Skip to main content

Voices of the Foreign Legion: A Review by Mark Hatmaker


The book is exactly what the title says, but tells the story of the Legion via diary entries, memoirs and interviews from Legionnaires themselves, from its romantic inception in the deserts of North Africa to the post-colonial anti-terrorist operations of today. This sort of skin-in-the-game/boots-on-the-ground history fascinates me more than academic history, as here we get the eyes-on view of top-down policies, that is, we hear what the folks in the comfy chairs think should happen in the world, and then we see what happens when real men must trek through sucking jungle, scorching desert, hostile streets to attempt to render these pseudo-manly pipe-dreams coherent. The real-world view never matches the academic view.

The book is harrowing in places, graphic in many, sad in most, and in the end so so so so much death and destruction and suffering for what? Colonies in Algeria, Vietnam, the Congo, Morocco that don’t exist today.

Compare with our own experience today in the United States’ longest war ever. In some cases fighting the same foe the Legion was fighting in the 19th century; it’s a sucker’s game with other men’s blood on the line. The days of joint-suffering on the Home Front are over. We have no rationing, coupons for days we can buy dairy products, we do not toil in Victory Gardens, we share no hardship with our fighting forces—imagine telling folks “We will ration your data plans or tamp down on streaming until our sons and daughters are home.” Maybe we’d see some resolve or sensible draw-down if for nothing else to make sure we don’t miss an episode of Game of Thrones.



Distance renders us callous or indifferent-same result—other people die, we pretend to care with bumper sticker sayings, and quickly forget as soon as the “smartphone” beckons for another input of loving parental attention. It should shame us that our memories are not longer than two days of the year: Memorial Day and Veterans Day. It might ought to fester on our consciences that others are at risk, right this very minute, and we may not be able to point to that dying ground on a map or articulate what our “goals” are “over there.”  

This fine volume reminds us that history has not changed: empty suits set policy and set strategy, a distracted populace seldom pays attention beyond a rote “Rah-rah!” here and there, and real flesh and blood suffers.

Smartphones get smarter, the users, not so much.

This excerpt from the book, is a Legionnaire speaking of the catastrophic loss at Camerone. It seems to echo the sentiments of many military I speak to today.

“The appeal of Camerone to a legionnaire is as natural as instinct. He reaches out to it in his own heart, because it is part of his own pain. It is the great reminder to the legionnaire that the sand is always blowing in his eyes, the battleground is always ill-chosen, the odds are too great, the cause insufficient to justify his death, and the tools at hand always the wrong ones. And, above all, nobody cares whether he wins or loses, lives or dies. Camerone gives the legionnaire strength to live with his despair. It reminds him that he cannot win, but it makes him feel that there is dignity in being a loser.”

To all the “Losers” of our military, past and present. VALE!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Warrior Awareness Drills by Mark Hatmaker

THE Primary Factor in self-protection/self-defense is situational awareness. Keeping in mind that crime is, more often than not, a product of opportunity, if we take steps to reduce opportunity to as close to nil as we can manage we have gone a long way to rendering our physical tactical training needless [that’s a good thing.]
Yes, having defensive tactical skills in the back-pocket is a great ace to carry day-to-day but all the more useful to saving your life or the lives of loved ones is a honed awareness, a ready alertness to what is occurring around you every single day.
Here’s the problem, maintaining such awareness is a Tough job with a capital T as most of our daily lives are safe and mundane [also a good thing] and this very safety allows us to backslide in good awareness practices. Without daily danger-stressors we easily fall into default comfort mode.
A useful practice to return awareness/alertness to the fore is to gamify your awareness, that is, to use a series of specific…

Awareness Drill: The Top-Down Scan by Mark Hatmaker

American Indians, scouts, and indigenous trackers the world over have been observed to survey terrain/territory in the following manner.
A scan of the sky overhead, then towards the horizon, and then finally moving slowly towards the ground.
The reason being that outdoors, what is overhead-the clouds, flying birds, monkeys in trees, the perched jaguar—these overhead conditions change more rapidly than what is at ground level.
It has been observed by sociologists that Western man whether on a hike outdoors or in an urban environment seldom looks up from the ground or above eye-level. [I would wager that today, he seldom looks up from his phone.]
For the next week I suggest, whether indoors or out, we adopt this native tracker habit. As you step into each new environment [or familiar ones for that matter] scan from the top down.
I find that this grounds me in the awareness mindset. For example, I step into my local Wal-Mart [or an unfamiliar box store while travelling] starting at the top, t…

Resistance is Never Futile by Mark Hatmaker

Should you always fight back? Yes. “But what if…”


Over the course of many years teaching survival-based strategies and tactics the above-exchange has taken place more than a few times. The “but what if…” question is usually posed by well-meaning individuals who haven’t quite grasped the seriousness of physical violence. These are people whose own humanity, whose sense of civility is so strong that they are caught vacillating between fight or flight decisions. It is a shame that these good qualities can sometimes stand in the way of grasping the essential facts of just how dire the threat can be.


The “but what if…” is usually followed by any number of justifications or pie-in-the-sky hopeful mitigations. These “but what if…” objections are based on unfounded trust and an incorrect grasp of probability. The first objection, unfounded trust, is usually based on the following scenario.


Predator: Do what I say and I won’t hurt you.


Or, some other such promise to the victim.


Now, these sorts of …