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This cookie is set by doubleclick. This cookies is set by AppNexus. This cookie is set by Youtube. The cookie is set by GDPR cookie consent to record the user consent for the cookies in the category "Functional". The rest of the metropolitan SNPC team arrived within the next forty-eight hours, accompanied by an engi- neer named Marius Hautberg, who had been appointed to serve as an assistant adjoint to Colonel Curie, with a mission to conduct a study of structural dam- age, methods of clearing debris, and the organization of the disaster response.
Consequently, they arrived without adequate advance planning or materials—they lacked sufficient food supplies for themselves and were not accompanied by the fifty tons of tents they had been expected to bring. As a result, the SNPC team was, an according to Curie, ill-equipped to respond to the new wave of disaster. Official reports neglected the role of Algerian Muslim agency in uncover- ing and treating the suffering in Beni Rached, emphasizing instead the vigorous state response that followed.
More helicopter evacuations followed, and a systematic effort was undertaken to identify affected rural communities, with ten medical teams sent out to canvass the region. Like Curie and Hautberg, Kessler empha- sized the importance of helicopters.
I wonder, in what condition are the isolated douars and mechtas [villages and hamlets]? At dawn, they reached a pair of collapsed dwellings. They then pressed on for another dozen kilometers to the village of Beni Rached. They reported that there were several dead in every household; the mosque had been converted into a morgue; survivors were still trying to dig out the dead from the ruins. On the way, they came to the first family they had encountered by the fig tree.
The woman and child were still there. The man was on his way to bury the dead. His donkey and mule were laden with corpses; his parents and two of his sons were stuffed into the saddle bags, his third son lay across the back of the mule. Or can it only be used as evidence of the long-term, retrospec- tive intermingling of understandings of decolonization and the disaster in imagination and memory a purpose to which it will be put in Chapter 7?
However, exclusively privileging early archival documents when examining the events of would privilege the French who were in a position to write official accounts, skewing our historical understanding in ways that would re- flect the distribution of power in s Algeria. The historian must also approach those accounts skeptically, in recognition of their neglect both ideologically conditioned and individually self-serving of Muslim agency, and in recogni- tion of their echoes of imperialist narratives.
However, contemporaneous descriptions of events by leftist and nationalist journalists called into question official representations of this second phase of disaster re- sponse. These funds were to be applied toward the purchase and transport of tents, blankets, and other goods to meet the immediate needs of survivors. Throughout metro- politan and overseas France, as well as Morocco and Tunisia, tens of thousands of fundraising posters and hundreds of thousands of solidarity badges were dis- tributed.
The total amount collected throughout France and its empire eventu- ally rose to more than 1. If a major rationale for French rule in Algeria in the twen- tieth century was the ability of the French to improve the material well-being of Muslim Algerians, the earthquake had just made this vastly more difficult. However, the tents were of a variety of sizes and types, and most were ill-suited to housing families. It became a nightmare to sort and count the component parts to assure that each recipient obtained a complete kit.
A daily report of the Algerian emergency committee estimated that only approximately half of the need had been met. How- ever, barracks, like tents, were mainly destined for the cities and towns. Those who lived in gourbis were expected to quickly rebuild their homes themselves, supported by grants of materials and cash payments of ten thousand francs about thirty US dollars in to each household, to be followed by an additional ten thousand later.
They denounced the slow pace of distribution of building supplies specifically, poles to provide a lattice for the roofs and complained of delays in the distribution of the promised first installment of ten thousand francs for these families without shelter.
Future long-term improvements were promised, but the advocates of the plan claimed that the inhabitants of gourbis preferred to rebuild their own homes. Nevertheless, it was frequently claimed that the earthquake had the effect of unifying the population across class and ethnic lines. One should not oppose one to other, because they have shown, after the earthquake, that they consider each other as brothers. The winds were shifting.
By late Sep- tember, diverse voices, both within the state disaster response effort and in the press, were pointing out the imminent arrival of the rainy season that portended fresh misery for the many thousands sleeping outdoors or in tents. Even as official French sources promoted a narrative of solidarity and promises of im- provements, alternative narratives were being offered within the framework of Algerian nationalism, on the one hand, and leftist calls for class struggle, on the other.
Like the nationalist UDMA, these groups offered material and political support to the victims of the disaster while portraying the French state as callously indifferent to the needs of the people. Some of their criticisms seemed to echo the UDMA almost verbatim. It is incontestable that this catastrophe highlights the misery of our lands, due in the first place to the regime of colonial exploitation. Does the Mayor only want to feed the Europeans? The oppressors, it was made clear, had no ethnic identity.
This message was reinforced by a complementary message of worker soli- darity across ethnic lines. Faced with signs of popular agitation, the authorities assigned gendarmes to Beni Rached and other villages. These catastrophes were also products of late colonialism: a century of impover- ishment and neglect left the rural Algerian population exposed to the elements in the autumn of , while the growing vitality of the anti-colonial opposition made the suffering of poor Muslim Algerians an urgent political concern for the colonial regime.
Although the immediate response of the military units, sapeurs-pompiers, and especially the medical staff seem to have been universally applauded, the response from the local government and from Algiers and Paris was inefficient. Only the military troops in the area had been able to respond immediately.
The subprefecture building had it- self been damaged, as had the gendarmie, and the local officials had themselves been traumatized by the disaster. Meanwhile, although buildings containing corpses were excavated, no official possessed the legal authority to order the demolition of the countless other buildings that stood unusable, damaged by the earthquake.
Neither Hautberg, the engineer, Kessler, the administrator-in-training, nor Debia, the subprefect, made any mention of the political agitation of the sur- vivors. Hautberg and Debia, however, addressed the question of deeper causes of the suffering occasioned by the disaster, and recognized that the problems revealed by the earthquake went beyond organizational inefficiency.
Ignoring the role that the French had played in destroying the rural livelihoods of Muslim Algerians since the nineteenth century, Hautberg assumed that the current underdevelopment reflected the historical status quo ante, perpetuated by a lack of modern agricultural methods and by insufficient French schooling. Echoing a frequent postwar theme in French colonial theory, Hautberg argued that the solution lay in a Keynesian program of state invest- ment in Algerian economic development.
A life without school, without doctors, without warmth and without liberty. The earthquake, it was assumed, was simply too momentous an event to be irrel- evant to the political question. Two others were imprisoned on charges related to demonstrations. The villages of Yaabouch and Ouled Bendou were also raided. No arms were found, but nineteen people were arrested. In May , the remaining leadership of these committees were rounded up and sent to detention camps.
The FLN insurrection did not trigger a sudden conversion of these activists to the na- tionalist cause—at least not overtly. His memoir is notably silent about the discord of October , when, as the rains intensified, people slept in the open and marched in the streets. There, Europeans and Muslims experienced together the hardships of life after the earthquake.
On October 11, the administration had promised temporary housing in barracks constructed of prefabricated materials. However, the volume of material ordered was grossly insufficient, having been intended only for the residents of towns and cities.
In part it was simply because initiatives begun in late September and October were finally bearing fruit. By late November, according to official figures, over 6, tents had been distributed, including from the Italian Red Cross, 1, from the SNPC, and 1, from the army. Debia claimed that the reconstruction of thirty-eight thousand gourbis was completed by winter Interior Minister Mitterrand claimed that it was thirty-five thou- sand , enabled by the aid payments of twenty thousand francs each.
In the context of the FLN rebellion, reconstruction took on new urgency. It is important to note that this urgency predated the Constantine Plan, which is often portrayed as a turning point in the French response to anti-colonial revolt. However, this initiative was part of an ongoing shift in post- war colonial thinking emphasizing social reconfiguration and economic devel- opment through Keynesian investment. He saw the inadequacy of the gourbis as a mere symptom of the underdevelopment of rural Algeria; replacing collapsed gourbis with modern housing would not treat the cause of the problem.
Muslims in the sub- urbs of Le Ferme and Bocca Sahnoune, including many who had migrated from the countryside after the disaster, continued to live in tents. In October , the Algerian Assembly had authorized assistance from state funds for private property owners excluding the gourbi dwellers equal to the value of any property damage valued at more than five thousand francs.
This aid included grants of up to one hundred thousand francs per prop- erty owner for repairs, and up to the depreciated value of the building for build- ings deemed irreparable. Government-backed low-interest loans were offered to cover the remainder of repair or reconstruction costs.
This assistance, however, was issued in the form of vouchers, redeemable only when reconstruction was underway, which required obtaining demolition and building permits from the newly created Commissaire de la Reconstruction. The process was slow, and consequently little permanent reconstruction occurred before When buildings were reconstructed, provisions intended to ensure that renters would be able to return to reconstructed buildings proved ineffective, and many ten- ants remained displaced.
The rich bought the property and the vouch- ers of owners left destitute by the earthquake, who could not afford to wait for the Commissariat of Reconstruction to approve reconstruction plans and issue payment for their vouchers. This created a profitable market for those with the means to speculate in a real-estate market propped up by government funds.
In a move paralleling seg- regationist strategy in the United States, plans for a public swimming pool were thwarted in favor of a privately owned swim club exclusively for Europeans. These included provisions to address the needs of the Muslim poor. The direct, short-term effect of the earthquake was striking: even critics of the colonial state recognized that, in November , more than two and a half times that number were employed in the task of clearing the debris; seven months later, were still working in this capacity.
Reconstruc- tion efforts were then augmented, beginning in , by the Constantine Plan. Europeans, already economically and politically better off, tended to benefit the most from the economic stimulus. In Dr. Soon after the disaster, the young doctor observed as crowds of mostly Mus- lim Algerians gathered to receive aid, and a commotion occurred outside one of the tents where humanitarian aid was being distributed.
I decided then to take on, alone, the burden for all the Arabs, and in their name, to respond, alone, to he who had just injured us. I had to do it, me who spoke French. To the Devil the privileged Muslim! I was no longer me; I was those, those poor wretches in rags and dirty feet. I felt suddenly strong, all grown up. For this Kabyle-speaking, French-educated doctor, a new ideology of solidarity, that of Arab-Algerian nationalism, had replaced the claims of Franco-Algerian unity and universal brotherhood.
They immediately went to bed. My father, my sister came out of their rooms. We were in the midst of the Algerian War. My brother was in the djebels [mountains]. We heard rifle shots, the siren, the alarm; it scared us. It was not a revolution; the Algerian revolutionaries were not invading the quiet town in the dark of night.
Over people were drowned; buildings were destroyed, and almost were damaged. Over thirteen square kilometers of agricultural land flooded; a thousand sheep drowned, and vehicles were destroyed. This had brought down the Fourth Republic and prompted the return of Charles de Gaulle to power. The war continued. Through his informants inside the FLN, Christmann had learned that the revolutionaries were exploring new options for sabotage.
They were studying sewer tunnels and public water supply infrastructure in Paris and Algiers, with the idea of planting bombs underneath buildings, or using judiciously placed explosions to destroy the public water supply.
In addition, the FLN was con- templating the destruction of dams. After the Malpasset collapse, Christmann believed that the catastrophe had in fact resulted from such an attack. However, it seems likely that Christmann was mistaken or misled about the cause of the disaster, or was speculating based on his knowledge of prior FLN intentions. As Benjamin Stora and others have argued, it seems very unlikely that the Malpasset Dam was in fact destroyed by an FLN attack, since no reference to such an attack has ever been made by party leaders or combatants generally unapologetic about the necessary violence of the war , and no trace of such an attack has been found in the French or Algerian archives.
How was the resulting damage and suffering distrib- uted as a result? The thirsty summer crowds would require 6. Planners concluded that meeting such needs necessitated a reservoir of 22 million cubic meters, to account for evaporative loss.
Damming the Reyran produced the necessary accumulation of water for year-round use. The project was then taken up by the Socialists, who had initially shared power with the Communists and then came to dominate postwar departmental and mu- nicipal government for over a decade.
By the time the basin was filled, however, the wars of decolonization had eroded the optimism of the post-World War II decade. In the weeks immediately following the disaster, connections between French imperialism and the dam collapse were absent in the public discourse. It was quickly accepted that there was no sign of sabotage or saboteurs, and discussions regarding the cause focused on the design and placement of the dam.
In the initial absence of details, a failure of state oversight seemed a likely culprit. No legislation requires prior geological testing for the construction of dams, which is indispensable. Joly was presumably no friend to the Socialist and Communist politicians who had initiated the construction of the dam. In , a Commission of Inquiry instituted by the Ministry of Agriculture con- sidered and ruled out sabotage, judging that some traces of saboteurs operating on such a large scale would have been noticeable before or after the flood.
Consequently, the French state acknowledged no responsibility for damages. This was no natural disaster, argued Laurin: its origins, he argued, should have entitled victims to full resti- tution from the state for damages which, he estimated, would total million new francs. Of the 40 million, Only , was allocated for urgent, emergency aid to victims.
However, the prevailing argument was that the faults in the rock were not detectible before the disaster by the means then available but be- came visible only after the flood waters had swept away concealing layers. Pierre Duffault describes how a lack of regulatory oversight and communication among experts, regulators, and workers meant that there was little awareness of risks and there- fore no surveillance for early warning signs.
Nevertheless, Duffault argues that would be anachronistic to expect procedures to have been in place that became commonplace and required only as a response to studies conducted after the Malpasset incident. These ambitions drove the politicians, engineers, and geographers of the Var to push beyond the contemporaneous limits of geotechnical foresight and bureaucratic oversight and beyond their ability to master the inanimate forces of water, earth, and rock.
The dimen- sions of the disaster—whom it affected, and how—unfolded over weeks and even years. The academic historians Gregory Mann and M. After , the Algerian proportion of the population in- creased dramatically. According to a account by journalist Gaston Bonheur, earthquake refugees constituted the majority of the North African community there.
These political refugees sought safety in metropolitan France. The Var was listed among the regions needing immigrant labor. When the water level behind the dam rose to unprecedented levels,44 the earth beneath the dam gave way, and the residents of the valley below paid the price. In , in a belated attempt to undermine support for the FLN, the Constitution of the Fifth Republic had extended this more equal citizenship to Muslims in Algeria as well.
Furthermore, the promotion of equality was now ex- tended beyond political and legal equality. Archival sources reveal the gap between local government actions and the official, legal position of Muslim Algerians within France. The official number of deaths was given as , including 27 unidentified dead and 50 missing persons. The official figure of the total dead eventually rose to , but some claimed that the real number was over From all parts of the world have come evidence of sympathy and solace.
Algeria was not France, and Al- gerians were not French, even if French rule over its Algerian subjects and lands was to be defended and maintained. This, however, was not official policy, of course. When the city government published a brochure on the occasion of the first anniversary of the disaster, the brochure included much of the information from the unpublished report.
Even the published brochure, however, found it necessary to distinguish between the two categories of French. There were, nevertheless, funds left over for use in other catastrophes, and it was suggested that donations might be used for general improvements in the area, such as road construction, although such a diversion of funds, noted the author of the investigative report, would be a violation of the normal expectations of donors.
In and , the town government chose the latter, even if national policy made them reluctant to advertise this choice. For Prado, the south of France had for centuries been the site of a cycle of colonialism and rebellion that had begun with the colonization of the Mediterranean coast, first by Cretans, then by Celts, then by Romans. Prado saw the war in Algeria as a tragic continuation of this long historical process. For many writers, memories and metaphors of war permeated descriptions of the flood, and references to the Second World War accompanied references to the African empire.
As- sistance was also provided by United States navy ships in the Mediterranean. And also of Dresden, specified a former prisoner in Silesia. Leg- rand lost her seven-year-old daughter. Two years in Algeria, what an ordeal. Even for a soldier who had chosen war. But these guerrillas, these attacks on the sly, these tortures, this was not real war, in which one is confronted face to face. Sergeant Boule was weary.
He aspired to rest, to calm, with his family. He would rejoin, that very day, his wife, who was arriving from Thionville with their three children. Wallet imag- ined his thoughts in the last moments of his life. He was no longer at war. Already the wave, like the enemy, pounced. For both Bonheur and Wallet, the tragedy of the flood was amplified by the surprising irony that the apparently peaceful environment of the Reyran Valley could de- stroy what the brutality of war had not.
Other accounts, however, embodied the habits of imperial contempt for a subjugated population. Now there are eleven hundred of us here, including families. Just family men. We have social security, we are paid like the French. I told them, you will have work, you will be happy. Dreadful silence, silence of death. One of the little Arabs who, around the barracks, laughed and sang, like the children of the douars.
Nor were Wallet and Bon- heur witnesses to the events, as Christian Hughes was. Her narrative obviously goes beyond what could be supported by any evidence, documentary or otherwise, in depicting the interior soliloquies of individuals in the moments before their deaths.
Gaston Bonheur, in contrast, was a professional journalist and editor of news magazines and also a poet in his younger years. They transcribe. The real author is the march of time, creator of tragedies, comedies, catastrophes, which will draw out literature and which History will put in order. These sources also reflect and reveal how decolonization impacted representations of disasters.
Decolonization brought an end to this incentive. All were swept away by the wave. But one could never count the victims, and the Arab mystery was never resolved. How many Algerians or Moroccans worked at the factory, or on the nearby farms? Many were employed as casual hires and their foremen had never declared them. Some, in transit, had no fixed domicile. They lodged with a comrade, in a ruined shed, or even under the light of the moon, under an olive tree.
At the whim of friends and acquaintances, they took turns with the employers, who never recognized them. An Arab greatly resembles another Arab. The same bronzed face, the same look, evasive or timid, the same childish language. An Ali is always an Ali. None of them possessed a work permit. Thus, how can they be counted? Especially those who were lost. Impossible to identify disfigured faces. And how, in Algeria, to find their families? All their wives were il- literate and incapable of making a claim.
In the chaos, all regulation became impossible and there are always some vultures who profit from tragic circumstances. The mosque, approved by the previous mayor, opened in January , but the Rachline government unsuc- cessfully sought a court ruling requiring its demolition on the grounds that the building permits had been illegally obtained. Explanations often include the influence of the pieds noirs in France after , who formed an important source of support for the party and for Jean-Marie Le Pen, the ex-paratrooper and Algerian War veteran who led the party from its founding in until No town is a monolith, of course, and there were contradicting voices, both in and in Such a conclusion would be over-simplistic, however.
In the months following the collapse of the Malpasset Dam, an optimistic vision of imperial unity in the form of a new brotherhood of equals was advanced by the official proclamations of the French state, as well as by chroniclers of the disaster like Bonheur and Croizard. However, the long his- tory of colonial distinctions between citizen and colonial subject could not be overcome.
The French appeal for donations as a show of imperial solidarity did little to strengthen the affections of the colonized for the colonizer. Indeed, post-disaster solidarity could be turned to serve the interests of anticolonialism. Donations were also sent from Morocco, already independent but still struggling to nego- tiate its post-independence relationship with France. Ch a pter 4 Poison, Paralysis, and the United States in Morocco, O n September 10, , three years after Moroccan independence, a previously healthy twenty-five-year-old man was brought to the Mo- hammed V hospital in Meknes, unable to walk.
He had been suddenly afflicted with cramps in his calves the day before and had awoken to find he had lost control of the muscles in his lower legs and feet. He had no fever, but was subjected a spinal tap, which revealed no signs of polio or other pathogens. Ten more patients with similar symptoms arrived at the hospital later that day. Thirty more came the next day. Seven hundred more cases were identified by the end of the week.
The epidemic of partial paralysis continued to spread, and by November, approximately ten thousand cases had been identified in cities, towns, and rural areas throughout Morocco. On April 13, , Mohammed Bennani, an automobile supply wholesaler, had pur- chased a large quantity of surplus jet engine lubricating oil from the US Air Force base at Nouasseur, near Casablanca. This oil contained triaryl phosphates and cresol phosphates.
The lot purchased by Bennani was just one lot out of over fifty lots of various sorts of obsolete or excess oils sold from US airbases in Mo- rocco that year. Bennani then sold portions of the oil, still in its original drums, to another merchant, Ahmed ben Hadj Abdallah. The oil was then resold to approximately two dozen cooking oil wholesalers, in Casablanca, Fez, and Me- knes. The Meknes wholesaler later explained that he had been seeking a way to increase his profit margin from fourteen to twenty-four francs per liter.
This quickly passed, and all seemed to be well for just over two weeks. Then, however, the motor neurons of the spinal cord were damaged by the toxins. This also passed, but was re- placed, within about forty-eight hours, by pain and weakness in the feet and legs, eventually leading to paralysis of all muscles below the knee, followed by spasticity and muscle atrophy. But declining colonial powers needed superpower allies, and, to be competitive, twentieth-century superpowers needed overseas bases and jet aircraft.
Twenti- eth-century industrialism produced synthetic cresyl compounds, providing lu- brication for those jets and a means for grocery merchants competing in a capi- talist economy to cut their production costs. Together, these arrange- ments of the animate and inanimate constituted the military bases, schools, hos- pitals, and embassies that were meant to serve colonial and neo-imperial goals.
However, neither humans nor the inanimate behaved quite as the colonizers desired—and the behavior of manufactured chemicals could prove as intractable as those of colonial subjects or tectonic plates. The very large scale and rather sudden onset of the Morocco oil poisoning produced effects that were in some ways akin to a seismic disaster or a flood.
Nevertheless, the Morocco oil poisoning was connected to the other disasters, especially the earthquake in Agadir. The Moroccan monarchy used both the oil poisoning and the earthquake to enhance royal authority and prestige, and international responses to these two disasters were interrelated. For the diplomacy of the United States, in particular, the oil poi- soning and the Agadir earthquake were of profound mutual relevance.
The origins of the Morocco oil poisoning were inseparable from the social and political contexts of imperialism, the Cold War, and the still-incomplete process of decolonization. So, too, were human responses to this disaster. In , after several years of escalating violence, France had permitted its Moroc- can protectorate formal independence. It remained to be seen whether independence would lead to the French ending their military presence in Morocco, and whether in- dependence would mean that the French would cede their political and cultural influence over Morocco to the Americans, or, less plausibly, to the Soviets, or whether the Moroccan state would be able to assert full sovereignty.
In particular, responses to the oil poisoning by the French, American, and Moroccan states, and by the Moroccan political opposition, were tied to one of the legacies of colonialism that had not been undone by formal Moroccan independence: the presence, on Moroccan soil, of military bases occupied by the former colonizers and their American allies.
Epidemiology and Crime The mass poisoning in Morocco was distinctive in its relation to imperialism and the Cold War, but there had been cases of mass cresyl phosphate poisoning before. Tasteless, odorless, and soluble in vegetable oil, triorthocresyl phosphate has a particular tendency to find its way into the food supply through a variety of means.
An- other case affected hundreds of women in the s who had consumed a parsley extract abortifacient that included the toxic chemical. There were also several cases in Germany in the s in which food shortages had led to the use of engine oils in cooking as well as the accidental poisoning in of ninety-two Swiss soldiers after machine-gun cleaning oil was mistaken for cooking oil.
In , forty-one people in Verona, Italy, were afflicted with paralysis, which has been traced to ground contamination caused by the use of discarded military en- gine oil containers in the handling of farm compost and manure. In Morocco, it took some time for investigators to determine the chem- ical and human vectors by which imperialism, industrial capitalism, and the Cold War had led to mass paralysis in Meknes.
Initially, polio or other viral infection was suspected. The appearance of a few cases between August 31 and September 2 followed by an explosion of cases between September 18 and 24 suggested a pattern of contagion. Indeed, the delayed onset of paralysis follow- ing consumption of the poison mimicked the incubation period of a contagious disease, making the true origin of the crisis difficult to identify. In addition, all of the afflicted lived in poor neighborhoods, suggesting disease vectors re- lated to housing patterns and unsanitary living conditions, such as sewage or insects.
The King also banned all travel and public meetings; public pools and athletic facilities were closed. The French military hospital in Meknes opened beds to the af- flicted, and French military doctors arrived from Casablanca to help treat the influx of patients. The doctors and investigators were puzzled by the odd dis- tribution of the malady.
While all of the victims were poor typically the families of day laborers , the very poorest members of the society who had been too poor to buy oil that month were spared, as were infants. Of the hundred Moroccan soldiers stationed in Meknes, only two suffered from paralysis. After the dog seemed to suffer no ill effects, they went ahead and ate, but remem- bered the strange oil after they later fell ill.
The experts, however, were not to be convinced by anecdotal evidence alone. Tuyns initiated a sur- vey of patients on September 21 and found that cooking oil was the common factor in all the responses. This conclusion was also supported by the correlation of paralysis cases, noticed by the Ministry of Health, with the areas frequented by street vendors who sold fried pastries and by the suspicions of the patients themselves.
This diagnosis was not good news; there was no pharmaceutical cure—the only course of treatment was physical therapy, and in certain cases of severe spasticity, orthopedic surgery. Once the chemical cause of the affliction had been determined, the focus of the investigation shifted from the epidemiologists to the police. Soon, however, it became evident that this was not a localized disaster; nor was it contained. The number of diagnoses continued to rise sharply around the country, reaching ten thousand within a few weeks.
Orders were issued that all persons should turn over bottles of the suspected brands to the police, and the government announced that that house-to-house searches would be conducted to confiscate any undeclared household stocks. Following the ini- tial arrests of alleged culprits in Meknes, interrogations led the investigators to other wholesale centers in Fez and Casablanca, from which the toxic oil had been sold across Morocco, and thirty-one people were arrested.
The authorities seized metric tons of suspected oil, including kilograms of machine oil. Such workers had already been struggling to sell their labor in an economy characterized by high unemployment; for the newly disabled, finding work would be impossible.
Moreover, as Faraj noted, afflicted families often lost both wage labor and the unpaid labor of women and children, producing a des- perate situation. Leroy stressed that physical therapy needed to begin immediately for the many thousands of people afflicted, and Leroy developed a plan for a massive, long-term rehabilita- tion effort, led by the international Red Cross. In the most severe cases of spasticity, medical and surgical treatments were attempted, ranging from alcohol injections and casts to the surgical severing of tendons.
In Khemiset, fifty kilo- meters west of Meknes, a reportedly successful program of occupational therapy was implemented, thanks to the presence of a Swiss occupational therapist, the only occupational therapist present at the start of the program. Vocational re- habilitation programs were also later initiated in Meknes in May and in early in Fes, Sidi Slimane, and Sidi Kacem.
The choice of tasks obviously was influenced by the predominance of women among the afflicted, although the medical professionals who reported on the program were almost silent on the role of gender; the significance of the fact that the Swiss occupational therapist was female went unremarked, despite the relevance that her gender must have had when treating female patients.
No occupational therapy program was implemented at the treatment center in Al- hucemas; it is unclear whether this was related to the predominance of men among the patients in the northern region. Medicine had long been an instrument of colonialism in Morocco. Doctor W. In terms of the more measurable goal of vocational rehabilita- tion leading to employment, only the Khemiset treatment center had success in finding jobs for its patients upon completion of treatment.
Only were still receiving treatment. Further- more, over three thousand patients, probably in rural areas, were not included in the review, and the closure of most of the treatment centers meant that outpatient care only remained available in Meknes, creating an incentive to classify patients elsewhere as sufficiently recovered. Some initial gains would be reversed over time, as mobility impairments exacerbated the effects of aging, and vice versa.
Most American forces had been evacuated from North Africa soon after the end of the Second World War, including those at a wartime base at Agadir, although the United States had maintained a naval presence at Port Lyautey Kenitra since albeit under a French flag since However, according to I. The American intervention in Lebanon in July further associated the American military with Western imperialism in Arab lands, and demands for the evacuation of bases intensified.
The government desperately needed US medical, economic, and military aid, and refrained from openly pointing fingers. The Americans, the author asserted, knew full well that the oil being sold was toxic. Although the article stopped short of stating that the Americans knew the engine lubricant would be added to cooking oil, the author faulted them for their willful ignorance of Moroccan laws and regulations. Could they have continued their deadly traffic if the minister of Health had not, through his delayed declarations, failed to sound the alarm?
Disaster Diplomacy An examination of the Morocco oil poisoning offers insight into the public health consequences of Cold War militarism, the culture of international hu- manitarian activities, and the politics of Moroccan nationalism soon after inde- pendence. The oil poisoning provides an opportunity to extend such investigations to the diplomacy of the Cold War and decolonization and to an overtly anthropogenic disaster.
The oil poisoning involved semi-adversarial relations between allies and potential allies the United States, France, and Morocco , and also involved non-state actors, including the Red Cross and the Istiqlal party. Furthermore, this case involves a complex reciproc- ity between the effects of diplomatic strategies on disaster relief and the effects of disaster relief on diplomatic activities.
In post-independence Morocco, dip- lomatic concerns not only incentivized but also distorted and inhibited disaster response, as American fears of acknowledging culpability overshadowed the desire to make a show of American generosity to an emerging Cold War ally. Furthermore, the examination of this tragedy also allows the historian to ex- plore how responses to one disaster can be intertwined with the experience and diplomacy of other disasters—in this case, the earthquake of In and , Moroccan, French, and American diplomats, as well as the Moroccan political opposition, were keenly aware of the potential impact of disaster responses on diplomacy, for good or for ill.
For the United States, the explicit goals of disaster diplomacy were to promote the tenure of the American airbases in Morocco and to promote a positive image of the United States in comparison to the Soviet Union, its Cold War rival. The Moroccan state proved adept at exploiting the anxieties and rivalries of its international benefactors. In December , US Navy and Air Force squadrons had provided emergency relief when floods struck the Gharb plain north of Rabat, distributing food and airlifting people to safety, feats the Americans would reprise when the Gharb was inundated again in January Among American officials, however, views were mixed as to whether such efforts produced satisfactory coverage of Ameri- can heroism in the Moroccan press.
Would the Moroccan public, or the Moroccan political leadership, blame the Americans for that damage? By November 5, , the American embassy received word that the US airbase was suspected to be the original source of the adulterating substance.
This suspicion was soon confirmed after the Moroccan authorities requested samples of machine oils from the airbase, which the Americans pro- vided. The fear that Morocco might turn to the Soviets as an alternative source of aid, in- cluding military aid, prevented US officials from taking Moroccan dependence for granted. Normally, this insecurity would have led to a generous American aid response. The American response to the poisoning was restrained by the fear that American assistance might encourage the Moroccan public to associate the tragedy with the US military presence.
American disaster diplomacy was also shaped by tensions between funding rules, which emphasized visibility, and publicity guidelines, which stressed sub- tlety. Ham-handed publicity about aid provided by the US might seem transpar- ently political and calculated, drawing attention to the bases while undermining the goodwill generated by the relief efforts themselves.
For example, Leon Borden Blair, the Navy political liaison, ardently fa- vored more explicit publicity about the actions of US servicemen in relief efforts. American dollars have sealed the lips and appeased the Moroccan Government, may God forgive it. US policymakers believed that the provision of supplies or personnel directly from the US bases would seem like too transparent a diplomatic ploy in the aftermath of the oil poisoning.
The French Position The French situation was different. The politics of decolonization gave the French state every reason to respond vigorously to this disaster. Leroy that the American airbases had been identified as the origin of the epi- demic.
Barbet, as playing a crucial role in uncovering the cause of the epidemic. This offered an opportunity to create positive press for France at a time when France was subject to much criticism by official news outlets in Morocco. In addition, France had recently announced plans to test atomic bombs in the Algerian Sahara, tests which would take place on February 13 and April 1, The foreign ministry feared that if the true cause of the pa- ralysis was not widely publicized by the time the tests took place, rumors might spread that fallout from the atomic explosions was the cause of the paralysis.
When an FLN chapter of the Red Crescent donated , francs to its Moroccan counterpart in December , and another million francs in March , a new front opened up in the struggle for public opinion in Morocco. The problem for French disaster diplomacy was a lack of budgetary resources. The French Red Cross was already overwhelmed by the needs of a massive pro- gram in Morocco and Tunisia to address the needs of more than two hundred fifty thousand refugees from the Algerian War.
When the French embassy informed the Moroccan government that this had not in fact been approved, Ibrahim and officials at the Palace were furious. Benhima of the Moroccan health service. At the strategic level, the American government was divided as to whether the priority in Morocco ought to be to preserve the bases, in order to fight the Soviets in World War III, or to mitigate anti-Americanism, in order to fight communist propaganda. The construction of new bases in Spain and plans for long-range nuclear bomber routes from the US diminished the need for the North African bases,82 but the resulting policy change was gradual and fraught.
Base tenure of- ficially remained the top priority for US policy in Morocco into the early s, although friction developed over this question both in Washington, between State and Defense, and in Rabat, between the Navy and the Embassy. Yost was an early advocate of the view that preserving the bases was less important than preserving a positive image of America among Moroccans. He noted that the Austrian government had already pledged to provide a one hundred-bed hospital,86 and Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Britain, and Switzer- land were sending physiotherapists.
However, the international League of Red Cross Societies appealed to the American Red Cross for two complete field hospitals, which American Red Cross president Alfred Gruenther urged the State Depart- ment to provide, pointing out that thus far, the Europeans and Canadians had been providing all the personnel. Winter was setting in in Meknes, and on December 17, representatives of the health ministry contacted the Amer- ican embassy and described the suffering of the paralysis patients being housed and treated in tents.
Yost urged the State Department to arrange to meet the Moroccan request for ten thousand each of long underwear, sweaters, wool blan- kets, pajamas, and wool socks, ideally through the Red Cross. However, the Americans were participating in the re- habilitation program only minimally.
The American Red Cross did arrange to send two nurses to Morocco but the fact that the Americans were sending no doctors or physiotherapists was noticeable, since the Red Cross societies of other Western countries had provided altogether a dozen doctors and thirty physiotherapists, as well as ten nurses. Together, these events brought an end to American reluctance to participate in the international medical response to the oil poisoning.
This facilitated Moroccan relations with the United States and also solidified the nationalist credentials of both the monarchy and the Ibrahim government. The agreement did not end the need for US disaster diplomacy in Morocco, however, because the Americans still desired to negotiate a continuing military presence in Morocco under a different guise and needed to insure against pos- sible demands for an earlier evacuation. Whereas Istiqlal had been pointing out the link between the health crisis and American bases, the international communist response had been muted.
However, it also presented him with an opportunity: Yost now had significant new evidence to bolster his argument for increased disaster assistance. When, in January , the International Red Cross rehabilitation program faced a critical shortage of vehicles to transport therapists and outpatients in rural areas, Yost hoped that this might be an opportunity for the United States to more actively curry the favor of the Moroccan public. Yost reminded the State Department that the oil poi- soning was still being covered in the Moroccan press.
Moreover, the principle that publicity should not be obviously related to its political purpose made the provision of vehicles directly from the US bases particularly problematic. News of the disaster reached Rabat, Paris, and Washington within hours, based on reports issued by radio from the French military base on the outskirts of the city. It was immedi- ately clear that the devastation to the city and the surrounding area was enor- mous: estimates of the death toll soon rose to twelve thousand and continued to climb.
When the quake hit, French airmen from the naval base a few miles away arrived quickly. The Americans brought with them heavy machinery for excavation. Even more than the US-Morocco base agreement or the arrival of the Soviet and Iraqi aid, the Agadir earthquake transformed the politics of disaster relief in Morocco.
The Agadir disaster, similar in scale to the oil poisoning but fresh and with greater lethality, created competition for aid resources, and the Red Cross immediately diverted personnel, equipment, and supplies from the paralysis re- habilitation project to Agadir. The earthquake, unlike the oil poisoning, allowed the Americans an opportu- nity to be innocent, helpful, and brave. It also altered the culture, habits, and budget of American aid in Morocco, changing the American response to the oil tragedy.
Analysts have been divided on the role that American disaster relief efforts played in the diplomacy of the time. In , political scientist I. William Zart- man argued that American disaster aid had been ineffective as diplomacy aimed at preserving base tenure because aid benefitted the masses, but decisions were made by an isolated elite.
Yet the diplomatic archives now available to histori- ans reveal that Moroccan government ministers were putting pressure on Yost with their repeated requests for American aid. This suggests that the ministerial class was not as indifferent to the well-being of the disaster victims as Zartman believed. The American bases had to be evacuated as part of the logic of decoloniza- tion: they were Moroccan territory that had to be reclaimed.
Consequently, ac- cidental harm or humanitarian benefit were largely beside the point. This made the oil incident less damaging to the Americans than they might have feared, but it also made humanitarian aid less effective in winning over either the relevant government ministers or the political opposition.
Yet base tenure may not be an appropriate rubric for measuring the success of American disaster diplomacy in Cold War Morocco. Although, unlike France, the United States was not yet bogged down in a war of decolonization, funding for foreign aid both military and non-military through the Mutual Security program was under attack by a group of congressmen led by Louisiana representative Otto Passman, whose fierce opposition to foreign aid since was approaching fruition.
The Eisenhower administration feared that Congress would impose disastrous budget cuts. But the Agadir earthquake provided an opportunity for supporters of the program to argue that more aid was needed. The ongoing rescue efforts in Agadir were brought up during the testimony of Undersecretary of State C. Douglas Dillon on March 3. Fulton also argued that the US would win more loyal friendship abroad in situations where it provided visible aid directly to the people.
As supplies and funds flowed into Morocco, Yost saw an opportunity to re- verse the American reticence in supporting the rehabilitation of toxic oil victims. Poison, Paralysis, and the United States in Morocco, The Trial The trial of twenty-four men accused in the oil poisoning case began on April 11, , and constituted another major turning point in the international di- plomacy surrounding the disaster. In its coverage of the trial, Al-Istiqlal again targeted the failures of the Moroccan state, arguing that, whatever penalty the accused might receive, real justice would demand that the government officials who had failed to prevent the disaster should also be held responsible.
In contrast to its earlier reporting, however, Al-Istiqlal now shifted blame away from the American airbases. There was, therefore, no ambiguity about its purpose. Fur- thermore, Bennani argued that he had sold the oil in its original packaging: U. I bought this oil by lots, according to the rules of sale by auction by submitting a bid to the seller, in this case the USAF.
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