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The Rouen Chronicles – Robert Merle 3 – Robert Merle in October, 1964 -

October 1, 2014
Double volume, Volumes 1 and 2 of Fortune de France by Robert Merle

Double volume, Volumes 1 and 2 of Fortune de France by Robert Merle

(Note: It was in October 1964 at the Faculte des Lettres of the University of Rouen that along with some 25 other “junior year abroad” students from St. Lawrence University (Canton, New York), that I stepped into a classroom to listen to Professor Robert Merle lecture, on of all, things, the poetry of Robert Frost. A half century later, I still have the notes from Merle’s lectures and whenever I read Frost, which I do quite frequently, I think of Merle, who opened my eyes and heart to the New England poet, whom it turns out, also spent a year or so as a student at St. Lawrence University.)

By the fall of 1964 Robert Merle was in the full prime of his academic career although, despite having published a number of fascinating fiction works, and having 15 years prior emerged as a national literary figure, he had yet to find his voice as an author. That would come later. A full professor of English and American Literature, associated with the University of Rouen, Merle was already a major French cultural figure, having won the Prix Goncourt in 1949 for Week-end à Zuydcoote, a highly biographical account of the British-French Dunkirk evacuation fiasco, in which Merle was caught up, and taken prisoner by the Nazis. In 1964, the novel was made into a film starring French mega-star Jean-Paul Belmondo a kind of French Steve McQueen…or was it that McQueen was an American Belmondo? Read more…

Changing Colors and Private Property in the Colorado Mountains…

September 27, 2014
On Apex Valley Road - near Central City, Colorado - September 27, 2914

On Apex Valley Road – near Central City, Colorado – September 27, 2914

The photo is on Apex Valley Road, a dirt road leading up the Apex Mine just off of Highway 119 – the “Peak-To-Peak” Highway in the Colorado Rockies. The cutoff is a few miles north of the turn to Central City, which used to be a preserved old mining town – now turned into a gambling Mecca. I used to go up this road to look for mushrooms and in some years have found plenty – bolettes galour spiced with a few Steinpiltz types. It was in the late 1990s and I drove the road to the mine in my old Toyota 1984 2-wheel drive pick up on cool clear fall days like today. Then the mushrooms disappeared – they are fickle things – and for this and that no-good reason, the trips stopped. It’s about fifteen years since I ventured that way but when Nancy and I talked about taking a half day trip up the mountains to see the aspen turning, I remember the area. On the way back down the road there is a cut-off to the right which leads to the high ground above Central City. There are a few cemeteries and the Columbine Camp Ground. When our dog Cloudy was young and alive we’d take her up there and let her romp around the forests. Read more…

AFRICOM-Lite: The Obama Administration’s Security Governance Initiative for Africa

August 28, 2014
THE U.S. military is involved in 49 AFrican countries, 27 of which are highlighted here

THE U.S. military is involved in 49 AFrican countries, 27 of which are highlighted here

(Note: This piece also was published at Foreign Policy In Focus)

AFRICOM-Lite: The Obama Administration’s Security Governance Initiative for Africa.

While the media attention in the United States is riveted on the Israeli war against Gaza, on the ISIS offensive in Iraq and Syria, accomplished for the most part with guerrilla-trained by U.S. allies (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel), and the ongoing attempts to consolidate the neo-liberal hold on the Ukraine in the name of “democracy”, some other global developments have gone largely unnoticed.

Among them is the August 6, 2014 announcement of a new Obama Administration “initiative” for Africa. Actually there are two: the so-called “Security Governance Initiative for Africa” (SGI) on the one hand and “the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, called A-PREP for short, on the other. Old wine in new bottles?…or old wine in old bottles slightly polished up?

SGI involves providing aid – with string attached as usual – to Ghana, Kenya, Mali Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia. On one level SGI is a response to the threat to African development posed by Islamic radical groups Al Qaeda of the Maghreb (AQIM), Al Shabbab, and Boko Haram, but its ulterior motive – actually quite openly stated is to make the targeted African countries more secure for foreign investment, thus as the old cliché goes, killing two birds with one stone. The stated goal of the program is to insure the security environment of these countries as a way of encouraging future U.S. investment, and as Tunisian commentator Yassine Bellamine notes in a recent article at the Tunisian website Nawaat.org “as a way to play a more active role in what is shaping up to be a new investor El dorado in the near future , Africa.” (my translation). Read more…

Rouen Chronicles – Robert Merle – 2 – on Algerian Political Figure Ahmed Ben Bella.

August 18, 2014
Algiers, 2014. photo credit, Michael Busch

Algiers, 2014. photo credit, Michael Busch

1.

The University of Denver’s Library – oh yes, it is not called a library anymore, but the “Anderson Academic Commons” – I assume named after the largest contributor to the facility’s remodeling, a vulgar, if now common place way to name a facility – does have a few of Robert Merle’s works, some in French, a few in English. Among the English translations is Merle’s “Ben Bella”. In some ways more of a hagiography than a biography – not surprising when the protagonist is given the opportunity to comment on his own life – but still in many ways timely and of historical interest.

Ahmed Ben Bella was one of the more prominent leaders, organizers of the Algerian revolt for independence against France. One of the original founders and leaders of Algeria’s national liberation front (“front de la liberation nationale” in French, hence known as the FLN), he emerged shortly after Algeria’s independence in July, 1962 as his country’s first president. This was only achieved as the result of a harsh, mean-spirited factional struggle among the FLN’s leadership, that would soon bring down Ben Bella as well, as the revolution “ate its children.” Read more…

The Rouen Chronicles: Robert Merle – 1

August 14, 2014

Robert Merle

Robert Merle

(Note: About ten years ago, – actually I forget, was it 5 years ago, 10 years ago? I am not sure – I had a brief conversation with an old friend and companero named John Buttney, The name might not resonate among many, but for those who were in Colorado, specifically Boulder, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it should ring a bell. He was one of the leaders of the student anti-war movement on the University of Colorado campus, a place from which he related, he was “banned for life.” We were talking about the intellectual influences that led us leftward politically, and were surprised to find that we had both been influenced by French thinkers. Buttney, a philosophy grad student, spoke of the impact of Merlo Ponti; for me it was, oddly enough, a French professor who taught me, of all things, about Robert Frost’s poetry who I failed to name. He is Robert Merle. I realize that most of you don’t know much – or anything – about Robert Merle. Your loss, frankly… Suggest you check out a copy of “Day of the Dolphin” from Netflix or Weekend à Zuydcoote [about the Dunkirk evacuation – kind of a French Catch 22] with Jean Paul Belmondo. I’ll be writing more about him [Merle] over the course of the coming year)

1.

Having spent almost all of my adult life in academia, I have met a series of very fine teachers, professors and as I sit here thinking of them, a flood of names and faces comes to mind. But there were few, precious few, of what I would call truly great ones, a high school history teacher, Mr. Rhodes, my freshman English teacher, Mr. Hasham at St. Lawrence University, two professors of Anthropology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, David Green and Gordon Hewes, and a colleague at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies all belong to that category. They had vastly different teaching styles, subject matter, politics but they all had encyclopedic knowledge of their fields, the ability to place the subject matter within a broader context. More importantly, they had learned the fine art of stimulating a passion for learning in their students.

I was both challenged and humbled intellectually by having studied with them.

But to my mind there is one who rises even above these, Robert Merle. No one comes close. Hardly known here in the United States today, his work is highly appreciated and well-known in France. Ours was not a particularly long connection. If I remember correctly, he gave a series of lectures that went only over a few months  after which he disappeared from Rouen. But by the time of our parting of the ways, he had left an indelible mark on me, and I would venture to guess on others with whom I shared an unforgettable year.  Read more…

Hamas Cease Fire Terms Could Lead to “Normalcy”

August 8, 2014

Rob Prince:

to add a note – my sense is that a good deal of the fighting over the past month was – as is the case now – over the terms of the ceasefire. Israel and the Obama Administration wants a ceasefire that goes back to the pre-fighting status quo with Gaza sealed off to the world. The fighters in Gaza, Hamas and otherwise, refuse to accept this, in part because of the horrific casualties, in part that the ending of Israel’s war on Gaza lead to a new security situation where the Gazan-Palestinians have more breathing room and open passage of people and material in and out of the zone. The previous ceasefires offered, which Israel accepted and the Palestinians rejected, refused to change the status quo. Some of the intensification of the bombardment was to punish Hamas for not accepting “their fate”. I would also point out that if the Obama Administration pressured Israel the two Gaza entry points would be opened, but to date, despite a few encouraging words (by Obama yesterday) suggesting a U.S. shift in that direction, no such pressure has been in applied.

Originally posted on Wallwritings:

by James M. Wall

photo by Reuters Ha'aretz

During their temporary cease fire, Israel and Hamas are negotiating in Cairo, Egypt, for an agreement to end Israel’s third military assault since 2007, on Gaza.

Thursday night, Ha’aretz reported that the talks were “stalled”.

Friday morning, when the 72 hour agreement ended, the New York Times reported both sides resumed cross-border firing.

These shots could be “warning shots” to signal a resumption of the conflict, or they may be part of the negotiations strategy on both sides.

The conflict is asymmetrical, suggesting that more exchanges of fire would be especially harmful to the Palestinians in Gaza.

The one-sided nature of the now 30-day conflict, is seen in the human toll of Israel’s third “mowing the grass” project in Gaza. Thus far, Israel has killed 1900 Palestinians, the great majority of whom were civilians, including 400 children.

To agree to an extended cease fire with no more firing from…

View original 1,095 more words

The Rouen Chronicles: The Strange and Short Saga of Dominique Vergos

August 3, 2014
Dominique Vergos - 1980s - somewhere in Afghanistan

Dominique Vergos – 1980s – somewhere in Afghanistan

1.

Agreed it is a bit of an unusual – almost certainly posed – picture of a man on camel in what appears to be some Middle Eastern or Central Asian desert.  For those who knew him well there is little doubt of either the man or the place. It is the Frenchman Dominique Vergos a top a camel somewhere in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s, where for a number of years he worked with the Afghan mujaheddin in their decade effort to expel Soviet troops from their country. It was related (by his family) that the Soviets placed a $100,000 bounty on Vergos’ head, never collected because he evaded them the years he slipped in and out of Afghanistan. I don’t know if the information is accurate. I am trying to remember from whom I received the picture; I believe it was from his widowed wife, thanking me for an inquiry about Dominique just after I learned of his fate.

He frequently went alone, deep into Afghanistan, where he made contact with rebel groups fighting the Soviet military occupation. In an age of cell phone intercepts and advanced satellite photography, still nothing really could compare to “on the ground” intelligence – direct contact with the many peoples and movements in Afghanistan. Very few westerners had access to it; few ventured into the Afghan heartland where the risks of not returning – or worse – really not finding anything or anyone – were great. Among the few that did – essentially a rather small handful of journalists, adventurers, spies and the like, was Dominique Vergos. That it required both a kind of stamina and courage rare in most people is undeniable. No question that Vergos possessed both. It might also help, as the British would put it, to be “a bit daft” as well. The intelligence thus provided cannot be underestimated.

When the war ended, the last Soviet troops left the country, their tails between their legs, leaving a mountain of arms and communication equipment for the Afghan rebels to use against one another. Shortly before, unable to tear himself a way from the center of action, Vergos set up a household in Peshawar, in nw Pakistan, near the Afghan border, in a region largely out of control of the Islamabad government. There on Christmas Day, 1988 as the Soviet Occupation was coming to a close, returning from “The America Club”, one of his house body guards “accidentally” emptied an automatic rifle into Vergos’ body, killing him instantly, or so the story goes. (Another version of his death is that he was killed late one night when he went outside to feed the dog.) A few days prior, he had been warned by the French Embassy a few weeks prior to his death that his life might be in danger.(1) Months later, his brother, Didier Vergos, traveled from his home in Rouen, France to Peshawar where in a rather unpleasant experience, he identified the body and then had it transported back to France.

Dominique Vergos’ remains lie buried in a small cemetery sitting on a hill near Brest, the French port town in the Brittany region where I saw it in the summer of 1992 on a visit to the Vergos family where the family still owns property. After some hesitation, it was related (by those close to him) that in his Afghan ventures that Vergos was actually employed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, a connection that was made during the Lebanese Civil War of the late 1970s where he worked as a photographer for a French news agency. Was it the C.I.A. or is that simply a generic term for some U.S. based intelligence agency? There are a fair number of them. Girardet (see below) suggests he did so for the money; my hunch is that, like some others in war zones, he became addicted to high level of drama and could never accustom himself to “a normal life” outside of a war zone. There was always something “high risk, high gain” about Dominique even before he began his adventures as a spy for Washington.  I would have thought he would work for French intelligence, but Vergos had a nose for power and seemed to greatly admire everything about the United States, so the C.I.A. connection was not implausible. His assassination – for that is most likely what it was – has never been explained. My speculation, granted it is no more than that, is that Vergos knew too much and as a result needed to be eliminated so that his impressive store of knowledge of Afghan rebel groups could not be used against them in the future. Read more…

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