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Death of a Mercenary

by the stormy present Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 06:54:40 AM EST

Bob Denard is dead.


   
   
For those unfamiliar with the name, he was possibly one of France's least pleasant exports of the last half-century.

The obituaries are all playing up what a "colorful" character he was, what with his repeated coups and coup attempts and conversion to some wacko version of Islam and six or seven wives.  Ho ho hooo... they don't make mercenaries like that anymore.  


Reuters photo via wikipedia

Forgive me if I fail to weep.


Reuters has it about right:

Bob Denard, the French soldier-of-fortune whose near mythical involvement in African wars since the 1960s made him one of the world's most famous mercenaries, has died at the age of 78.

He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Denard, whose death was confirmed by his sister Georgette Garnier, became legendary for his role in attempting to overthrow regimes in a series of wars during the 1960s and 1970s that accompanied the decolonisation of Africa.

Claiming to have covert support from France for operations meant to retain French influence in its former colonies, he called himself the "Pirate of the Republic" in a career which began in Congo and ended in the Comoros islands.

His detractors accused him of links to the extreme-right, using the cover of defending French interests for maverick operations which made him both feared and hated in Africa.

"Denard was symbolic of the whole ambiguity of relations between the colonisers and the colonies which had became independent," said Bertrand Badie, professor of international relations at Sciences Po university in Paris.

"He's also seen a bit as the inventor of private armies."

Oh, thanks for that, Bob.  We can put "grandfather of Blackwater" on your tombstone.

A former soldier in France's colonial army in Indochina, he began his mercenary career in the Congo, then known as Zaire, in 1961.

He got around.  He pursued his twisted agenda with a determination that bordered on (if not actually crossing the line into) mania.  (Does it say something to me that, like Ronald Reagan, he spent his last days in the throes of Alzheimer's Disease?  Perhaps.)  Wikipedia gives us a list of countries in which Denard is known to have participated in wars, coups, guerrilla warfare or some other kind of nefarious activity:  Zimbabwe, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Angola, Zaire and the Comoros.

The Comoros.  A small, troubled archipelago in the Indian Ocean.  A nation whose government Denard overthrew or attempted to overthrow four times.

AP:

Denard was perhaps best known for controlling the impoverished Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros Islands behind a figurehead leader for most of the 1980s following a coup he led.

Denard was twice convicted in France for his role in an attempted coup in Marxist-controlled Benin in 1977, and a later short-lived coup in Comoros in 1995. He received suspended prison terms in each case.

A fervent anti-communist who worked for several dictators and monarchs, Denard was among the postcolonial French mercenaries known as "les affreux" -- the horrible ones. He claimed the backing of Paris, but as a man of the shadows was never given official support.

His most recent trial was just last year, in connection to the 1995 coup attempt in the Comoros, known alternately as Operation Azalee and Operation Kazkari.  A French court convicted him (in absentia, because of his illness) of "belonging to a gang who conspired to commit a crime."  Reuters says he got a four-year sentence with three years suspended, but according to most other repoorts, he was given a five-year suspended sentence.

Five years, suspended.  Think about that for just a moment.

The people of the Comoros were nonplussed:

Many Comorians were bitter Denard did not face justice on the Indian Ocean archipelago.

"This man sullied our history," said Abdou Soule Elbak, former president of Grande Comore.

"I regret he was not made to answer to all the crimes he committed in our country, the murders and the torture which he was guilty of," said Moustoifa Said Cheikh, leader of the Democratic Front party.

At any rate, he did not live out his sentence.  He's gone, and for me at least, unlamented.

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I'm really nauseated by the adjectives that are showing up in the obituaries for this man.  "Colorful," "legendary," "famed."  A few are calling him "notorious," which is a bit less laudatory.

I'm curious what the French press will have to say.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 07:00:08 AM EST
I just noticed that The Telegraph goes one better, calling him "the French mercenary and patriot."

The also work in "famed" and "fiercely anti-communist."  Oh, and this:

Later in life, Denard had taken on the air of a friendly grandfather with his white hair and tweed suits. He walked with a limp and boasted of his "five wounds - not counting scratches."

Ah, the friendly granfather who liked to take over countries in his spare time.  How genial.

<retch>

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 07:06:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
[Torygraph Alert]

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 07:09:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll take umbrage with that whitewashed "fiercely anti-communist." A modern euphemism for "fascist racist" as far as I'm concerned, but isn't that the dark heart of "patriotism?"
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 07:33:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 07:45:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you sure they haven't just reprinted sections of their Pinochet obituary?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 07:35:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, birds of a feather, perhaps.  Maybe the two of them can get up a card game in Hell.

Ag, for men like these, I wish I believed in Hell.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 07:46:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought of Pinochet when I read 'a friendly grandfather with his white hair and tweed suits'.
by Gag Halfrunt on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 04:27:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with de Gondi. He's the perfect sort to apply the word "patriot" to.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 01:27:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Denard was twice convicted in France for his role in an attempted coup in Marxist-controlled Benin in 1977, and a later short-lived coup in Comoros in 1995. He received suspended prison terms in each case.

Five years, suspended.  Think about that for just a moment.

I have been.  Why on earth would they give him suspended sentences?  Other than the obvious possibility, of course, that Denard was telling the truth all along: he had Paris's backing (and maybe even had enough dirt on French government officials to embarrass them big time if they tried to screw him.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 08:27:44 AM EST
Well, that is the question.  Of course, the courts are supposed to be independent....

But I find it shocking that an allegedly private individual who attempts to invade a country (let alone more than one, more than once) would receive a suspended sentence.  It makes a slap on the wrist look harsh:  Bad boy!  Now promise not to do it again.  Nudge nudge, wink wink.

George Bush, however, might take some comfort from the idea that invasion of a country isn't worth jail time.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 08:56:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe invading countries isn't included in the Napoleonic Code.

"Belonging to a gang who conspired to commit a crime" doesn't sound like the most precise of legal targets to be aiming for.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 09:10:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmmm.  It could, however, be quite easily applied to the entire Bush war team:  Rove, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice, Firth etc... a bunch of thugs if I ever saw one.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 09:21:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well somehow I can see everyone being pardoned "So that the healing process can begin" much as happened after Nixon.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 09:32:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Riiiight.  Who needs justice, as long as our long (inter)national nightmare will be over.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 09:35:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well Iraqis do, but they don't get a vote, and hence don't matter.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 09:39:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, but their long national nightmare won't be over yet.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 09:44:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see Bush etc even being convicted, never mind pardoned.

It's not about them, it's about the fantasy the US has of itself. Dealing with the ugly reality would create a huge political implosion in the US.

There's no one - not Gore, not Edwards, none of the other Dems, and certainly no one on the right - willing to risk that.

I think if it became a reality you'd get a populist surge for a generation, much as happened in the post-war UK, where Empire was lost and the left moved in to try to fill the gap.

Without the huge military drain abroad the UK found itself with more to spend at home. Horizons contracted towards internal social and technological rather than external military expansion.

It worked quite well, with a few wobbles to the right, until the oil crisis made Thatcher possible.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 09:49:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see Bush etc even being convicted, never mind pardoned.

It's not about them, it's about the fantasy the US has of itself. Dealing with the ugly reality would create a huge political implosion in the US.

I agree, and I do think they are going to just keep running full speed into the buffers, because any other approach to reality risks shattering the whole thing.

I think if it became a reality you'd get a populist surge for a generation, much as happened in the post-war UK, where Empire was lost and the left moved in to try to fill the gap.

One of the big factors in post-war Uk was the mixing of social classes that had happened. One thing that tends to get left out of histories is the level of political organisation that occurred amongst the troops towards the end of the war. (at least you aren't going to see it on the Guns and Nazis channel)

It worked quite well, with a few wobbles to the right, until the oil crisis made Thatcher possible.

A good friend of mine has his own personal conspiracy theory that the whole Thatcher situation was a counterrevolutionary conspiracy of people who had been in Colditz castle, and had been insulated from the social mixing that had occurred. She was just the figurehead.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 10:35:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A fucking fascist.

Who was allowed to get away with a great deal of murder, no doubt because of how much he knew about people in power... oh, until not so long ago...

I saw some old TV footage where he was saying I never did anything against the interests of my country and You ask me what is a mercenary? Well, a mercenary is a man like any other. And toddling along to a trial as an old man, helped by two people, supposedly infirm and Alzheimered (handy, not remembering anything at all). Like Papon, just a poor old man who doesn't remember.

Good riddance.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 10:11:39 AM EST
Let him rest in war...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 11:37:33 AM EST
European Tribune - Death of a Mercenary
"Denard was symbolic of the whole ambiguity of relations between the colonisers and the colonies which had became independent," said Bertrand Badie, professor of international relations at Sciences Po university in Paris.

LOL... here in Belgium we figured this out already in the 60's.  No need for a professor.

Denard , was the man in the field, an organiser.
Those who protected him politically and provided him with money and weapons are still well hidden.
Press coverage here in Belgium is suspicious superficial.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Oct 15th, 2007 at 11:50:27 AM EST


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