Monday, November 12, 2012

The Dark Romance of the French Foreign Legion

Very, very early in my military career, a fellow student told me if the Marines didn't work out, he was going to join the Legion. I had never heard of it before.

The Legion was created primarily to gather up some of the foreign deserters and criminals who had drifted to France in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. It was discovered that these men, who were said to threaten civil society, could be induced to become professional soldiers at minimal cost, then exiled to North Africa to help with the conquest of Algeria.
Is this the allure?
The real lesson here was not about combat tactics. It was about do not ask questions, do not make suggestions, do not even think of that. Forget your civilian reflexes. War has its own logic. Be smart. For you the fighting does not require a purpose. It does not require your allegiance to France. The motto of the Legion is Legio Patria Nostra. The Legion is our fatherland. This means we will accept you. We will shelter you. We may send you out to die. Women are not admitted. Service to the Legion is about simplifying men’s lives.
What?! No women? How un-PC. Gloria Steinham, you better get on that.

After one of the imagined helicopter landings, when a clumsy recruit dropped his rifle, the sergeant walked up to him and simply held out his fist, against which the recruit proceeded to bang his head.
Er, well, not so fast, eh?

They came from Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, and Ukraine. Seven actually came from France, but had been given new identities as “French Canadian.”
What?! No Americans? (More on this below.)

Watching him watch the recruits, I asked how the training was going. He answered that the boat was sinking normally.
I am so going to use that one on my students.
 He said, “You will learn French fast because I am not your mother.”
And this one too.

[T]he history of defeat encouraged a reactionary culture in the Legion, where, beneath an appearance of neutral professionalism, the officer corps today harbors virulent right-wing views. It is common at closed social gatherings to hear even young officers regretting the loss of Algeria, disparaging Communists, insulting homosexuals, and seething at what they perceive as the decadence and self-indulgence of modern French society.
Totally un-PC.
I asked him if there are national differences. Yes, he said. For instance, the Chinese make the worst legionnaires. Usually they angle for kitchen work—he didn’t know why. The Americans and British are almost as difficult, because they get upset about living conditions. They endure for a while, then run away. Not all, but most.
Why does this not surprise me?

Interesting stuff for the twisted mind. Read the whole thing. 
Also: movies for Legionnaire fans

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