Thursday, December 19, 2013

This Day in History: Dec 19, 1946: Start of the First Indochina War.


The First Indochina War (generally known as the Indochina War in France, and as the Anti-French Resistance War in contemporary Vietnam) began in French Indochina on 19 December 1946 and lasted until 1 August 1954. Fighting between French forces and their Viet Minh opponents in the South dates from September 1945. The conflict pitted a range of forces, including the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Emperor Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in Northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.


Following the reoccupation of Indochina by the French following the end of World War II, the area having fallen to the Japanese, the Viet Minh launched a rebellion against the French authority governing the colonies of French Indochina. The first few years of the war involved a low-level rural insurgency against French authority. However, after the Chinese communists reached the Northern border of Vietnam in 1949, the conflict turned into a conventional war between two armies equipped with modern weapons supplied by the United States and the Soviet Union.[17] French Union forces included colonial troops from the whole former empire (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese ethnic minorities), French professional troops and units of the French Foreign Legion. The use of metropolitan recruits was forbidden by the government to prevent the war from becoming even more unpopular at home. It was called the "dirty war" (la sale guerre) by supporters of the Left intellectuals in France (including Jean-Paul Sartre) during the Henri Martin affair in 1950.[18][19]

 Dien Bien Phu

While the strategy of pushing the Viet Minh into attacking a well-defended base in a remote part of the country at the end of their logistical trail was validated at the Battle of Nà Sản, the lack of construction materials (especially concrete), tanks (because of lack of road access and difficulty in the jungle terrain), and air cover precluded an effective defense, culminating in a decisive French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

After the war, the Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, made a provisional division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel, with control of the north given to the Viet Minh as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and the south becoming the State of Vietnam under Emperor Bảo Đại.[20] A year later, Bảo Đại would be deposed by his prime minister, Ngô Đình Diệm, creating the Republic of Vietnam. Soon an insurgency backed by the North developed against Diem's government. The war gradually escalated into the Vietnam War between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Republic of Vietnam backed by heavy US intervention.


 File:French Indochina expansion.jpg

Vietnam was absorbed into French Indochina in stages between 1858 and 1887 with European influence and education. Nationalism grew until World War II provided a break in French control. Early Vietnamese resistance centered on the intellectual Aéronavale. Châu looked to Japan, which had modernized and was one of the few Asian nations to resist European colonization. With Prince Cường Để, Châu started two organizations in Japan, the Duy Tân hội (Modernistic Association) and Vietnam Cong Hien Hoi.

File:Phan Boi Chau va Cuong De.jpg
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Due to French pressure, Japan deported Phan Bội Châu to China. Witnessing Sun Yat-sen's 1911 nationalist revolution, Châu was inspired to commence the Viet Nam Quang Phục Hội movement in Guangzhou. From 1914 to 1917, he was imprisoned by Yuan Shikai's counterrevolutionary government. In 1925, he was captured by French agents in Shanghai and spirited to Vietnam. Due to his popularity, Châu was spared from execution and placed under house arrest until his death in 1940.

File:Xinhai Revolution in Shanghai.jpg

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In September 1940, shortly after Phan Bội Châu's death, Japan launched its invasion of French Indochina, mirroring its ally Germany's conquest of metropolitan France. Keeping the French colonial administration, the Japanese ruled from behind the scenes in a parallel of Vichy France. As far as Vietnamese nationalists were concerned, this was a double-puppet government. Emperor Bảo Đại collaborated with the Japanese, just as he had with the French, ensuring his lifestyle could continue.

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From October 1940 to May 1941, during the Franco-Thai War, the Vichy French in Indochina were involved with defending their colony in a border conflict which saw the forces of Thailand invade, while the Japanese sat on the sidelines. Thai military successes were limited to the Cambodian border area, and in January 1941 Vichy France's modern naval forces soundly defeated the inferior Thai naval forces in the Battle of Ko Chang. The war ended in May, with the French agreeing to minor territorial revisions which restored formerly Thai areas to Thailand.

File:Battle of Koh Chang 17 january 1941 (English version).svg

In March 1945, Japan launched the Second French Indochina Campaign and ousted the Vichy French and formally installed Emperor Bảo Đại in the short-lived Empire of Vietnam.

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File:Flag of the Empire of Vietnam (1945).svg

Japanese forces surrender (August 1945)

On August 22, 1945, OSS agents Archimedes Patti and Carleton B. Swift Jr. arrived in Hanoi on a mercy mission to liberate allied POWs and were accompanied by Jean Sainteny, a French government official.[21] The Japanese forces informally surrendered (the official surrender took place on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay) but being the only force capable of maintaining law and order the Japanese Imperial Army remained in power while keeping French colonial troops and Sainteny detained.[22]

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Japanese forces allowed the Viet Minh and other nationalist groups to take over public buildings and weapons without resistance, which began the August Revolution. After their defeat the Japanese Army gave weapons to the Viet Minh.[citation needed]

 In order to further help the nationalists, the Japanese kept Vichy French officials and military officers imprisoned for a month after the surrender. OSS officers met repeatedly with Ho Chi Minh and other Viet Minh officers during this period and on September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France for Vietnam.[23]

File:Flag of North Vietnam 1945-1955.svg

The Viet Minh had recruited more than 600 Japanese soldiers and given them roles to train or command Vietnamese soldiers.[24][25]

Ho Chi Minh claimed in a speech in September 1945 that due to a combination of ruthless Japanese exploitation and poor weather, a famine occurred in which approximately 2 million Vietnamese died. The Viet Minh arranged a relief effort in the north and won wide support there as a result.

Joseph Warren Stilwell Museum

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Joseph Stilwell privately made it adamantly clear that the French were not to reacquire French Indochina (modern day Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) after the war was over. Roosevelt offered Chiang Kai-shek to place all of Indochina under Chinese rule. Chiang Kai-shek supposedly replied: "Under no circumstances!".[26]

File:Chiang Kai-shek(蔣中正).jpg

In mid-September 200,000 troops of the Chinese 1st Army arrived in what would become North Vietnam (Indochina above the 16th parallel). They had been sent by Chiang Kai-shek under General Lu Han to accept the surrender of Japanese forces occupying that area which had been designated to Chiang Kai-Shek under Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers General Order no. One.[27]

 File:Lu Han.jpg

The Chinese forces remained there until 1946[28] and initially kept the French Colonial soldiers interned with the acquiescence of the Americans.[22] The Chinese used the VNQDĐ, the Vietnamese branch of the Chinese Kuomintang, to increase their influence in Indochina and put pressure on their opponents.[29] Chiang Kai-shek threatened the French with war in response to manoeuvering by the French and Ho Chi Minh against each other, forcing them to come to a peace agreement, and in February 1946 he also forced the French to surrender all of their concessions in China and renounce their extraterritorial privileges in exchange for withdrawing from northern Indochina and allowing French troops to reoccupy the region starting in March 1946.[30][31][32][33]

File:Flag of VNQDD.svg

Ho Chi Minh was able to persuade Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate on August 25, 1945. Bảo Đại was appointed "supreme advisor" to the new Vietminh-led government in Hanoi, which asserted independence on September 2. Deliberately borrowing from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed on September 2: "We hold the truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."[34]

File:Leclerc FRANCE 1945.jpg

With the fall of the short-lived Japanese colony of the Empire of Vietnam, the Provisional Government of the French Republic wanted to restore its colonial rule in French Indochina as the final step of the Liberation of France. An armistice was signed between Japan and the United States on August 20. CEFEO Expeditionary Corps leader General Leclerc signed the armistice with Japan on board the USS Missouri on behalf of France, on September 2.

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On September 13, a Franco-British task force landed in Java, main island of the Dutch East Indies (for which independence was being sought by Sukarno), and Saigon, capital of Cochinchina (southern part of French Indochina), both being occupied by the Japanese and ruled by Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi, Commander-in-Chief of Japan's Southern Expeditionary Army Group based in Saigon.[35] Allied troops in Saigon were an airborne detachment, two British companies of the 20th Hindi Division and the French 5th Colonial Infantry Regiment, with British General Sir Douglas Gracey as supreme commander. The latter proclaimed martial law on September 21. The following night the Franco-British troops took control of Saigon.[36]

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Almost immediately afterward, the Chinese Government, as agreed to at the Potsdam Conference, occupied French Indochina as far south as the 16th parallel in order to supervise the disarming and repatriation of the Japanese Army. This effectively ended Ho Chi Minh's nominal government in Hanoi.

File:Général Massu (Bataille d'Alger).jpg

General Leclerc arrived in Saigon on October 9, with him was French Colonel Massu's March Group (Groupement de marche). Leclerc's primary objectives were to restore public order in south Vietnam and to militarize Tonkin (north Vietnam). Secondary objectives were to wait for French backup in view to take back Chinese-occupied Hanoi, then to negotiate with the Viet Minh officials.[36]

Geneva Conference and Partition

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Negotiations between France and the Viet Minh started in Geneva in April 1954 at the Geneva Conference, during which time the French Union and the Viet Minh were fighting a battle at Điện Biên Phủ. In France, Pierre Mendès France, opponent of the war since 1950, had been invested as Prime Minister on June 17, 1954, on a promise to put an end to the war, reaching a ceasefire in four months:
"Today it seems we can be reunited in a will for peace that may express the aspirations of our country ... Since already several years, a compromise peace, a peace negotiated with the opponent seemed to me commanded by the facts, while it commanded, in return, to put back in order our finances, the recovery of our economy and its expansion. Because this war placed on our country an unbearable burden. And here appears today a new and formidable threat: if the Indochina conflict is not resolved — and settled very fast — it is the risk of war, of international war and maybe atomic, that we must foresee. It is because I wanted a better peace that I wanted it earlier, when we had more assets. But even now there is some renouncings or abandons that the situation does not comprise. France does not have to accept and will not accept settlement which would be incompatible with its more vital interests [applauding on certain seats of the Assembly on the left and at the extreme right]. France will remain present in Far-Orient. Neither our allies, nor our opponents must conserve the least doubt on the signification of our determination. A negotiation has been engaged in Geneva ... I have longly studied the report ... consulted the most qualified military and diplomatic experts. My conviction that a pacific settlement of the conflict is possible has been confirmed. A "cease-fire" must henceforth intervene quickly. The government which I will form will fix itself — and will fix to its opponents — a delay of 4 weeks to reach it. We are today on 17th of June. I will present myself before you before the 20th of July ... If no satisfying solution has been reached at this date, you will be freed from the contract which would have tied us together, and my government will give its dismissal to the President of the Republic."[43]
The Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, recognized the 17th parallel as a "provisional military demarcation line," temporarily dividing the country into two zones, Communist North Vietnam and pro-Western South Vietnam.


The Geneva Accords promised elections in 1956 to determine a national government for a united Vietnam. Neither the United States government nor Ngo Dinh Diem's State of Vietnam signed anything at the 1954 Geneva Conference. With respect to the question of reunification, the non-communist Vietnamese delegation objected strenuously to any division of Vietnam, but lost out when the French accepted the proposal of Viet Minh delegate Pham Van Dong,[44] who proposed that Vietnam eventually be united by elections under the supervision of "local commissions".[45] The United States countered with what became known as the "American Plan", with the support of South Vietnam and the United Kingdom.[46] It provided for unification elections under the supervision of the United Nations, but was rejected by the Soviet delegation.[46] From his home in France, Emperor Bảo Đại appointed Ngô Đình Diệm as Prime Minister of South Vietnam. With American support, in 1955 Diem used a referendum to remove the former Emperor and declare himself the president of the Republic of Vietnam.

File:Ngo Dinh Diem - Thumbnail - ARC 542189.png

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When the elections failed to occur, Viet Minh cadres who stayed behind in South Vietnam were activated and started to fight the government. North Vietnam also invaded and occupied portions of Laos to assist in supplying the guerilla fighting National Liberation Front in South Vietnam. The war gradually escalated into the Second Indochina War, more commonly known as the Vietnam War in the West and the American War in Vietnam.


Ho Chi Minh

 File:Ho Chi Minh 1946.jpg
 File:Ho Chi Minh Signature.svg
In 1923, Ho Chi Minh moved to Guangzhou, China. In 1925–26, he organized the 'Youth Education Classes' and occasionally gave lectures at the famous Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina.

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He stayed there in Hong Kong as a representative of the Communist International organization. In June 1931, he was arrested and incarcerated by British police until his release in 1933. He then made his way back to the Soviet Union, where he spent several years recovering from tuberculosis. In 1938, he returned to China and served as an adviser with the Chinese Communist armed forces.

File:Nguyen Aïn Nuä'C (Ho-Chi-Minh), délégué indochinois, Congrès communiste de Marseille, 1921, Meurisse, BNF Gallica.jpg

In 1941, Ho Chi Minh, seeing communist revolution as the path to freedom, returned to Vietnam and formed the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (League for the Independence of Vietnam), better known as the Viet Minh. He spent many years in Moscow and participated in the International Comintern. At the direction of Moscow, he combined the various Vietnamese communist groups into the Indochinese Communist Party in Hong Kong in 1930. Ho created the Viet Minh as an umbrella organization for all the nationalist resistance movements, de-emphasizing his communist social revolutionary background.

File:Coat of arms of Vietnam.svg


Late in the war, the Japanese created a nominally independent government of Vietnam under the overall leadership of Bảo Đại. Around the same time, the Japanese arrested and imprisoned most of the French officials and military officers left in the country. After the French army and other officials were freed from Japanese prisons in Vietnam, they began reasserting their authority over parts of the country. At the same time, the French government began negotiations with both the Viet Minh and the Chinese for a return of the French army to Vietnam north of the 16th parallel.

American OSS Deer Team with Ho Chi Minh & Vo Minh Giap August, 1945 Pac Bo, Vietnam

The Viet Minh were willing to accept French rule to end Chinese occupation. Ho and others had fears of the Chinese, based on China's historic domination and occupation of Vietnam. The French negotiated a deal with the Chinese where pre-war French concessions in Chinese ports such as Shanghai were traded for Chinese cooperation in Vietnam. The French landed a military force at Haiphong in early 1946. Negotiations then took place about the future for Vietnam as a state within the French Union. These talks eventually failed and the Viet Minh fled into the countryside to wage guerrilla war. In 1946, Vietnam created its first constitution.

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The British had supported the French in fighting the Viet Minh, armed militias from the religious Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo sects and the Bình Xuyên organized crime groups, which were all individually seeking power in the country. In 1948, as part of a post-colonial solution, the French re-installed Bao Dai as head of state of Vietnam under the French Union. The Viet Minh were militarily ineffective in the first few years of the war and could do little more than harass the French in remote areas of Indochina.

File:Viet Minh during August Revolution.jpg

In 1949, the war changed with the triumph of the communists in China on Vietnam's northern border. China was able to give almost unlimited support in terms of weapons and supplies to the Viet Minh, which transformed itself into a conventional army. After World War II, the United States and the USSR entered into the Cold War. The Korean War broke out in 1950 between communist North Korea (DPRK) supported by China and the Soviet Union, and South Korea (ROK) supported by the United States and its allies in the UN.

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The Cold War was now turning 'hot' in East Asia, and the American government feared communist domination of the entire region would have deep implications for American interests. The US became strongly opposed to the government of Ho Chi Minh, in part, because it was supported and supplied by China. Ho's government gained recognition from China and the Soviet Union by January 1950 in response to Western support for the State of Vietnam that the French had proposed as an associate state within the French Union. In the French-controlled areas of Vietnam, in the same year, the government of Bao Dai gained recognition by the United States and the United Kingdom.

File:Bác Hồ với Thiếu nhi.jpg

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French domestic situation


The 1946 Constitution creating the Fourth Republic (1946–1958) made France a Parliamentary republic. Because of the political context, it could find stability only by an alliance between the three dominant parties: the Christian Democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP), the French Communist Party (PCF) and the socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO). Known as tripartisme, this alliance briefly lasted until the May 1947 crisis, with the expulsion from Paul Ramadier's SFIO government of the PCF ministers, marking the official start of the Cold War in France. This had the effect of weakening the regime, with the two most significant movements of this period, Communism and Gaullism, in opposition.

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Unlikely alliances had to be made between left- and right-wing parties in order to form a government invested by the National Assembly, which resulted in strong parliamentary unstability. Hence, France had fourteen prime ministers in succession between the creation of the Fourth Republic in 1947 and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The rapid turnover of governments (there were 17 different governments during the war) left France unable to prosecute the war with any consistent policy according to veteran General René de Biré (who was a lieutenant at Dien Bien Phu).[47] France was increasingly unable to afford the costly conflict in Indochina and, by 1954, the United States was paying 80% of France's war effort, which was $3,000,000 per day in 1952.[48][49]

File:Charles DeGaulle and Ho Chi Minh are hanged in effigy during the National Shame Day celebration in Saigon, July 1964.jpg

A strong anti-war movement came into existence in France driven mostly by the then-powerful French Communist Party (outpowering the socialists) and its young militant associations, major trade unions such as the General Confederation of Labour, and notable leftist intellectuals.[19][50] The first occurrence was probably at the National Assembly on March 21, 1947, when the communist deputees refused to back the military credits for Indochina. The following year a pacifist event was organized, the "1st Worldwide Congress of Peace Partisans" (1er Congrès Mondial des Partisans de la Paix, the World Peace Council's predecessor), which took place March 25–28, 1948, in Paris, with the French communist Nobel laureate atomic physicist Frédéric Joliot-Curie as president. Later, on April 28, 1950, Joliot-Curie would be dismissed from the military and civilian Atomic Energy Commission for political reasons.[51]

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Young communist militants (UJRF) were also accused of sabotage actions like the famous Henri Martin affair and the case of Raymonde Dien, who was jailed one year for having blocked an ammunition train, with the help of other militants, in order to prevent the supply of French forces in Indochina in February 1950.[19][47] Similar actions against trains occurred in Roanne, Charleville, Marseille, and Paris. Even ammunition sabotage by PCF agents has been reported, such as grenades exploding in the hands of legionaries.[47] These actions became such a cause for concern by 1950 that the French Assembly voted a law against sabotage between March 2–8. At this session tension was so high between politicians that fighting ensued in the assembly following communist deputees’ speeches against the Indochinese policy.[51] This month saw the French navy mariner and communist militant Henri Martin arrested by military police and jailed for five years for sabotage and propaganda operations in Toulon's arsenal. On May 5 communist Ministers were dismissed from the government, marking the end of Tripartism.[51] A few months later on November 11, 1950, the French Communist Party leader Maurice Thorez went to Moscow.

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Some military officers involved in the Revers Report scandal (Rapport Revers) such as Salan were pessimistic about the way the war was being conducted,[52] with multiple political-military scandals all happening during the war, starting with the Generals' Affair (Affaire des Généraux) from September 1949 to November 1950. As a result, General Georges Revers was dismissed in December 1949 and socialist Defense Ministry Jules Moch (SFIO) was brought on court by the National Assembly on November 28, 1950. Emerging media played their role.[clarification needed]

File:Jules Moch - Жюль Мок (1957).jpg

 The scandal started the commercial success of the first French news magazine, L'Express, created in 1953.[53] The third scandal was financial-political, concerning military corruption, money and arms trading involving both the French Union army and the Viet Minh, known as the Piastres affair. The war ended in 1954 but its sequel started in French Algeria where the French Communist Party played an even stronger role by supplying the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebels with intelligence documents and financial aid. They were called "the suitcase carriers" (les porteurs de valises).

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In the French news, the Indochina War was presented as a direct continuation of the Korean War, where France had fought: a UN French battalion, incorporated in a U.S. unit in Korea, was later involved in the terrible Battle of Mang Yang Pass of June and July 1954.[40] In an interview taped in May 2004, General Marcel Bigeard (6th BPC) argues that "one of the deepest mistakes done by the French during the war was the propaganda telling you are fighting for Freedom, you are fighting against Communism",[41] hence the sacrifice of volunteers during the climactic battle of Dien Bien Phu. In the latest days of the siege, 652 non-paratrooper soldiers from all army corps from cavalry to infantry to artillery dropped for the first and last time of their life to support their comrades. The Cold War excuse was later used by General Maurice Challe through his famous "Do you want Mers El Kébir and Algiers to become Soviet bases as soon as tomorrow?", during the Generals' putsch (Algerian War) of 1961, with limited effect though.[54] The same propaganda existed in the United States with local newsreels using French news footage, probably supplied by the army's cinematographic service. Occurring during the Red Scare years, propaganda was necessary both to justify financial aid and at the same time to promote the American effort in the ongoing Korean War.[48][55] A few hours after the French Union defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, United States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made an official speech depicting the "tragic event" and "its defense for fifty seven days and nights will remain in History as one of the most heroic of all time." Later on, he denounced Chinese aid to the Viet Minh, explained that the United States could not act openly because of international pressure, and concluded with the call to "all concerned nations" concerning the necessity of "a collective defense" against "the communist aggression".[56]

File:General Marcel Bigeard, 80, October 1996, before photo of him 40 years ago.jpg 

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War crimes and re-education camps

  • The Boudarel Affair. Georges Boudarel was a French communist militant who used brainwashing and torture against French Union POWs in Viet Minh reeducation camps.[57] The French national association of POWs brought Boudarel to court for a war crime charge. Most of the French Union prisoners died in the Viet Minh camps and many POWs from the Vietnamese National Army were missing.
  • Passage to Freedom was a Franco-American operation to evacuate refugees. Loyal Indochinese evacuated to metropolitan France were kept in detention camps.[58]
  • In 1957, the French Chief of Staff with Raoul Salan would use the POWs’ experience with the Viet Minh reeducation camps to create two "Instruction Center for Pacification and Counter-Insurgency" (Centre d'Instruction à la Pacification et à la Contre-Guérilla aka CIPCG) and train thousands of officers during the Algerian War.
  • Throughout the war the Viet Minh regularly used terror against civilians with up to 150,000 civilians assassinated during the war.[16]

Algerian war collage wikipedia.jpg

Taken from: 19.12.2013