90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Modern Reality Of The French Foreign Legion

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.

Guest:

  • William Langewiesche, reporter for Vanity Fair

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

October 20 Comment

Alternate Routes: Lasting Impressions From The Road

Our digital and social media producer Rachel Rohr is back from a month-long trip cross-country, talking with young Americans.

October 20 Comment

Mario Batali Goes Farm To Table

The chef and restaurateur discusses the "farm to table" trend and shares recipes with a hearty and rustic twist.

October 17 3 Comments

Toll Lanes: Coming Soon To Almost Every Major City In Florida

Reporting by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting found the toll lanes are developed without much public input, and without reliable knowledge of the cost.

October 17 Comment

USAID: Challenges And Small Victories In Liberia

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 4,500 people in the region with an estimated 8,900 more people currently infected.