Gustave Hervé (1871–1944) at the Extremes of the French Third Republic
Chapter 12 The Aernoult-Rousset Affair
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The French press often covered scandals involving French military justice. The campaign against the military prisons in North Africa did not originate in La Guerre Sociale and was not confined to the revolutionary press. Jacques Dhur of Le Journal visited North Africa in 1906, and then he wrote a series of articles in 1906 and 1907 on the military prisons.1 In 1890 anarchist writer Georges Darien had written about his experience in those North African military prisons, which were often collectively referred to as “Biribi” by antimilitarists. For Darien Biribi was a place of dehumanization, sadism, depravity, psychosis, torture, injustice, and climatic extremes, in essence a living hell in the desert.2 Named after Biribosso, an Italian game of chance, Biribi was a “military gulag” situated in remote areas of North Africa, but also in other parts of the French Empire, “the real nadir of France’s entire system of military justice.”3 Perhaps, the event that most poignantly symbolized the evils of the North African military prisons occurred on July 2, 1909, at Djennan-ed-Dar in Algeria.4 On that day a young military prisoner named Albert Aernoult died in the extreme heat after physical exertions and various punishments by his guards. His death would have meant just another victim for Biribi had it not been for the revelations to the Parisian press by another young military prisoner, Émile Rousset. Following Rousset’s letters to Le Matin and to the parents of the deceased soldier, concerning the death of Aernoult, a...