The Algerian War of Independence began in 1954 and sputtered on until 1962 when the nation gained its independence from France. A noteworthy feature of the conflict was the use of terrorism against civilians. Millions of French citizens lived in Algeria at the time and regarded the country as their rightful home. In fact, many in both Algeria and France itself regarded Algeria as an extension of France proper. This situation led to civil war inside Algeria as pro- and anti-France factions battled one another for dominance.
War in Algeria prompted Camus’ insight that some people believe in history and also want history to be fair, even if settling accounts means tolerating terrorist attacks on the formerly dominant. (Photo: Wikipedia)
French journalist and philosopher Albert Camus was born in Algeria and never lost his love for his place of birth. When the war broke out, he found himself exiled in France and surrounded by intellectual peers who advocated unconditional independence for Algeria regardless of the consequences for the large French population. Camus was outraged and defended the right of the French to be in Algeria. His own family was still there. This agonizing situation prompted the development of one of his most interesting ideas.
Camus realized that the French intellectuals were using history to justify the Algerian terrorists. That is, the intellectuals felt the terrorism against French citizens was fair given French colonial history in the country. The killing and maiming of the French was retribution for past sins or crimes. To Camus this moral position implied two important things: a belief in history as a justification for action and a belief that history should be fair.
Camus did not believe in resigning himself to history nor to historical inevitability, the popular notion that the war was unavoidable under the circumstances. He decided it was his duty not to believe in history. Instead, he wanted to weigh the Algerian situation exclusively within the context of the present time, without consideration for the baggage of the past. The needs of those alive today must carry more weight than past events, however one might interpret the moral aspects of those events. Camus lost his brave struggle, of course, but the ideas in play during the Algerian conflict are still with us.
Today, politically correct types and leftists in general also believe in history. Like their French forbears, their pursuit of moral righteousness is ruthlessly one-sided and incredibly costly to others. To see this, one has only to consider the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) campaign to “right historical wrongs.” Apparently, we must awaken all sleeping dogs.
In Canada, we have apologized to and compensated Chinese immigrant families because the government once levied a head tax on incomers from China. We have apologized to and compensated aboriginal people for once making them attend residential schools where they learned English and other skills necessary for integration (massive child abuse is alleged and integration is a crime anyway). We have apologized to and compensated WW II Japanese internees because in hindsight we see there was no need. We have even apologized to poor British orphans, brought to Canada for a better life, because they had to work – alongside Canadian children – on farms (“slave labour,” you see).
A justification for questionable affirmative action programs in America is always prior discrimination. If you live in the West, you can probably think of many examples in your own country or region. The belief in history is endemic.
Those who instituted the above policies also hold a belief in the fairness of history, or in settling historical scores, even if such squaring up must be done at the expense of those living today who had nothing to do with what happened all those years ago.
I share Camus’ belief that behaviour of this kind is actually reprehensible, but I am a conservative and in the minority in my country. Perhaps you too believe in history and that history should be fair, and find all of these examples exemplary.