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Algeria 1961

With the success of the Marshall plan and the return of economic prosperity to western Europe during the fifties, France, West Germany, and other nations became creditor countries and were less and less dependent for the maintenance of their economies upon the United States. The return of Charles de Gaulle to power in France under a new and strong executive type of government in 1958 produced growing dissidence within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as de Gaulle sought to recapture some of France's former glory by taking an increasingly independent role.

Churchill's problems with de Gaulle were rightly famous; so too Eisenhower's. But the two men recognized that de Gaulle was a great man, and the right man. Ever since returning to power, he tried to drive the same point home to Washington: France must share in the big decisions. Rebuffed by Roosevelt and Churchill during World War II, he proposed to his old comrade-in-arms, President Eisenhower, the establishment of a triumvirate, the United States, Britain, and France, which would more or less run the affairs of the Western world and manage the cold war. That proposal was met initially with silence; then, somewhat later, with a flat "No."

When President John F. Kennedy assumed office in the opening days of 1961, the prospects for peace were not encouraging. For a brief time it appeared that President Kennedy might take a different tack, but White House advisers decided that, after all, France was a "negligible quantity" and it was sheer arrogance for De Gaulle to demand equal status with the all-powerful United States. The proposal for a multilateral force, conceived in the Kennedy era, was considered by Paris as having only one objective: the integration of France in an Atlantic community and the strengthening of U.S. hegemony.

For years, Soviet propagandists had sought to impugn the United States by linking it to France's brutal colonial war in Algeria. The effort was a mediocre success until 22 April 1961, when four Algerian-based generals organized a putsch against President Charles de Gaulle, who was trying to extract France from the seven-year conflict. Coincidentally, one of the plotters, Air Force Gen. Maurice Challe, had served in NATO headquarters and was unusually pro-American for a senior French officer. This fact provided the basis for a fabrication that the plotters enjoyed the CIA's support.

This lie was first printed on the 23rd of April by a Rome daily. In English, the headline in Paese Sera read, "Was the Military Coup d'état in Algeria Prepared in Consultation with Washington?" The very next day, Pravda, citing Paese Sera, ran a story alleging CIA support for the revolt, as did TASS and Radio Moscow. Other Soviet Bloc and then Western outlets picked up the story, which gathered credibility with every re-telling. Eventually Le Monde, the most respected and influential newspaper in France, ran a lead editorial that began, "It now seems established that some American agents more or less encouraged Challe." The vehemence of the US Embassy's denial was primarily taken as an indication of the allegation's truth.

As the story spread to the American side of the Atlantic, the controversy grew to such a pitch that it threatened to disrupt President Kennedy's state visit to France, scheduled for May 1961. Relations remained testy until Maurice Couve de Murville, France's foreign minister, went before the National Assembly and sought to quell the allegation.

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Page last modified: 22-11-2013 00:03:01 ZULU