Memoirs of Senegalese Soldiers tells a very strong story of armed conflict, empire, and identity. During the First World War, over 140,000 West Africans were recruited to fight with the French Army. Of the 140,000 recruits, over 45,000 never returned home from the war. The war, despite the reasons behind the fight, changed lives. Recruitment of soldiers was not optional, the men who fled to avoid being drafted would have their fathers taken. When the young men would return home for food, their mothers say, “You know that your name has been written [down by the che de canton] and [yet] you ran away. And now your father has been arrested, and he will be taken to prison. So go and enter the army”. The men would enter the army so that their fathers would be free. The empire required men to enter the armed conflict, with or without consent. Out of each family, they only took one man; however, it was not an option to not have one member join. The recruits all joined one army, the French army. What they knew, their previous ways of life and living were no longer relevant.
Soldiers taken from Senegal were foreign to the land, to the community, and to the language of the French community. They met women and built relationships; however, they were ‘black’. The French made money by selling tickets to those who had never been exposed to the blacks before. After the war, the recruits became French citizens, and discrimination was no longer allowed. The soldiers were forced to fight in a war and then allowed to stay in a community where they didn’t speak the language. Their identity was determined by the ones who were running the armed conflict. They learned nothing while they were forced to fight a battle they knew nothing about. The Empire had the power to dictate that these men left their life and fought for their cause. In the end, it provides the blacks with an identity in the white community where they were viewed as equals instead of subservient to the dominant white powers. Despite the methods of which it was obtained, the black soldier were able to gain an identity in the society based on their loyalty to the empire and their participation in the armed conflict.
Frantz Fanon’s “On Violence,” also takes a stand on armed conflict, empire, and identity. The concern for decolonization is relevant because decolonization is inevitable. Decolonization’s goal is to change the world; however, it leads to disorder. Decolonization is two separate forces with meet with opposing focus and goals. The practice of decolonization cannot be unnoticed because it requires those involved to pick a side and take a position. It is inevitably the starting point for armed conflict because two opposing sides are building their empire on opposing values and goals. Changing the structure of society and how it functions will be met with opposition. Decolonization changes the identity of the community because it strives to change the function that they once knew. The native would often rather starve than allow outsiders to come in and change their way of life. They fear that decolonization strives to take their place, not improve it.
Decolonization strives to unify individuals through radical decisions and motivation. The Senegalese Patriots provided fierce words toward the movement of their president. “We have demanded that the higher posts should be given to Africans, and now Senghor is Africanizing the Europeans”. The decolonization is visible to the citizens under the idea that the last shall be first. As told, the Africans were forced to fight the war for the Europeans. The benefit was to the Europeans far more than to the Africans. However, the identity of both societies have changed as a result. Native intellectual beings bring a significant amount of opportunity to a new society. It allows for cultures to learn from each other and to build positively. In most cases, it does not work like that. The change is strongly opposed, and armed conflict is inevitable. At the end of the conflict, an empire it strengthened, and it creates the identity of the society. The identity can be challenged at any point through the desire to gain power and make changes that will also be met with a substantial amount of resistance.
Rachid Bouchareb’s Days of Glory is a film that tells of Europe during the war and the events that took place behind the scenes. It has been shown in many references that there is a direct relationship between the armed conflict, empire and identity. The film shows how the soldiers are fighting for France, but their patrimony is horribly unclear. There were hundreds of thousands of indigenous soldiers who fought in under the shield of the French flag; however, their place in France was marginal at best. The Empire France dictated the identity of the soldiers they recruited for themselves. Despite the lack of options given to many of the recruits for the war, all the soldiers considered themselves French citizens. The French military did not treat these soldiers well; many were treated as second class soldiers. The soldiers were in a war risking their lives to fight for their empire; however, their well-being was not taken into consideration. Many of the recruits were denied necessary equipment, opportunities for advancement or promotion, and even denied the food at times. The officers took every opportunity they could exploit their patriotism. They made promises they had no intentions of keeping them fighting for the motherland.
The most notable point in the movie was how disposable the recruits were. Abdelkader is a corporal who has built an intelligent and high-ranking group of soldiers. He was an excellent candidate for advancement; however, he devoted his principles of liberte, Egalite and fraternite along with his African comrades. Abdelkader violated the military code because it violated the military code for dictatorship and no option for individuals who speak for themselves. The men were brought from their home countries and towns, to risk their lives for an empire they knew nothing about. However, they showed a significant amount of pride. One soldier passionately declared to a French woman, "I free a country, and it's my country. Even if I've never seen it before. It's my country”. It was almost heartbreaking because the expression of hope was to have the identity of the Frenchman, even though they clearly were not. The willingness to risk one’s life for the empire should provide them with not only citizenship, but an identity that shows their sacrifice that was made through their participation in the armed conflict.
The final consideration is the film by Gillo Pontecorvo’s entitled the Battle of Algiers. It is a 1966 war film that tells of the Algeria War which took place against the French government. The film tells of the relationship between armed conflict, empire, and identity. The armed conflict existed between states and insurgent groups alike and tells an important story about guerrilla warfare. Similar to the other stories and films discussed, war requires recruits to be trained and to take up arms fighting for a particular cause. The war escalated quickly, and it was no longer a battle between enlisted soldiers. The violence escalated for both sides of the war, and the film showed far more about the real identity that claimed both sides. Children were brought into the battle and shot soldiers at point-blank. Women were brought into the war, and they planted bombs in cafes and at times were carrying arms as well.
The French soldier’s war expectation also changed as well. They resorted to torturing the insurgents in order to break their will. The film showed a more modern depiction of warfare as it has evolved to terrorist attacks and other methods to gain the upper hand in battle. The film provides an adequate correlation between armed conflict and how the ones with the most power are the ones who claim the empire. Besides, it creates the identity of the society as they know it. By no means would a society at peace provide opportunity or allowance for children to shoot a soldier point blank. It is a point of disparity to create brought about during the war. A lack of resources or power leaves the army searching for any alternative they can find. In this film, women and children were forced to take a side and participate in armed conflict. The film shows how the empire comes about and the identities that it takes as a result of the strive for power.
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