Escape to the Legion and the Aftermath

Wanna get a glimpse of the harsh life of a solidier? Or whether you can make it after a brutal Sahara Desert training? Then you should watch Escape to the Legion, a BBC documentary about the French Foreign Legion, a mercenary army founded in 1831, and still active. The documentary not only demonstrates that a life in the army can never be for the faint-hearted, but it also exposes the army’s sexist and homophobic nature.

Watching Escape to the Legion reminded me of the Full Metal Jacket, a brilliant anti-war film by Stanley Kubrick that I saw a year ago. However, the difference between the two is that the former is not intended to be anti-war as the latter. The documentary is more like an adventure film, similar to the Survivor TV series. It explores such concepts as allegiance, discipline, courage, mental and physical hardship, obedience, order, team work, and what it takes to be a tough solidier.

Per Wiki entry, here is some info about the French Legion Army:

It was exclusively created for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. …Recruits included failed revolutionaries from the rest of Europe, soldiers from the disbanded foreign regiments, and troublemakers in general. …Training is often described as not only physically challenging, but extremely stressful psychologically.

The Foreign Legion was primarily used, as part of the Armée d’Afrique, to protect and expand the French colonial empire during the 19th century, but it also fought in almost all French wars including the Franco-Prussian War and both World Wars. Commanded by French officers, it is [now] also open to French citizens, who amounted to 24% of the recruits as of 2007.

The Legion can be seen as an interseting social experiment since it brings together individuals from diverse backgrounds and turns them into one of the world’s elite forces, or killing machines if one puts it bluntly. The soldiers pledge allegiance to no one, not even France, but to the Legion. Those who make it through the difficult training, they serve for five years as mercenaries, per contract, and then they are free to do whatever they want. Most join the Legion to renew themselves and find new meanings in their lives, basically, as the narrator in the film says, to give themselves a second chance.

When you join the Legion, you lose your earlier identity. Whatever identity you had before—racial, ethnic, religious, national—is no more. The Legion gives you a new identity. You will regain your previous identity after the five years of service. For five years, you are a Legionnaire, a mercenary. That is your identity. Another movie came to mind as I thought of this transformation: The Bourne Trilogy.

The lesson I have taken from this film: I can certainly succeed if I stay patient and embrace positive attitude; also, giving up without trying harder is a weakness, but doing one’s best, knowing one’s limit, and quitting honorably is just as good as winning.

Here is Escape to the Legion:


One thought on “Escape to the Legion and the Aftermath

  1. Escape to the Legion is not a documentary. It is a very poor fictional attempt at creating a picture of Legion training. It was made as a commercial venture by a television company to cash in on the Legion’s notoriety. It never set foot in actual Foreign Legion establishments nor filmed actual serving legionnaires. It is frankly awful and every self-respecting true Legionnaire and former Legionnaire would agree.

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