Friday, November 25, 2005

A Wonderful Read

The French Foreign Legion: Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force
Porch, Douglas

A Wonderful Read

Douglas Porch has constructed a character sketch of some strength and force which draws upon his extensive research efforts and produces startling portraits of the people and places of the Legion. This being said, the early portion of the narrative drags a bit, as I am sure early legionnaires also dragged a lot, and the vignettes of their desperate circumstances makes a wonder that they ever willingly fought at all.

Porch puts paid to the romantic notion that this bunch of essentially charlatans, thieves, gangsters, criminals, and opportune monkeys were hard-boiled, desperate, down and out misfits and miscreants, which should be of an occasional interest to any English instructor out on the cowboy trails. Little weavings of information, that Porch seems to dazzle with the telling of, define the characters of these poor souls, the scrounging and quarreling over clean cups of water costing more than their daily wage or miserable scrawny chickens or worn out whores, makes it an incredible journey to read.

The genius of some of the Legion's masters comes to the fore, the Battle of Camerone, and those of Vietnam pour thickly of the unbelievable corps of spirit and honour among such a rabble. It is also a sociological anomaly in the European theatre that there is nothing else quite like it and it speaks for whatever good or ill it portends upon, a cross-section of the very essence of French nationalism and or its exclusivity and or repression of immigrants.

You read this book, and it becomes clear that the French have done more than run from every battle they ever entered. Particulary Porch posits the idea that legionnaires were always and always have been the most modern of soldiers, if only in the facet that in so many ways their lives were already dead. He writes in the shadows of their formidable presence on the field, of men who already had nothing to live for and won every success despite incredible odds. A powerful part of the mystique of such soldiers.

This book is a powerful and poignant memory built by Porch of men without pasts, or presents, and still an immortal stillness and credit long after death...of efficiency and usefulness? In some way, the paradox, that the Legion built honour out of nothing stands alone. Fascinating.

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