Jean-Paul Sartre 1958

We Are All Assassins

First Published: Les Temps Modernes no 145 March 1958;
Source: Situations, V. Paris, Gallimard, 1964;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor, 2008;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2008.

In November 1956 Fernand Yveton, member of the Combattants de la Libération, deposes a bomb in the power station at Hama. A sabotage attempt that can in no way be taken for an act of terrorism: expert testimony proved that it was a question of a time bomb, carefully set so that the explosion couldn’t occur before the departure of the personnel. It didn’t matter; Yveton is captured, he receives the death sentence, grace is refused and he is executed. There can be no hesitation about this: this man declared and proved he wanted to cause the death of no one; they wanted his death and they got it. Intimidation was necessary, was it not? That and, as an imbecile said the other day, “to show the terrible face of an irritated France.” How pure and certain of one’s purity one must be in order to render this archangelic justice. And even if one were to concede for a minute that this absurd war has a meaning, do we not see what these French soldiers and civilians must demand of themselves if they hope to justify the atrocious rigor of this condemnation?

A short while later came the trial of the “accomplices,” Jacqueline and Abdelkader Guerroudj. He is a political leader who ensured the liaison between the Combattants de la Libération and the leadership of the FLN. She is a petite bourgeoise from the “metropolis” who wanted to take her share of the risks because she approved of her husband’s undertaking. She entered the movement well after him and her direct chiefs charged her, in November 1956, with giving Yveton the instruments for his future sabotage. She obeyed because she was guaranteed that the explosion wouldn’t cost any human lives.

For those who know the logic of military tribunals the sentence was not in doubt: since they had killed Yveton, and since the Guerroudj couple were his accomplices, they had to either go back on their decision or kill them as well. These predictions have since been confirmed. The government commissioner demanded the head of the accused, almost off-handedly. He obtained it. The complicity of the Guerroudjs in the Yveton affair wasn’t established? So what? In Algiers our justice prefers to shock the world with the severity of its sentences rather than by the quality of the proofs that support them.

Will they carry logic so far as to execute the Guerroudjs? As far as refusing presidential grace? If it was permitted to speak to the highest functionary of the Fourth Republic I would respectfully have him observe that we are no longer in the good old days of 1956. Since the Guerroudj trial an incident took place, a simple hitch to be sure, but which should nevertheless have some influence on our way of rendering justice, especially military justice: Sakiet. There were bombs at Sakiet, just as at the power station of Hama. Only they weren’t time bombs. And those responsible weren’t stupid enough to limit their operation to a simple deterioration of materiel. For at Sakiet as well the operation had been carefully chosen: it was that of the market. It’s true that Yveton’s only objective was to plunge a city into darkness. The objective of our planes was to plunge a village into death. If we had wanted to preserve our archangelic rigor we would perhaps have had to find the guilty and – who knows? – judge them. But no; M. Gaillard “covered” it. With what thick veil or impenetrable fog did he hope to “cover” the ruins of Sakiet? This I don’t know. But the operation didn’t succeed: the whole world saw the stones smoking in the sun. The only thing is that M. Gaillard is us; he is France. When from the height of his tribune he made the august gesture of covering it, he involved us all. Our foreign friends, as their press enjoys telling us every day, are beginning to seriously ask themselves if we haven’t become mad dogs. And here is the question we could humbly ask the first functionary of our great Republic: is it quite opportune to execute the Guerroudj couple? Would it not be in our interest to slacken our haughty severity a bit? A country whose government proudly takes credit for what M. Mauriac so accurately called the other day a “massacre of the poor,” is it truly qualified to have its representatives apply in its name the death penalty to a man whose sole role was that of ensuring the political liaison between a communist group and the FLN? To a woman who, participating in a sabotage operation, took all the necessary precautions so that the operation cause neither dead nor wounded? This has to be repeated every day to the imbeciles who want to frighten the universe by showing it “France’s terrible face.” France frightens no one; it no longer even has the means to intimidate: it’s beginning to horrify, and that is all. If it were ever to happen, the execution of the Guerroudjs, no one will see or admire our archangelic inflexibility; they’ll simply think that we have committed yet another crime.[1]

1. Thanks to a campaign in their favor, neither Abdelkader nor Jacqueline was executed.