More than just a fixture in movies from the 30's and 40's, according to journalist William Langewiesche, the French Foreign Legion has seen more continuous fighting than any other military outfit in the world.
A Brief History
Founded in 1831 by King Louis-Philippe the Foreign Legion was originally a means to round up criminals and deserters in French territory after the Napoleonic Wars. Legionnaires come from all over the world and are commanded by French officers, as a branch of the French military. Currently 7,286 men (women are forbidden from joining) serve in the Foreign Legion. Records indicate that over 35,000 legionnaires have died in battle.
Allegiance: Pro Or Con?
Though part of the French military, William Langewiesche, says the French Foreign Legion is made up primarily of foreigners.
"Therefore [they] don't necessarily have a constituency in France," says Langewiesche, "and are somewhat easier to send off on very, very difficult missions."
Langewiesche says lack of allegiance to France is "very much part of the Foreign Legion — for better or worse--and many people on the Legion would argue that it is a strength."
"It's more of a pure form of addressing the realities of combat and war to get beyond the political rhetoric, and the postering and the rhetoric and that sort of thing," says Langeqiesche, "and deal with war and battle for what it really is more of a personal-less, grandiose thing than a public patriotism and that sort of thing."
"Too Tough" For Normal People
Langewiesche points out that "normal" people don't tend to join the French Foreign Legion. He says that typically something has gone wrong in your life — in many cases this could just mean where you were born.
"Normal people having normal little lives don't tend to go join the Foreign Legion — it's too tough."William Langewiesche
"You were born somewhere in the remote corners of Mongolia and you want something better for your life. And you hear, somehow, either through an internet cafe or a friend, that there is some place called the Foreign Legion. And if you can only get to France, they will take you in if you're tough enough."
Former inmates and fugitives are also sometimes drawn to the Foreign Legion. Langewiesche "they tend to be people who have been driven by the circumstances of their lives into the legion."
"Normal people having normal little lives don't tend to go join the Foreign Legion — it's too tough," he says.
- Vanity Fair: The Expendables
- William Langewiesche, reporter for Vanity Fair
This segment aired on December 12, 2012.