In the latest Hors d’Oeuvres post, we caught up with Cian Cooney to talk about his new article in French History.
Cian Cooney is a Ph.D. candidate at Trinity College Dublin and is currently working on a doctoral thesis entitled ‘Une certaine idée de l’Algérie: The Far right, the French Army and the Fight for French Algeria’. His research interests include: the Algerian War, Russian geopolitics, and the Far right.
Hi Cian, thanks for joining us to talk about your new article on the far-right and the guerre révolutionnaire doctrine. What do you think will most surprise readers in what you have to say?
I would say the degree to which the French Army and the nationalist right found common cause during the Algerian War (1954-62) may cause some considerable surprise. Guerre révolutionnaire doctrine was one of the theoretical mechanisms that helped both of these groups to sing off of the same hymn sheet, as it were.
Do you have a favourite example or anecdote you came across in this work?
During the early stages of my research, I came across an anecdote related by J. R. Tournoux in ‘’L’histoire Secrète’ of a meeting between Admiral Darlan (the then-Vichy prime minister) and Adolf Hitler in 1941. Apparently the two bonded over some anti-English jokes, seeing Hitler laughing so much that he was ‘slapping himself on the thigh’ at Darlan’s quips. The utter lunacy of a French prime minister sending Hitler into a laughing fit is almost like a scene ripped straight out of a Mel Brooks production.
What’s the thing you most regret having to leave out of this piece?
Perhaps Colonel Nemo’s detailed imagining of a nuclear revolutionary war, where both the atom bomb and psychological warfare are used concurrently. His article on the subject reads like a post-apocalyptic novel rather than a sober military treatise.
Can we talk about the backstory to the article? How did you first get interested in this topic?
I came across the future topic for my Ph.D. while reading John Stuart Ambler’s ‘The French Army in Politics’ which painted a very interesting picture of a politicised French Army entering the political ring and nearly causing two civil wars. This led me to researching the causes of the army’s politicisation and the form that it took. Guerre révolutionnaire doctrine played a large part in this.
Are you a ‘plan it all in detail’ writer, or a ‘start writing and see where it goes’ person?
I’m a mixture of the two – Eisenhower was right when he attested to the fruitfulness of planning but the uselessness of plans. I like to have broad outlines that allow me the room to get into my ‘creative flow’, to use a horribly clichéd and cringey line.
Do you have a cure for writer’s block? We ask everyone this question because we live in hope.
My cure is pure discipline. Jocko (to use a suitably military example, given the topic) advocates having a daily word count goal that you hammer out regardless of motivation. I think this is a good rule of thumb for those that find inspiration fleeting.
If that fails, I’ve heard drinking a can of Monster is a good substitute (yes this is a joke, don’t sue me, thanks).
Whose writing do you most admire and why?
I greatly admire Robert O. Paxton. His work on Vichy France exploded the Gaullist resistance myth as well as the ‘sword vs shield’ myth that posited by Petain had deliberately prepared the way for de Gaulle (the sword) by protecting the French from the worst of German exactions (the shield).
If my work is 5% as impactful as his, I’ll be a very happy man.
What do you think helpful feedback on writing involves?
I prefer my feedback to be as matter-of fact as possible and should not shy away from being firm if needed. As long as the comments are based in rational argumentation and the facts, they will greatly strengthen any article or piece of research. This was certainly my experience of peer-review, as it forced me to be more assiduous in my research, as well as marshalling my arguments more effectively.
Was there an epiphany at any stage of preparing this piece?
I don’t think I had any moment of epiphany. Generally, research is a slow, piece by piece reconstruction of events or ideas by assembling the evidence and examining in what direction they point. More often than not, one can guess at the final picture when most of the pieces have been put into place.
What are you working on next?
I’m very nearly finished a paper on the 2021 Tribunes de Militaires, which includes an interview with the instigator of the movement, Captain Jean-Pierre Fabre Bernadac.
I had a lot of fun writing it, so I hope it will prove to be an interesting read.
If you could see one change in academia in the next five years, what would it be?
I think a lot more has to be done to make humanities degrees marketable. Work experience in both the public and private sector should form part of most degree programmes, especially at undergraduate level. Too many of our young graduates enter the jobs market without the tools necessary to thrive there. This is a real pity, as the humanities could play a huge role here. In doing so, not only would they be helping their students, but also improve the perception of these subjects in the world of work.
Éclair or saucisson?
Saucisson, then éclair! A truly balanced diet (and one that scarily resembles my own…).
Thanks for joining us, Cian. And a reminder that you can find all of the articles from the new issue online here now!