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Book Review: Lyautey and the French Conquest of Morocco (William A. Hoisington, Jr.): MH

8/12/2001 • Military History Book Reviews, Reviews

LYAUTEY AND THE FRENCH CONQUEST OF MOROCCO
When French Brigadier-G?n?ral Louis-Hubert Lyautey arrived in Morocco in 1912, he was faced with a North African statepuzzling to most Europeans. A central government, the Makhzan, held nominal sway over dozens of Arab and Berberchieftains scattered along the coast, mountains and hinterlands. Many of the various tribes were fiercely independent, forgingtribal alliances while protecting their own domains.

France at the turn of the century was primarily interested in colonizing Morocco to protect the left flank of its Algerian colony. Morocco’s sultan, however, lacked the respect of many tribal leaders. To solidify French rule and pacify the countryside, Lyautey had been ordered to bolster the Makhzan’s power and quell a disturbance created by a pretender to the throne. What faced Lyautey proved to be a hornet’s nest of intrigue, rebellion and open warfare that would persist well into the 1920s. His role as an agent of French imperialism is aptly chronicled in Lyautey and the French Conquest of Morocco (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1995, $45), by William A. Hoisington, Jr.

Lyautey had garnered valuable colonial experience while serving under Colonel Joseph Galli?ni in French Indochina. Galli?nihad adopted an “indirect rule” method of forming a close working relationship with the native ruling class to help run thecountry with French direction. To pacify the countryside, he relied on armed villagers to reinforce his quick-striking columns ofmobile infantry.

Flushed with the success of the so-called “Galli?ni method,” Lyautey was confident that Morocco could be ruled indirectly byrelying on friendly tribal leadership to expand colonial control through a series of political and economic measures. Varioustribes such as the Za?an and Chleuh struck at pro-French factions and forced Lyautey to expand military operations. In anattempt to crush the resistance of the Za?an, Colonel Ren? Laverdure, one of Lyautey’s subordinates, overstepped his ordersand attacked the camp of Za?an leader Moha ou Hammou in November 1914. Although he demolished the camp, Laverdureunderestimated the fighting strength of the desert tribes and their firepower. While attempting to retreat to Khenifra, the Frenchforce lost more than 600 men killed, including Laverdure.

The call for reprisal was instantaneous. Politicians and journalists in France decried Lyautey’s indirect-rule tactics, demandingan unequivocal use of force.

The seven-year war against the Za?an taught Lyautey that the conquest of Morocco would be neither peaceful nor inexpensive.He now decided that the French should concentrate on pacifying parts of the country that were useful to French interests.Areas that had little strategic or economic value in proportion to the cost of pacification would be bypassed.

Author Hoisington, a professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, calls upon a vast number of primary andsecondary sources in re-creating the successes and failures of Lyautey’s colonial policy in Morocco. Although he documentsthe military engagements and strategic movements of troops important to the various campaigns, he also pays attention toFrench attempts to remake Rabat into a modern city, reflecting European tastes while preserving Moroccan culture. Whatemerged, however, was a city that was increasingly administered by the French while Moroccans lost prestige, influence andauthority.

Lyautey’s attempts at indirect rule took a turn for the worse in July 1921. A coalition of tribesmen from the Rif Mountains, ledby Mohammed Abd el Krim, defeated a Spanish army in Spanish Morocco. When the Spanish failed to mount a vigorouscounteroffensive, the Rifs commenced a campaign against French Morocco’s borders. Slowly, tribes that had submitted toFrench rule sided with the Rifs. Finally, in 1925, Mar?chal Henri Philippe P?tain assumed command of the French forces inMorocco and was able to subjugate the Rifs in a joint effort with Spain. Disheartened, Lyautey soon resigned.

An idealist at heart, Lyautey had envisioned a thriving cultural and political exchange between France and Morocco when hewas assigned the post in 1912. As Hoisington points out, however, Lyautey and his fellow French imperialists failed to recognize the difficulties in reconciling their cultural differences with the Moroccans, and their dream of a peaceful empire in North Africa failed to materialize.
Kenneth P. Czech

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