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⚡️ Alain Mimoun, being the best to serve France

Brennus 4.0
History & strategy
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Alain Mimoun's name has left a lasting impression on the French sporting landscape - as evidenced by the hundred or so stadiums, streets, avenues and squares across the country that bear his name. Three times Olympic medallist in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in 1948 and 1952, double gold medallist at the Mediterranean Games in 1951 and 1955 before winning the Olympic gold medal in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in 1948 and 1952.He was also voted "French athlete of the century" by the readers of the magazine Athlétisme in 1999. However, Alain Mimoun's exceptional destiny does not end with his sporting career. Holder of the Croix de Guerre 1939-1945, he was decorated with the Legion of Honour by four presidents and in particular became the first Frenchman of North African origin to become Commander of the Legion of Honour. For his love of France, "the most beautiful girl in the world"1, Alain Mimoun shed his blood and sweat; a commitment that would have led Georges Marchais to declare to him :

"Mimoun, (...) you are France! "»2. Yet nothing seemed to predestine this native of Algeria, from a modest Télagh family, to such a destiny in the service of France. This admirable trajectory thus seems to have been particularly marked by two themes: those of integration into the Nation and the warrior spirit.

However, these two concepts remain major challenges for French society and the army. On the one hand, the question of the integration of immigrant populations continues to structure the public debate, focusing mainly on the integration of second generations. On the other hand, the progressive reconfiguration of the link between army and citizen, a consequence of the end of compulsory service, has led to a profound questioning of the durability of the warrior spirit within the French population. The revaluation of this concept by the CEMAT, which has made it one of the new lines of conduct of the army, illustrates its relevance for military strategy. However, the current context has also made these questions crucial for the civilian environment and especially for the new generations. As Major Lawhorn pointed out in the case of the United States,3 the critical vulnerability of a state is no longer represented by its military power but by its population. The extreme fragmentation of contemporary societies erodes national cohesion and makes states vulnerable to direct or indirect attack. Thus, issues of national cohesion and integration are directly linked to the resilience of society. The rise in the number of terrorist attacks on national territory has made this issue particularly topical. Faced with a new form of enemy, which generates internal and external threats and directly involves civilian populations in the fight, the warrior spirit of the French and their integration into national unity are becoming a crucial issue4 .

This article therefore looks at the lessons we can learn from Alain Mimoun's journey: after having missed the Zidane generation, "the French athlete of the century", Alain Mimoun, can he constitute a reference in the field of national adhesion and the warrior spirit for the Mbappé generation? The example of Mimoun, as will be shown below, teaches us that the themes of warrior spirit and national adhesion that characterized his individual career have indeed today a societal resonance for the current generations. They must, however, be contextualized in order to retain their relevance in a society marked by another vision of integration and warlike resilience.

La France and immigrant populations :

intre integration et assimilation

Alain Mimoun's career reflects a particularly successful integration, both on an individual level, i.e. his personal attachment to the French nation, and on a collective level, i.e. his acceptance by the rest of society. To this end, his strong desire to be considered as a fully-fledged Frenchman, both before and after theindependence, and his "natural" identification with France, seem to have been a significant driving force behind his integration. In his own words, "already in [his] mother's womb", Alain Mimoun was "more Gallic than the Gauls" 5 ... "France was already in my skin andin my veins" 6. 6 It seems important to emphasize here that, considering himself to be a Frenchman like any other, he would certainly not have used the term integration himself. However, the difficulties he encountered during his journey illustrate the discrepancies at the time between the status of French citizens in mainland France and those born in Algeria. If he considered himself French, it is not certain that French society as a whole thought the same.

One can hardly imagine a better illustration of this almost unconditional identification with France than Alain Mimoun's voluntary enlistment in the French army in 1939, at a time when the Second World War was about to break out. For him, it was a question of finally giving concrete expression to his desire to join France7. His military career thus illustrates the integrating role of the army. Not only did the military institution enable Alain Mimoun to physically join the metropolis, but it was also, according to him, the vector of the French values of fraternity and equality, all origins combined8 . Moreover, it also gave the future Olympic medallist the opportunity to reveal the full extent of his potential by opening the door of sport to him. Indeed, it was as a soldier, stationed with his unit in Bourg-en-Bresse after the 1940 defeat, that Mimoun began running in the local stadium and was spotted by the club president. He was then assigned to the sports cell and the cross-country team of his regiment. It was during this period that he won his first victories, notably as North African cross-country champion in 1942. Although the German and Italian landings on the coast in 1942 prevented him from taking part in competitions during the rest of the war, he continued his sporting career after his demobilisation by joining the Racing Club de Paris9. Thus, the army not only allowed Mimoun to physically join the nation with which he naturally identified, but also allowed him to establish himself there more durably thanks to his talent. However, it was his outstanding sporting performances that made him an exceptional citizen in the eyes of the French and facilitated his integration into society: Alain Mimoun has become "the symbol of the little Frenchman who is a go-getter and a racer who races at the front of the pack" 10.

10 Alain Mimoun's exceptional career, from the rural areas of Algeria to the highest French civil distinctions, thus illustrates a particularly successful integration into society, motivated in particular by his early membership of the Nation. However, his example should be put into context. The issue of the integration of immigrant populations is still, if not more, acutely important for current generations. The debate on integration is indeed relatively recent. Until the 1980s, immigration was mainly for work and the question of the sedentarisation of populations did not arise. However, this form of immigration became problematic with the economic slowdown of 1973-74 11. During the 1980s, a series of events - immigrant strikes, urban riots, or questions about political rights, family reunification and acquisition of nationality - made this previously invisible immigration visible. The concept of "republican integration" thus became more important 12 . 12 The issue of integration has thus evolved and must now respond not only to the socio-economic difficulties of generations of immigrants, but also to their demands: marrying identity of origin and national membership, which is also an essential driving force of the warrior spirit.

Resilience and sport: can the warrior spirit be civil?

Few courses illustrate the notion of the warrior spirit as precisely as Alain Mimoun's. During his military engagement, he took part in the gruelling battle of Tunisia, during which some 10,000 French combatants were killed13. 13 In January 1944, he also found himself at the Battle of Monte Cassino, which he described as "hell",14 during which he was wounded by shrapnel in the leg. The first verdict advocated amputation; his leg finally saved, Mimoun was up and about twenty-two days later he was up and even took part in a race during his convalescence. He then returned to the front and worked for the liberation of the country. However, as he would later reveal, the campaigns in France and Germany, during which he was marked by all the "deaths without combat" 15, proved to beparticularly trying psychologically. Similarly, throughout his sporting career, Alain Mimoun showed impressive tenacity 16. 16 For example, in 1948, he took part in the London Olympics despite an injury aggravated by a medical error; the Czech Zatopek éCzech Zatopek cracks his rivals but Mimoun manages to snatch second place in the ten thousand metres while avoiding leaving his great rival more than a lap ahead. Later, he made this race, "the cult of victory and the Olympics" 17, a driving force. It was finally eight years later, at the age of thirty-five, that he beat Zatopek in the Melbourne Marathon. Alain Mimoun himself, finally, sums up this unfailing resilience best: "You can't build anything without suffering. (...) Life has taught me that one should never be discouraged, never let go of it.

18 Mimoun's journey thus illustrates well the link between the warrior spirit, integration and national membership. For him, it was not only a question of being the best for an individual performance, but also of carrying France's colours loud and clear: "I won France and carried it on my back, on the battlefields and in the stadiums. That way, I can go anywhere, with my head held high!19 ». This interdependence between the warrior spirit and integration into the national body cannot be limited to the example of Alain Mimoun. Developing the warrior spirit among the population requires that society be united around the same national project and be in agreement on the set of values it associates with it20. Integration, and the national adherence it implies, is therefore a prerequisite for resilience.

However, the link between citizens and the nation is under threat today. Realities such as individualism, global community or the dilution of national belonging in favour of globality have uprooted citizens from their geographical environment, while their mistrust of elites leads to disagreement over decisions taken in the name of the nation21. The role of the institution traditionally supposed to promote the spirit of war, the army, has been singularly limited by the end of compulsory national service. The military warrior spirit, as manifested in Mimoun's career during his involvement in the Second World War, seems therefore to be well out of fashion for current generations. However, the athletic tenacity he demonstrated is still relevant today. Indeed, there is still an undeniable link between sport and resilience. Thus, from Didier Deschamps describing Paul Pogba as a "warrior" to Tarik Belmadani, "featherweight wrestler and warrior spirit" 22 , there are many references to the warrior spirit in the world of sport. Athletes thus take on a civic function as "peacetime heroes" who promote national pride outside the context of war23.

23 In addition, sport appeals to values that are also military, such as surpassing oneself, attention to detail, strategy and teamwork. 24 The warrior spirit promoted by physical practice therefore does not stop at the boundaries of the field; as many sportsmen and women who have experienced personal trauma have testified, sport also makes it possible to learn to overcome personal hazards and failures25. A study conducted by the Welsh health system and Bangor University 26 on adults who had negative experiences in childhood confirmed this finding. It showed that those who had participated in sports activities in their youth were less likely to develop psychological disorders or mental illness. Indeed, sport plays a social role that fosters the development of individual relationships and group affiliation, thus providing a space for expression - a role that is all the more important since, according to Boris Cyrulnik, isolation, hatred and shame are three obstacles to resilience27. 27 Thus, the warrior spirit still exists among current generations, but its references are more civil and sporting than military.

In conclusion, Alain Mimoun's journey informs us about the intrinsic link between the warrior spirit and national integration: attachment to the nation, for which integration seems to be a primary basis, acts as an essential driving force for the development of the warrior spirit at both the individual and societal levels. However, the continuity between military and civilian warrior spirit, evident in the example of Mimoun, has been gradually nuanced. For current generations, the civil warrior spirit, for example, promoted by the field of sport rather than by the army, is more evocative. However, although the issue of accession was not a problem for Mimoun, the integration of populations of immigrant origin is now being called into question. It is therefore the warlike spirit of society that is threatened.

The example of Alain Mimoun is particularly interesting for understanding the mechanisms of resilience and integration, of mixing and matching.The example of Alain Mimoun is particularly interesting for understanding the mechanisms of resilience and integration, just as, decades later, the "black-white-beau" football team of 1998 reflected a plural, inclusive and victorious France. 28 However, these examples cannot be generalized to the entire population. They can only be applied to a minority of individuals, especially those with exceptional sporting abilities. It is therefore crucial to question the contextualization of the mechanisms identified in Mimoun's journey and their generalization to society as a whole. Two proposals therefore emerge from this study.

On the one hand, the army still has a role to play, not only in promoting the spirit of war, but also integration. Indeed, some initiatives of the military institution have produced interesting results. This is the case, for example, of the "Second Chance Defence" scheme, which enables young people in great difficulty to be "integrated" into the military.This is the case, for example, of the "Second Chance Defence" scheme, which enables young people in great difficulty to be taken in as boarders and to receive training in French, mathematics, civic and behavioural education, as well as vocational training. A study has shown that the beneficiaries of the scheme evoke a feeling of social revaluation, a willingness to get out of it and to start a professional life; 62% of those questioned have entered the labour market. The study presents the army as an "integration force" and an "egalitarian institution". However, not only is this not its role, but it is not in a position to assume this function alone. Other institutions with integrative potential exist: neighbourhood or national associations such as the 21st Century Club, whose aim is to provide young people from immigrant backgrounds with examples of success; associations to combat racism and anti-Semitism; inter-religious dialogue; etc30. On the other hand, the spirit of war and integration does not only come through high-level sport. The social cohesion factor represented by sport at local level should therefore be emphasised. Public policies have already, to some extent, measured its potential. Sport policies, inherited from the public systems put in place by the Gaullists or the communists, have been redirected in the light of the debates on the integration of young people from immigrant backgrounds.The debates on the integration of young people from immigrant backgrounds have led to a reorientation of sports policies towards the suburbs, with the installation of new infrastructures, the creation of "socio-sports" activities and cooperation between public authorities and sports federations. However, political initiatives have tended to favour the media coverage of actions at the local and long-term level32 . It is therefore the local dimension of sport that should be supported. Belonging to a sports club not only allows the internalisation of values such as a sense of responsibility, effort and reward for work done, but also the creation of a common identity which nurtures a collective spirit and respect for others 33. 33. Clubs therefore appear to be important drivers of social cohesion. Moreover, some of these clubs have taken on functions related to school, health or employment. For example, the club de la Duchère in Lyon has set up a junior high school football class whose youngsters have much better success rates than the traditional workforce34. Sport can therefore act as an essential driving force in the development of the warrior spirit at two levels: on the one hand, through the qualities it values, in particular a taste for effort and moral strength; on the other hand, through its role as a factor of social cohesion, at national as well as local level. While professional sportsmen and women sometimes wear the jersey of the model hero for the new generations, they can also mask the socio-economic reality of young people from immigrant backgrounds. It is therefore sport as a whole, rather than particularly successful athletes, that needs to be addressed in order to grasp the link between sport and the warrior spirit.

1 André Thiéblemont, "Alain Mimoun, soldat olympique assoiffé de France", Inflexions, n° 19, January 2012, pp. 125-132.

2 Ibid, p. 132.

3 Jeremy Lawhorn, "National Security Implications of Unresolved Grievances," Small Wars Journal, September 2018,


4 Frédéric Huguet, Lieutenant-Colonel, Building the spirit of defence and resilience to preserve the community of destiny, Mémoire de l'École de

war, 2016.

5 André Thiéblemont, "Alain Mimoun, assoiffé Olympic soldier of France," Inflexions, No. 19, January 2012, p. 125.

6 Alain Mimoun, Karim Belal. "Alain Mimoun: everything for France! "Hommes et Migrations, No. 1226, July-August 2000, p. 45.

7 André Thiéblemont, "Alain Mimoun, soldat olympique...", art. cit., p. 126.

8 Alain Mimoun and Karim Belal, "Alain Mimoun: everything for France! "art. cit., p. 46.

9 André Thiéblemont, "Alain Mimoun, Olympic soldier...", art. cit.

10 Ibid, p. 131.

11 Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaïsse, Integrating Islam. La France et ses musulmans: enjeux et réussites. Paris, Odile Jacob, 2007.

12 Christophe Bertossi, La citoyenneté à la française. Valeurs et réalités, Paris, CNRS Editions, 2016.

13 Alain Billouin, Alain Mimoun: Toute une vie à courir, Paris, Solar, 2016.

14 André Thiéblemont, "Alain Mimoun, Olympic soldier...", art. cit., p. 129.

15 Ibid. p. 131.

16 Alain Billouin, Alain Mimoun..., op. cit.

17 Ibid.

18 Alain Mimoun and Karim Belal, "Alain Mimoun: everything for France! "op. cit., p. 49.

19 Ibid., p. 45.

20 Frédéric Huguet, Construire l'esprit de défense..., op. cit.

21 Vincent Sébastien, "De la résilience à l'esprit de défense", Le Monde, of 22 November 2011, html, consulted on 11.10.2018.

22 Farid Achache, "Tarik Belmadani, lutteur poids plume et esprit guerrier", RFI, of 27.03.2014, teur-poids-plume-esprit-guerrier consulted on 11.10.2018.

23 Boris Cyrulnik, " Le sport a un rôle énorme sur le développement du cerveau ", L'Express, du 31.07.2012, cyrulnik-le-sport-a-un-role-enorme-sur-le-developpement-du-cerveau_1142464.html, consulted on 12.10.2018.

24 Christian Persicot, " Armées et sport de haut-niveau ", Inflexions, n° 19, January 2012, pp. 117-124.

25 Pierre Lepidi, "Assigné à résilience", Le Monde, 21.02.2013,

html, accessed 11.10.2018.

26 Karen Hugues, Kat Ford, Alisha R. Dawies, Lucia Homolova and Mark A. Bellis, Sources of resilience and their moderating relationships with harms from

adverse childhood experiences, Public Health Wales, January 2018.

27 Pierre Lepidi, "Assigned to resilience", art. cit.

28 Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaïsse, Integrating Islam, op. cit.

29 Alexis Tobangui, " Défense Deuxième Chance " et la socialisation des jeunes en difficulté, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2014.

30 Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaïsse, Intégrer l'islam, op.cit.

31 William Gasparini, "L'intégration par le sport. Genèse politique d'une croyance collective", Sociétés contemporaines, vol. 69, No. 1, 2008, pp. 7-23.

32 Pascal Duret, "L'intégration sociale par les sports". Sociologie du sport. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2012.

33 Pascal Boniface and Denis Masseglia, "Le sport, outil de resocialisation? "La Croix, 26/01/2015, Le-sport-outil-de-resocialisation-2015-01-26-1272793, accessed 15/10/2018.

34 Ibid.

Title : ⚡️ Alain Mimoun, being the best to serve France
Author (s) : par Madame Clara Durovray, du pôle études et prospective