The Expendables: life in the French Foreign Legion
November 12, 2012 10:29 AM   Subscribe

It was simplifying. Forget your civilian reflexes. The task does not require a purpose. Do not ask questions, do not make suggestions, do not even think of that. The Legion is our fatherland. We will accept you. We will shelter you.
posted by The corpse in the library (32 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
The veterans can retire to the Legion's vineyard in southern France. No idea if the end product is any good. Possibly a little rough, but reliable.
posted by BWA at 11:07 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not quite what they promised in the brochure.
posted by tommasz at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


He emigrated to Brazil, went to school in Rio de Janeiro, got a master’s degree in computer science, became fluent in English, and three years ago found himself sitting in an office working on cyber-security. He checked out, flew to France, and joined the Legion.

I would never have suspected that a Legionnaire would be a former office-worker nerd. I mean, I have a friend who interrupted a compsci career to go be a USMC infantry NCO, but that's not nearly the same as giving it all up to be a Legionairre.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2012


"The boat is sinking normally."

I'm so stealing that.
posted by Aquaman at 11:23 AM on November 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Just read this piece via longform.org. I once thought of running off to the French Foreign Legion during a period when things weren't going so well. Sounds like the Legion is about what I thought it was, hardcore and sweaty.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:30 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Edith Piaf - Mon Légionnaire

Serge Gainsbourg - Mon Légionnaire
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:39 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had an acquaintance who had a few run-ins with the law as well as a fixed desire to kill himself. His friends convinced him that he would eventually die and that if he was truly hell bent on it, he might as well do it with gusto. He joined the Legion. Last I heard he was fighting somewhere in Africa, happy to be alive.

So there's that.
posted by Freen at 11:40 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My uncle supposedly did the legionnaire training once, it was one of his lifelong dreams.

He says he never ate better food in his life.

He didn't actually joined them when he finished the training, he already had a bad knee and a busted shoulder before going; and he felt too old.
posted by palbo at 11:55 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


A good read...
posted by jim in austin at 12:32 PM on November 12, 2012


le Boudin
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:48 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Superb.
posted by wuwei at 1:04 PM on November 12, 2012


MetaFilter: The sergeant lowered his fist and walked away. The chairs took off and flew around.
posted by Splunge at 1:14 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Recently, near Marseille, an old legionnaire told me about a lesson he learned as a young recruit, when a veteran sergeant took a moment to explain dying to him. He said, “It’s like this. There is no point in trying to understand. Time is unimportant. We are dust from the stars. We are nothing at all. Whether you die at age 15 or 79, in a thousand years there is no significance to it. So fuck off with your worries about war.”

It's actually beautiful, this statement, and dead true also, once you've found yourself in those shoes. But rare is the person who understands this prior to setting foot on the battleground, and recruiters damn sure aren't going to mention it. And even if people are told, they still mostly don't believe it, it's like they can't believe it -- it's the other guys that are going to die. Not us. And damn sure not me.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's a great article, thanks for posting it.

A while back the NYTimes had an article about the Legion, and a comment in it stuck with me:

Americans account for only about 1 percent of legionnaires.

“Americans in the legion tend to be the Beau Geste types, the idealists, making them easy pickings for the bullies and malcontents,” said Jaime Salazar, 34, a man from Indiana who joined the legion, deserted, then recounted it all in a book, “Legion of the Lost.”


My guess is that I might be lucky to last a week of the training, much less months or years of hiking in the jungles of Guiana.
posted by Forktine at 1:52 PM on November 12, 2012


I knew a retired legionnaire in New York City. He talked casually about being repeatedly sent to Chad and other places in Africa, where apparently he saw a lot of combat (he didn't talk about that part of it much). I thought he was kind of crazy. I mean, whatever he was running from, it obviously wasn't so serious that he couldn't come back home again.

Also, the notion of someone from China going all the way to France to join the Legion just to angle for kitchen duty is kind of baffling. If that's an alternative immigration strategy then it's a hell of a risky one.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:58 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


So remind me again why we romanticize signing up to kill whoever your paymasters tell you to kill, no explanation necessary? It would be one thing if this was just about putting your own life on the line, which is what the article emphasizes. But it isn't.

(Also, yeesh, what a irritatingly written article. I probably should have known what to expect here from the Tough Phrase. Tough Phrase. Tough Phrase diction.)
posted by ostro at 2:53 PM on November 12, 2012


I bet the Chinese people want kitchen duty because they want to be able to cook their own Chinese food.
posted by wuwei at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Recently, near Marseille, an old legionnaire told me about a lesson he learned as a young recruit, when a veteran sergeant took a moment to explain dying to him. He said, “It’s like this. There is no point in trying to understand. Time is unimportant. We are dust from the stars. We are nothing at all. Whether you die at age 15 or 79, in a thousand years there is no significance to it. So fuck off with your worries about war.”

That'd be Sgt. Camus to Sgt. Rock. I believe Sgt. Camus and his pied-noir Gold-Brickin' Dogfaces pushed Sgt. Rock uphill to that conclusion. Whereupon he died and they had to seek another Sgt. to push to expound on oblivion and the meaninglessness of life and war.

One imagines they were happy.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:59 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


> le Boudin

"Really? You're in the Foreign Legion? What do you do?"
"I play the tuba."
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:07 PM on November 12, 2012


This image charms me somehow: "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."
posted by doctornemo at 5:17 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Choke yourself!"
"Not with your hand, with my hand!"
posted by Splunge at 5:24 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Excellent piece. Langewiesche is a great writer.
posted by homunculus at 5:39 PM on November 12, 2012


I generally read everything I can about the Foreign Legion...and don't ask myself too deeply why. (Jaime Salazar's book is highly enjoyable if you like this sort of thing as well, dear reader). You can follow the history of the world's wars in the nationalities that enlist, and the German influence is still strong -- the official song of the 3rd regiment, for example, is (sung in German) "Mein Regiment, Mein Heimatland."

Maybe it is the simplification.
posted by ariel_caliban at 5:58 PM on November 12, 2012


wuwei: I bet the Chinese people want kitchen duty because they want to be able to cook their own Chinese food.
I bet the Chinese people in the French Foreign Legion don't get to pick their own menus.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:33 PM on November 12, 2012


"Really? You're in the Foreign Legion? What do you do?"
"I play the tuba chapeau chinois."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:47 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


So remind me again why we romanticize signing up to kill whoever your paymasters tell you to kill, no explanation necessary?

You don't see the appeal in giving up all the bullshit that surrounds you--bills, nationality, job, etc.--and enlisting somewhere where they literally tell you everything you have to do and you are taken care of and come out of it at the end as literally a completely new person and you don't have to think anymore or worry about anything except doing what you're told? It's like running away and joining the circus, only all that bad shit is gone, taken care of. The downside is, of course, tromping through the Brazilian jungle and being left to die horribly when shit goes sour. But man, if you want to give it all up and start over, what a way to do it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:42 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This image charms me somehow: "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."

In my head the sergeant is played by John Cleese.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:34 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't see the appeal in giving up all the bullshit that surrounds you--bills, nationality, job, etc.--and enlisting somewhere where they literally tell you everything you have to do and you are taken care of and come out of it at the end as literally a completely new person and you don't have to think anymore or worry about anything except doing what you're told?

Sure, but when I picture that I picture something dangerous but morally neutral, like maybe doing spacewalks to repair asteroid-mining machinery or something. Apparently inherent in the French Foreign Legion deal is that along with giving up your other burdensome responsibilities, you also give up your entire moral sense. (Because how much more can you lose it than "you can tell me to kill anybody and I'll do it, no animus required"?) The urge to self-abdicate is a totally understandable one and it's reasonable for society to provide a place for it . . . for everything except your moral sense. That shouldn't be given up.
posted by ostro at 12:46 AM on November 13, 2012


ostro, you're making the fallacy of extending your own moral sense to others. No matter how pervasive a moral idea is - and "Don't kill someone just because you were told to do so" would be pretty far up there in popularity, I'd bet - it's not universal.

Per the article, many of them have been kicked out of other armed forces - where their job certainly was to "kill whomever their CO said to kill."

Also, to many of these men there simply isn't a moral question for killing under orders: the moral choice they make is following orders, so they are guilt-free. At least in theory.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:00 AM on November 13, 2012


I dunno, I think the sheer effort that nations put into propagandizing their armed forces (even more so than their civilians) points to most soldiers being uncomfortable with killing someone without something they can think of as a reason. There's a pretty big difference between "it's OK to kill these people because they're a threat to America" and "who cares whether it's OK to kill these people, this is how I earn my paycheck." It does look like these men have already reached the point where they're willing to give up any determination of right and wrong to their employer, rather than needing it justified to them personally (the "I was just following orders" defense); what I'm saying is that France shouldn't provide a cozy haven for that kind of thinking.
posted by ostro at 11:48 AM on November 13, 2012


We can agree on that: the Foreign Legion is an immoral militant force of the French nation. Risk-free military harassment, where "risk" is defined in terms of "sons' and daughters' lives lost."
posted by IAmBroom at 1:26 PM on November 13, 2012


Really good read. Thanks!
posted by latkes at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2012


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