On April 4, 1949, a bunch of countries in Western Europe and North America signed a treaty. In that treaty, there was a little provision in Article 5 that stated:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised(sic) by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Around 1958, it was safe to say that things were not going well in France. In fact, the New York Times warned that France was “at the verge of civil war.” France had to deal with the rise of its leftist labor movement. Meanwhile, the French currency was being devalued at an exponential pace. Almost every sector in France was revolting. Suffice to say, the wealthy business interests and the government were anxious about their heads!
On top of this, French colonies all over the world were demanding freedom and equality. They were fighting to stop the centuries of plunder, pillaging, theft, and exploitation. In response to the French Government’s weak response to these colonies, an extremely right-wing faction of the French Army overthrew the French Governor in Algeria and threatened to invade France. The Prime Minister of France resigned and Charles De Gaule was installed.
The aristocracy recognized that the crumbs they were throwing at the masses were insufficient. This posed a conundrum. How do they share a bit of cake to placate the masses, while still hoarding the whole bakery for themselves? Sharing a little bit of cake could not be done at the expense of the uber-wealthy, and the uber-wealthy demanded that France continue siphoning off wealth from Africa.
Charles De Gaule proposed a new constitutional reform through a referendum to stave off both the rioting masses at home and placate the increasingly strong independence movement from their colonies. His idea: The colonies could have more autonomy while still being part of a “french union” (terms and conditions of the French Union were TBD and to be decided after the referendum.).
Around this time, a small country in the North Atlantic area, Guinea, with a population of a little under 3.5 million people wanted to free itself from the manacles of colonial rule. It dreamed of Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
In Guinea, Charles De Gaule began what he called “campaigning” but the more appropriate word would be “intimidating.” In the capital, in the great hall that was filled with Guineans. He spoke first and included a not-very-veiled threat:
We spoke of independence, I say here even more than elsewhere that autonomy is at the disposal of Guinea. She can take it, she can take it on September 28 by saying "NO" to the proposal that is made to her, and in this case, I guarantee that the Metropolis will not obstruct it. It will, of course, have consequences, but obstacles will not make it, and your Territory will be able, as it wishes, and in the conditions, it wants, to follow the route it wants.
The people of Guinea were very familiar with the depths of the brutality that France could invoke upon them, but Sékou Touré seduced them with hope. Sekou Toure got up and said, “But there is no dignity without freedom ... We prefer freedom in poverty to opulence in slavery.” The crowd erupted in cheers. A few days later, Guineans bravely went to the voting booth, and 95% of them voted to be free.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité (blancs seulement)
As soon as the results came out, Charles De Gaule ordered vengeance. A CIA bulletin from that time claims that Paris wanted to set an example to other nations that dared to seek independence. According to the Washington Post,
In reaction, and as a warning to other French-speaking territories, the French pulled out of Guinea over a two-month period, taking everything they could with them. They unscrewed lightbulbs, removed plans for sewage pipelines in Conakry, the capital, and even burned medicines rather than leave them for the Guineans
They blew up schools and hospitals. They destroyed the crops in the country side. They even blew up roads and railways. The French were determined to reduce Guinea to rubble, all because the tiny nation dared to say “no.”
Of course, the people of Guinea had to watch in horror as the French destroyed everything in the country. For if even one French soldier was mildly wounded, Charles de Gaule could invoke Article 5 and the full wrath of NATO would turn the country into an inferno. There was no way this tiny nation, which could have fit in the Bronx been able to handle America’s bloated Army.
But France was not yet done with Guinea. Soon after destroying everything in Guinea, they intimidated other countries to prevent them from giving official recognition to Guinea or providing any aid.
A few days later, other African colonies would go to the ballot booth. But of course, they voted “yes” because the price of Freedom was too high.
(Tomorrow's newsletter: What were the terms of their “French union”)