Term Paper: French Foreign Legion L. Jones

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[. . .] Further, colonized and oppressed people the world over were buoyed by the defeat.

Many people, especially in France, consider the battles in Indochina to be the turning point of French military might from a true and strong military, buoyed by the unwavering might of the Foreign Legion, to that of a supportive role in various conflicts around the world. Indeed, many believe that the so called "bite" of the Legion as tempered to a soft "bark," heard mainly in peace-keeping and UN missions spanning the globe. Indeed, many French are simply not willing to see the kind of casualties suffered in full-scale conflict, especially like the ones suffered in Dien Bien Phu.

Although one might imagine that the French public would not particularly care about the casualties of the Legionnaires in comparison to regular French army troops, it is actually quite the opposite. This is simply because, while it is true that the Legion is made up of non-French troops (mainly), it has become a symbol of French military might. Not only does the loss of human life effect the collective morale of the French people, but it also affects their pride. In short Dien Bien Phu dealt a tremendous blow to the level of confidence French citizens were willing to put in the Legion.

Of course, any discussion of the French Foreign Legion would be horribly incomplete were one to ignore the legacy of the Legion's colonialist history, and its impact on its perception by non-French nations. In fact, especially in those nations that directly experienced the Legion as an occupying force, the legacy they left behind is one of suffering, tragedy, and oppression. Because of this, the current role of the Legion, today, as a mainly U.N. directed force is jeopardized by its lack of credibility in those regions.

In Nils Gilbert's piece, "The Legion Today," he notes that the function of the Legion in contemporary times is to participate in "any armed conflict France decides to intervene in either on its own or in co-operation with the UN." (Gilbert) Although this sounds good, the Legion's particular history makes its legitimacy in the "piece keeping" role difficult.

A particular example is the Foreign Legion's involvement in the Ivory Coast -- an area of particular unrest and bloody conflict. According to a 2003 article in the Mail and Guardian, the Legion is "ostensibly monitoring a ceasefire, following France's recent efforts to quell the three rebellions mushrooming in its most treasured former African colony."(Mail and Guardian) The article continues, "France has been drawn deeper and deeper into an actual war; splitting one of Africa's richest countries three ways, and displacing more than a million people so far." (Ibid)

Of course, in the above article, the key words are "treasured former African colony," for, although France hopes to portray its involvement in the area as a peacekeeping force, the belief on the ground by those living in the Ivory Coast is quite different. Consider, for example, the article "Southern Cameroons: The next French Genocide in Africa?":

Last week, the latest contingent of 450 French troops arrived in Abidjan, to protect 25-000 French citizens and 220 French businesses; and taking the official total to 3 000. Western diplomats say the true number may be far higher. If France is to stop Ivory Coast going the way of neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, it will probably need to be. (France Watch)

Again, although the Legion is "officially" carrying out a peacekeeping role, its colonial legacy is plainly apparent. Indeed, the article goes on to note, "More and more fighters are appearing in uniform, but we don't know who's providing them." Further, although France would like to portray the Legionnaire presence as a benefit to the people of the Ivory Coast, many note widespread anti-French protests. Indeed, for a large number of people living in the United Nations Trust Territory of the Southern Cameroons, the French mission is nothing less than a renewed colonialization. Indeed, at the very least, the Legion, and the French are seen as meddling in African affairs not out of a desire to help the people, but from a desire to benefit economically from its exploitation of the area's resources.

In the France Watch article, "French Genocide in Africa?" It states that, "in its characteristic lowball fashion, France and its imposed neocolonial elite in Cameroon dismembered, colonized and annexed the Southern Cameroons, while visiting its population with the usual plague of French horrors such as torture, corruption and blatant exploitation." (France Watch) Of course, this is hardly a favorable view of the French and the Legionnaire presence. After all, what good is a peacekeeping force that attacks the very people it is supposed to be protecting?

Unfortunately, for the people effected by the French Foreign Legion presence, the answer as to why they are there is quite simple. Again, according to the article "French Genocide in Africa?" The author notes that the area is blessed with excellent agricultural resources, rich soil, abundant water, rain forests, oil, as well as other natural resources. As a result, many in Africa consider the real motivation of the French mission in the area is to protect its own quasi-colonialist interests. Even worse, "Rapidly running out of peaceful options, the Southern Cameroons problem is likely to degenerate another violent African tragedy. The Southern Cameroons now meets all the conditions for a French African genocide." Consider the following:

1)Southern Cameroons is an English-speaking country, and thus seen by France as part of the evil Anglo-Saxon conspiracy trying to deprive France of its private hunting grounds.

2) Southern Cameroonians reject membership in the French African empire. They reject the imposition of French culture. Africans who rejected French domination in the past were regarded as ungrateful negroes and subjected to tortures, atrocities and genocide.

3) France has installed heavily armed troops in the Southern Cameroonian natural port of Man O' War Bay near the city of Victoria. They have cordoned entire villages and installed military bases in the oil-rich Southern Cameroonian county of Ndian,. In villages such as Bafaka, they have caused serious social problems, raping and impregnating young girls and cutting people off from their water sources, traditional farming and hunting grounds. (Ibid)

Of course, one wonders if this would be the attitude had the Legion not been a major colonizing force -- especially in Africa. For, indeed, the overall image of the Legion in French society is quite different from the image evoked in previously colonized people -- especially when their behavior echoes previous images of Legionnaire brutality.

Of course, the Legion as colonial force was not limited in terms of geographical area. In fact, the colonialist legacy of the Legion spans the entire globe. Because of this, the view of the Legion in mainly Third World nations is quite negative. This is hardly surprising when one notes that from 1940-1962, France was almost constantly in a state of war. (Sunderland) Further, most (if not all) of these conflicts were about the control of colonial interests. Not only did the majority of these conflicts occur outside of Europe (illustrating the offensive nature of the campaigns), but they were marked by such extreme examples of cultural chauvinism and brutality that significant scars remain. In places like Algeria, Madagascar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, for example, the scars run particularly deep.

Consider, for example, that, on the day WWII ended, French Legion troops in Setif (North-Eastern Algeria) fired on anti-French demonstrators, killing between fifteen and fifteen thousand unarmed protestors. Similar large-scale massacres occurred in Madagascar and then Indochina, underscoring the brutal image of the Legion in the imagination of the colonized world. In fact, in Algeria, the end death count of Algerian nationals was estimated to be more than one million. Even today, this legacy emerges in the Algerian and Arab world's suspicion of the Legion's involvement in the recent Algerian crisis where hundreds of innocent civilians were found brutally murdered in their villages. Indeed, the Arab response is significant in that while the rest of the (Western) world places blame on the pro-Islamic faction within the country for the attacks, the Algerians, themselves, suspect it is the work of the Foreign Legion -- again, ostensibly in the country to help "keep the peace." Note, for example, the article, published by the Muslim News, entitled "French Military Behind Algerian Massacres," which states:

Many journalists in Britain and Europe have reported numerous eyewitness accounts that show that current atrocities have been taking place within easy reach of military barracks. Yet the reports have stated that, strangely enough, no soldiers have even intervened to assist the helpless population.

Worse still, the authors of the several year long massacres have never been caught red-handed nor arrested afterwards. A situation that has remained a mystery.

Therefore, one could legitimately ask whether today's massacres, the like of which were known only during the Algerian war of liberation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/french-foreign-legion-l-jones/5871254.