In the spring of 1956, thousands of young French conscripts were shipped off to Algeria. These inexperienced 20-year-olds would have to wrestle with moral dilemmas greater than those faced by any of their forebears. Their carefree innocence would be dashed by an undertaking whose end goal was clear to no one. Mixing first-hand accounts from conscripts and never-before-seen amateur footage, this two-part documentary tells the story of the ordeal these young soldiers went through.
1956, 10 years after the end of the war, it was a carefree time. But on the other side of the Mediterranean, Algeria was ablaze, and the contingent was sent en masse for a simple “operation to maintain order”. For most of the conscripts, it was a first trip, an adventure. But once there, they were plunged into a conflict whose violence they discovered. On arrival, the difference in living standards between some Europeans and Algerians raised questions about the purpose of the war. Scattered throughout the country, trapped in pursuit of elusive rebels, they were condemned to live under constant threat.
The uncertainty of war, its apparent absurdity, the disappearance of friends and isolation all combine to paint a picture of a dotted life where landmarks disappear.
4 years after the start of the uprising in Algeria and 2 years of all-out war, not a single canton in France has a young man who has “died for France”. While a majority of French people are now in favor of a negotiated solution in Algeria, on the ground, the 400,000 men of the contingent are bogged down in a dirty job that is as futile, thankless and dangerous as it is dangerous. A dirty job that led to a relentless downward spiral.
Faced with mobile rebels who blended into the population, the top brass turned a blind eye to methods already tried and tested in Indochina: intelligence warfare is won by any means necessary.
How can an ordinary soldier resist? Is it even possible?
A gulf opened up between the conscripts caught up in a merciless war and a French society dazzled by the upturn in fortunes promised by the early sixties. Even before their final return, the conscripts began to remain silent.
With the participation of France 5