"You are part of the Legion to die and the Legion will send you somewhere you can die." "Marche ou crève." translation
— Unofficial motto of the French Foreign Legion
The French Foreign Legion is one of the most mythologized military units in the world. Its most famous writer was P.C. Wren but it has had other writers and it has been occasionally spoofed, notably by Charles Schulz
. It is legendary as a place where people with a Mysterious Past
go to disappear, and of course bereaved lovers
, political refugees
, and various rogues and scoundrels and the like can always be found there.
The actual Legion existed to provide a body of cannon fodder who can fight in dangerous and distant lands without risking the lives of (many) actual French citizens, though in recent years it took the role of a far smaller, elite infantry unit, completed with a light armor regiment.
French citizenship is often the reward for a Legionnaire who has completed five years of service.
The stereotypical Legionnaire in fiction is represented as a member of a North African campaign from approximately 1900-1950. They are always depicted wearing white khepis while standing guard at lonely outposts in the Sahara. In real life, the Legion operates in a variety of environments and conflicts (such as French Indochina) and wears camouflage as needed. One of their real-life current deployments is to serve as the security detail for the European Space Agency's space launch facility at Kourou, French Guyana. (the European Union's counterpart to Cape Canaveral).
For more details about La Grande Muette
, go to Gauls with Grenades
, or Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys
See also Eagle Squadron
, Army of Thieves and Whores
and Trading Bars for Stripes
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Anime and Manga
- Area 88 revolves around a unit that is essentially the French Foreign Legion with the serial numbers filed off: a Quraqi air force squadron of foreign pilots, some with dark pasts and some recruited unscrupulously.
- Crown: Badasses Ren and Jake are former members of the French Foreign Legion.
- Instead of Space Marines, the Aquablue series has a Space Legion, complete with battlesuits and white kepis.
- In Garth Ennis' Fury: My War Gone By, Nick Fury is visiting a French outpost in Indochina staffed by the Foreign Legion and other units. The local Sergeant Rock is an Affably Evil former SS Captain turned Sergeant who takes offense to accusations of perpetrating atrocities in concentration camps and says they merely made undesirables dig a ditch, lined them up and shot them.
- Astérix: Asterix and Obelix enlist in the Roman legion in the Sahara in Asterix The Legionary, in what is definitely a parody of the French Foreign Legion.
- Suske en Wiske: Lambik enlists himself in the French Foreign Legion in Het Zingende Nijlpaard (The Singing Hippo).
- Harvey Kurtzman parodied this setting in the third issue of MAD. Amid the usual motley assortment of Funny Foreigner stereotypes on the run from the law is a recruit who's run away from his hellish wife and kids in Brooklyn.
- The archetypal Foreign Legion film is Beau Geste, based on the P.C. Wren novel. The first version was a 1926 silent with Ronald Colman. The best known is probably the 1939 version with Gary Cooper. The novel (and movie) were spoofed to a fare-thee-well in the 1977 film The Last Remake Of Beau Geste.
- Ouida's blockbuster 1867 novel Under Two Flags has also been filmed many times. The best-known version was made in 1936 and has Ronald Colman and Claudette Colbert.
- Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion has Bud and Lou somehow enlisting with the Legion in Algiers by accident. They proceed to save the day by accident, and are rewarded with medals and honorable discharges.
- Laurel and Hardy also joined the Foreign Legion in Beau Hunks and its feature-length remake, The Flying Deuces.
- It was used to explain the McGann brothers' 40-year-long absence in Secondhand Lions, and the older brother goes back to it after his wife dies during childbirth (along with the baby).
- Legionnaire, with the wonderful actor Jean-Claude Van Damme. He's also a legionnaire in Lionheart, who runs away to avenge his brother's death.
- Follow That Camel! with Phil Silvers essentially reprising the role of Sgt. Bilko and a Beau Geste parody named BO. (Later renamed Carry On, Follow That Camel!)
- In March or Die the French Foreign legion is pitted against Abd El Krim's rebel army in Morocco.
- In Morocco Marlene Dietrich falls for a moody, American legionnaire played by Gary Cooper.
- In The Mummy Trilogy, Rick O'Connell and his buddy Beni start off as Legionnaires before the Medji either kill off most of the platoon or chase them back into the desert.
- Discworld, perhaps unsurprisingly, has its own version of this, the Klatchian Foreign Legion. In Soul Music, Death signs up at one point, under the nom-de-guerre Beau Nidle. It parodies the notion that soldiers enroll to forget: they have forgetten their troubles... and their identities... and their orders... and pretty much everything, really. Except sand. You won't ever forget about sand.
- Robert Asprin's Phule's Company series has the Space Legion, which is the French Foreign Legion RECYCLED IN SPACE, complete with false names to avoid problems with the law (and in the case of the titular character- to avoid problems that occurred during his service in the Legion when he strafed the surrender talks because 'they dropped their shield')
- Also Legion of the Damned and sequels by William C. Dietz, which also gives the French Foreign Legion the IN SPACE treatment, complete with (returned from the dead) cyborgs, aliens, rebellions, revolutions, and even the odd odd love story.
- The novel Beau Geste by P.C. Wren is the Trope Maker.
- In Jerry Pournelle's science fiction stories, the Line troops of the CoDominium Marines were formed from the French Foreign Legion and maintained their Badass Creed and many of their customs, including accepting fugitives and criminals into their ranks.
- In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka series, some of the Hokas set up a French Foreign Legion. It includes not only Hokas that want to be Legionnaires, but those who are inspired by certain works of fiction but are unable to get other Hokas to join in.
- The Fifth Foreign Legion trilogy by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith. The French Foreign Legion, IN SPACE!!
- The Free Corps from the Shannara series.
- In the Honor Harrington books, starting with War of Honor, The Protector's Own Squadron effectively operates this way, owing to its origins: Many of its initial personnel were escaped prisoners from a Havenite prison, including POWs from conquered worlds and a significant number of Havenite political prisoners. The squadron's first vice-commander was a former Havenite naval officer who had fought the heroes in an earlier book.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Night's Watch is one of these. Made up of men throughout the Seven Kingdoms, they swear an oath upon joining to guard the Wall against threats from the Far North. Once, in the dim and distant past, they were a proud and honored unit, with "taking the black" being seen as a worthy sacrifice. Now, with duty on the Wall being such a hardship against a threat few believe to exist, it's become more of a punishment. Most of its members are criminals, lowborn outcasts and exiles who chose the wrong side of one political game or another. A common treatment of prisoners of war with no expectation of ransom is to allow them to take the black, as opposed to being held captive or executed.
- in Who Goes Here? by Bob Shaw, the future legion guarantees you'll forget. They wipe your mind!
- In Devil's Guard by George Robert Elford. It's the story of a nazi unit in the French Foreign Legion, in Vietnam. It's a perfect example of the none jew killing SS.
- Legionnaire is an autobiographical account of Englishman Simon Murray, who joined the Legion in 1960 (for extra badass points, he was in the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment) and fought in the Algerian War. Finishing first in the Corporal school, he turned down the opportunity to join either the prestigious Sergeant's school and Officer's school and left in 1965.
- H.P. Lovecraft's The Silver Key mentions that Randolph Carter served in the Legion from the beginning of WW I. He was nearly killed near Belloy-en-Santerre in 1916.
Live Action TV
- There was an episode of Keeping Up Appearances in which Hyacinth's (and Daisy, Rose and Violet's) father decided to join, and Hyacinth was trying to stop him... while, of course, admiring him for wanting so badly to join.
- In Kamen Rider Gaim, Oren Pierre Alfonzo / Armoured Rider Bravo is depicted as a former Legionnaire, which has the upshot of making him both one of the most skilled fighters in the cast, and occasionally making him a Drill Sergeant Nasty if the situation calls for it. Of course, he's also a Camp Gay pâtissier, which hardly fits the stereotypical image for a Legionnaire.
- Frank Sinatra's "French Foreign Legion" has the singer threatening to join if his lover rejects his marriage proposal one more time.
- Dschinghis Khan's "Die Fremdenlegion" is subtitled "Armee der verlorenen Seelen," or "Army of Lost Souls."
- "Mon Légionnaire," most famously sung by Edith Piaf, is about a woman's yearning for an unhappy legionnaire she knew for a short time.
- The Goon Show ran an episode parodying the film Beau Geste where Ned, Eccles and Bluebottle were duped into running to Marsalis and joining the Legion.
- Their satire of Under Two Flags is called "Under Two Floorboards."
- The Desert Song uses the French Foreign Legion's occupation of Morocco in the 1920s as a backdrop.
- In Medieval II Total War, late medieval Central European powers get Forlorn Hope Companies, who are composed extremely resilient (and probably suicidal) veterans armed with Zweihänders, who make great material for head-on rushes.
- In Dragon Age, the Dwarven "Legion of the Dead" is exactly this. Dwarves from any walk of life and any circumstance may join, including the worst criminals and Casteless, and upon joining a funeral is held for the new recruit and all their past sins are absolved. They are considered to "owe" the Dwarven people a death and usually set about earning it by going deep into the Deep Roads to fight the worst of the Darkspawn infestation there. In the Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening expansion pack, there's a Legion of the Dead member whom you can recruit as a follower, ironically by saving her life after the rest of her squad gets wiped out.
- Grey Wardens are a milder version of this trope. They take in anyone, from the lowest commoner to the highest king, who has skills and desire to fight darkspawn. If a criminal joins their ranks, s/he will be pardoned, which is used a few times in the actual game, most notably during the prologue. However, not only are Grey Wardens expected to spend the rest of their lives fighting darkspawn, but since they take in the taint their days are numbered anyway.
- Mass Effect 3, in a manner with the squads in multiplayer. They are ostensibly Systems Alliance units and operate under Alliance command, with most of their members being human soldiers and other military specialists, but they also include volunteers and mercenaries from a variety of other races, such as turians, asari, krogan, drell, and quarians. With the additional DLC packs, this lineup includes batarians, geth, vorcha, and volus.
- It even plays up the "3-years=Citizenship" angle, as a maxed out character can be imported into the single player story as a War Asset.
- In Sword of the Stars, the entire Liir military is this in that they are so pacifistic that anyone who joins the "Black Swimmers" is considered a sociopath. Most of them never leave the fleet though, they think of themselves as too broken to ever rejoin Liir civilian society.
- Squad 422 in Valkyria Chronicles III is more or less inspired by this trope. Amongst its members is a convicted murderer, a disgraced noble, an old soldier without a country to call home anymore, a con-man, a repeat arsonist, and people of the "unwanted race".
- Many White Russians went here. Quite a few Jews during the Holocaust (including the future commander during the '48 Siege of Jerusalem) and ironically several former Nazis. All running away from some political disturbance or other, sometimes as in the last two cases from opposite sides. For most of the Legion's history it got recruits this way, from refugees fleeing to France.
- Which led to A Nazi by Any Other Name, since after WW2, possibly up to 35% of the Legion's members where ex-German military because they were readily available.
- This had one ironic result. One Jewish soldier killed a guard who had been at a camp and shot him. Then he deserted and ran to Israel where he received a pardon for having deserted from the Israeli Navy. Which he did in order to join the Legion to track down the guard, whom he knew had joined the Legion.
- Some Jews joined specifically to hunt down ex-Nazis who were part of a secret organization known as ODESSA, Organisation Der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen (Organisation of former SS members)
- In more recent years, a lot of veterans from the Yugoslav wars (mainly Serbs) joined the Legion.
- During the First Gulf War, units of the French Foreign Legion had a certain amount of trouble liaising with American troops. 'Yes, I said Foreign Legion.' 'Yes, the guys with the kepis.' 'Yes, we are real.'
- For a time, Texas could serve this purpose in a way. Back when it was part of New Spain, and later when it was part of Mexico, Texas was a favored destination not only for folks hoping to strike out, seek adventure, and get their own land, but also folks hoping to escape the law, escape debts, or escape potential fathers-in-law. It was common to see the note "GTT" pinned to someone's door, or written in a financial register, to denote that someone had Gone To Texas, and that you were unlikely to ever see them (or your money) again.
- The GURPS version has in canon a couple of units in obscure places that are distinctly patterned after the French Foreign Legion. One of these is the Vilani Legion of the Frontier in Gurps Traveller: Interstellar Wars.
- Traveller uses this as one of the ways a character trains up.
- The Deathwatch in Warhammer40000 is a similar organization, they take volunteers from every Space Marine chapter, and many a Marine from a destroyed Chapter has lived out the remainder of his career amongst their ranks.
- The Imperial Guard's Penal Legions are composed of criminals sentenced to said Legions. The Penal Legions are always assigned to the most suicidal missions, as they are even more expendable than the already expendable Guardsmen. It is worth noting that "criminal" can mean failing to return a library book on time.
- Several BattleTech mercenary units are loose translations of the original unit into Space Opera Humongous Mecha-setting versions of the Legion. The devs acknowledge where they drew the inspiration from, as a surprising number of mercenary units have 'Legion' in their name and their members are universally addressed as Legionnaires. As far as nations mirroring the French side of the equation, the Capellan Confederation seems to fall closest to the original system—they prefer to spend mercenaries instead of House troops if at all possible, but reward loyal and long serving mercenaries with Capellan citizenship (which must be earned by every individual, as is not granted from birth) and subsequently valuing them the same as House troops.
- In Looney Tunes, Porky Pig was a Legionnaire in a couple of cartoons.
- Even Pepe LePew joins the Legion to forget.
- Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam also had a conflict as Legionnaires.
- Danger Mouse once encountered a Legionnaire who can't remember what he wanted to forget when he joined.
- Penfold: "Well...nice to see it worked out for you."
- Exo Squad: Alec DeLeon's backstory explains that he was a petty thief in Paris in his youth and joined Exofleet to escape the past, meaning that it plays the role of FFL in the setting.
- One Johnny Bravo cartoon has him join the Foreign Legion by accident, but he spends the entire time trying to "Find the Fort" in the desert with a talking camel before taking a Deus ex Machina back home.
- One Donald Duck short, "Donald's Diary", shows Donald marrying Daisy and leading a very miserable life when his new in-laws also move in. After waking up to see that it was all a dream, he frantically runs from her house and joins the Foreign Legion to escape his potential fate.
- In one Popeye episode, Popeye and Bluto are both in the French Foreign Legion.
- Two recurring characters in The Legend of Tarzan are a pair of former legionnaires who fled to the jungle to escape their General Ripper commanding officer.