved more rapidly than most people think. It will advance not by column, nor by mighty blows, but as a patch of oil spreads, through a step by step progression, playing alternately on all the local elements, utilizing the divisions and rivalries between tribes and between their chiefs.’ The strategy of the ‘oil patch,’ the famous ‘tâche d’huile,’ will take its place in history as the phrase which best characterizes the French penetration and pacification of Morocco.”

Lyautey’s work in Morocco “is now reputed to be the masterpiece of French colonization,” according to Gottmann. In 1912, when Lyautey began final operations, the country was in “complete revolt.” In two expeditions Lyautey re-established control of the main cities.

“Those were swift and daring blows, frequently studied since and described by colonial and military historians as models. The speed of the initial success was largely due to Lyautey’s policy with respect to the natives which was put into effect from the first day. Its ultimate success depended, of course, on the period that followed.”

The secret was to combine the military blows with “organization on the march … To support the advancing front, a large scale and costly policy of economic development was immediately started in the rear: The hostile tribes had to be convinced of the advantages of French rule. In two years appreciable results were obtained.” Lyautey called it the “policy of the smile.”

In the final stage the tactic of the “oil patch” was used to conquer the mountain fastnesses where tribes lived that “accepted no rule, not even that of the sultan, and they were determined to fight to death against the foreigners.” Lyautey’s sophisticated strategy proved sufficient to subdue them – at least for a time.

Technological Advances

Since Lyautey’s day, the imperialist military theory of colonial war has made no basic advance.

“The principal improvements added to Lyautey’s strategy and tactics after 1925,” Gottmann notes, “were largely due to the extensive use by his pupils of the newest weapons which advancing military technology put at their disposal: the motor car and the airplane. Both fitted admirably into the Moroccan picture, for the dominant trend of colonial warfare was toward increased mobility.

Henceforth the tools were at hand. Motorization of the columns and of the services of supply greatly increased the speed and effectiveness of encircling movements and surprise blows. Bombing from the air robbed the natives of their chief trump card: fire from dominating positions in the mountains.

These modern methods were especially employed in the last steps of the Moroccan pacification of 1931-1934.”

In his Instruction Generate, issued February 19, 1932, General Huré summed up the directives for the employment of motorized columns.

“It shows,” says Gottmann, “the application of both Bugeaud’s and Lyautey’s lessons: Attack is made on large fronts ensuring the safety of the rear; in the mountains, action is through parallel or convergent valley; attack is by surprise from bases carefully prepared in the rear and progressing with rapidity. The terrain is conquered by auxiliary units, artillery and air force, then occupied by the regular troops (native troops have a better knowledge of the terrain and a greater mobility but, as they are unable to hold the area taken, this is done by the regular troops which thus will have to fight only in defensive positions). The terrain must be organized as soon as conquered – shovels and pick axes are as necessary as rifles and guns; every conquered position must be linked to the rear by a road as soon as possible; it is by means of roads that the country is controlled.”

How little has been changed in the basic concepts of colonial war since Lyautey’s time was indicated by the “New York Times” commentator Hanson Baldwin on Vietnam in the late sixties.

Lyautey’s writings still constituted the Pentagon’s bible and Naldwin’s basic analyses in the general strategy of colonial war in Vietnam.

It was a considerable error to think that in Vietnam what can be expected is a repetition of French experience in conquering Indochina, Algeria, Madagascar and Morocco with American military prowess compensating for the handicaps involved in pacifying “natives” who have already been “pacified” many times.

Revolutionary Expertise

Second, the accumulated experience of the Vietnamese people counted heavily in the scales in the conflict with American imperialism. They were no longer the same kind of people as those on whom Gallieni and Lyautey first tested out their concepts. Besides their early experience with French imperialism, the Vietnamese added the experience of the struggle with the Japanese imperialist invaders and then the invasion mounted by the French once more after World War II.

In each case the imperialist invaders followed the same basic concepts-the concepts of Bugeaud, Galliéni and Lyautey, right down to the “oil spot” technique, the use of economic blandishments and the support of venal types in the national political arena willing to betray their people and serve as puppets.

Lyautey’s modern disciples.


1. This book, edited by Edward Mead Earle, was published in 1944 by Princeton University Press.

Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age

Peter Paret (Editor)

Gordon A. Craig (Editor)

Felix Gilbert (Editor)

Makers of Modern Strategy , first published in 1943, deserved and demanded updating. The 28 essays in the new volume offer 7 more than in the original and range from excellent to outstanding. They reflect the skills of a cross-section of leading military historians. But re viving a classic is a difficult task. Some original contributions were discarded, some rewritten, some left virtually in tact. Old and new frequently coexist awkwardly, as when Hajo Holbom and Gunther Rothenberg compete for 19th- century Germany. The editors’ reluctance to impose a common format added to an intellectual diffusion most visible in a split between biographic and thematic approaches. As a result, this revision cannot equal its predecessor’s status as a standard text. As an antholo gy, however, the work is brilliantly successful and that is no mean achievement.


[The essays] are authoritative and convincing. Taken together, they demonstrate the complexity of strategy and the importance of it being closely integrated with politics. — Review

Product Details:

· Hardcover: 566 pages

· Publisher: Princeton Univ Pr. 1st Ed.

· June 1943

· Language: English

· ISBN-10: 0691069077

· ISBN-13: 978-0691069074

Product Details:

· Paperback: 942 pages

· Publisher: Princeton University Press

· March 1 1986

· Language: English

· ISBN-10: 0691027641

· ISBN-13: 978-0691027647

French Modern:

Norms and Forms of the Social Environment

Paul Rabinow (Author)

Editorial Reviews


“This path-breaking book opens up topics for some new, contemporary analysis of modernity that go well beyond its immediate occasion in the colonial city…. It is a stimulating and exciting performance.”

—Fredric R. Jameson

Product Description

In this study of space and power and knowledge in France from the 1830s through the 1930s, Rabinow uses the tools of anthropology, philosophy, and cultural criticism to examine how social environment was perceived and described.

Ranging from epidemiology to the layout of colonial cities, he shows how modernity was revealed in urban planning, architecture, health and welfare administration, and social legislation.

Product Details:

· Paperback: 464 pages

· Publisher: University Of Chicago Press

· December 1 1995

· Language: English

· ISBN-10: 0226701743

· ISBN-13: 978-0226701745

The idea that colonies were laboratories of modernity has become a central tenet of foucauldian studies (Foucault’s own theoretical perspective was centered on the archeology of Western knowledge, and he didn’t devote much attention to colonies and empires). According to this line of thought, the creation of norms and forms suitable for the government of society, the disciplining of bodies, and the constitution of selves owes much to the colonial experience, where these norms and disciplines were first tested and implemented.

This axiom has generated many academic studies (works by Timothy Mitchell or Ann Laura Stoler come to mind). However, it raises several questions. First, how is it to be reconciled with the view, standard in French historiography, that the two world wars and particularly the Vichy episode were formative eras during which most elements constitutive of French modernity were laid down?

In other words, are the origins of the French modern to be found in colonies and imperial rule, or in wartime governmentality and European centers of power?

Second, the scholar needs to turn his or her attention to colonial officers who experimented with new modes of coercion and subjectification of populations. Most of them came from the higher layers of French society, and had received their education and training prior to their assignments to the empire’s outposts. If there was indeed an enormous amount of knowledge produced in and for the colonies, these ideas and techniques did not come fully armed from the minds of almighty colonial administrators. They had their origins in metropolitan France, where they were first conceived and made intelligible in a certain social and intellectual context.

Third, techniques of government tested in the colonies were not directly applicable to metropolitan France. In order to apply to the French context, they had to undergo a profound transformation that made them fit the domestic social environment. Empires employed raw force abroad but were subject to democratic rule domestically. Consequently, the modalities of power used by imperial rule in the colonies were very different from Foucault’s own definition of power, which consists of very subtle forms of interrelation that do not always follow hierarchical patterns. Scholars who apply Foucault to the colonial context therefore need first to clarify and adapt his conceptual tools, which were designed with a different domain in mind.

This being said, Rabinow’s French Modern is a valuable study of the origins of French modernity from the 1830s to the 1930s that applies the intellectual method pioneered by Michel Foucault (as the book shows, this method owes much to Foucault’s own teacher Georges Canguilhem). The author takes as his starting point the triumph of urban planning in postwar France. ‘Villes nouvelles’ sprang up, housing projects were built, and there was–at least until 1968–a remarkable consensus among professionals on how French cities should be remodeled.

As a later chapter makes it clear, it was in Morocco, under Hubert Lyautey’s leadership around the time of the First World War, that France‘s first comprehensive experiment with urban planning took place. According to Rabinow, “the modernity of Casablanca and Rabat in terms of equipment, specialization of quarters, and circulation planning surpassed anything in France.” And “even the harshest critics of Lyautey’s colonial aims concede that Rabat‘s extension was an aesthetic success.”

Lyautey’s other, more contentious achievement was the military pacification of Morocco. He spelled out his doctrine as follows: “Vex not tradition, leave custom be. Never forget that in every society there is a class to be governed, and a natural-born ruling class upon whom all depends. Link their interests to ours.” It is important to remind here that colonialism was first and foremost a military enterprise, and therefore combined the two laboratories of modernity–colonial exploitation and the war economy–identified in the first half of the twentieth century.

According to Rabinow, the theory of pacification and the rise of modern planning share a common perspective: the shift from the moral to the social, and the realization that the management of social antagonisms rested not on the cultivation of virtue among the protagonists, but on the manipulation of social norms that could be scientifically derived. The author find this shift’ starting point in the cholera epidemic of 1832: housing and social conditions, not topographic proximity, proved to be the primary variable in the localization of the disease.

Rabinow tracks this emergence of social norms in a number of fields, with architecture and the birth of urban planning providing a common thread. The emergence of norms as the privileged means of understanding and defining society was reflected in new scientific discourses, new administrative practices, and new conceptions of social order, ushering in a long period of experimentation with what would later form welfare policies. New concepts emerged, such as ‘amenagement’, ‘equipement’, ‘milieux’, ‘conditions de vie’, ‘agglomerations’, etc. Empirically quite disparate, they nonetheless reveal a certain commonality, and together they formed the discursive space which would be filled during and after World War II in a more substantial and enduring manner.

The book’s narrative turns in part around a series of individuals, some well-known like Saint-Simon, Le Play and Lyautey, others long forgotten like the architects Tony Garnier and Henri Prost.

Described successively as “technicians of general ideas”, “specific intellectuals” and “unbureaucratic bureaucrats”, they were the forerunners of the technocratic society which emerged in France after the Second World War. Echoing Barres’ call for “Experimentation–that is what all Frenchmen of good faith should demand–social laboratories”, members of one of these key circles said of themselves: “we tried to be irreproachable technicians.”

These figures were the real heroes of the laboratories where modern France was conceived.

French Colonial Warfare and the Emergence of the Modern World-System

France’s “new colonial expansion” began in June 1830 when an expeditionary force of 37,000 men was landed near Algiers, their purpose being “to avenge an insult to the consul of France by the local ruler, the bey of Algiers.”


TrackBack URI

Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: