On this date in 1963, clutching a rosary, French officer Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry was shot by a firing squad in the Paris suburb Ivry-sur-Seine for attempting to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.
Perhaps no anticolonial struggle left a more considerable intellectual and cultural footprint than the Algerian War of Independence against France. It gashed the French polity as well; the right violently rejected the swelling sentiment to end their country’s 132-year occupation. It is often said that the conservative Charles de Gaulle was the only man who could have engineered the departure with the support of a sufficient portion of the populace — but a sufficient portion by no means meant all, and every blunder multiplying the [French] body count was laid on de Gaulle’s head besides.
On August 22, 1962 — just weeks after that war successfully expelled the European power — an assassins’ team led by Bastien-Thiry (collaborating with the far-right Organisation de l’armée secrète) unleashed a machine gun fusillade at de Gaulle’s car. Hundreds of shots were fired; miraculously, the president and all his aides all escaped unharmed.
Although the actual gunmen were reprieved by their intended target, their manager was not. Said de Gaulle,
The French need martyrs … I gave them Bastien-Thiry. They’ll be able to make a martyr of him. He deserves it.
Certainly Bastien-Thiry had that in mind. At his trial (as recorded by a sympathetic French-language website), he addressed his conduct to posterity:
Nous avons exercé le droit de légitime défense contre un homme, au nom de ses victimes, au nom de nos concitoyens et au nom de nos enfants ; cet homme est ruisselant de sang français et il représente la honte actuelle de la France. Il n’est pas bon, il n’est pas moral, il n’est pas légal que cet homme reste longtemps à la tête de la France ; la morale, le droit et la raison humaine s’unissent pour le condamner. La vérité que nous avons dite, et que bien d’autres que nous ont dite avant nous, restera attachée au nom de cet homme, où qu’il aille et quoi qu’il fasse. Un jour cet homme rendra compte de ses crimes : devant Dieu, sinon devant les hommes.
Bastien-Thiry’s sensational plot, and the ongoing efforts of the OAS to murder de Gaulle, inspired Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal, and a classic 1973 film of the same title:
Part of the Themed Set: The Written Word.