By Simon Murray
At 19, in 1960, Englishman Simon Murray joined the French Foreign Legion--he'd read Wren's Beau Geste and held the traditional English view ""that service in foreign armies in foreign lands was an acceptable way to begin life."" The recruiting officer tried to talk him out of it. Soon Murray found himself in a prison-like fort at Marseille for early training, then on a vomitous ship to Algeria. His incubation is brutal, despite inspiring Legion songs and, later, visits to the military brothels. One must beware le cafard--""the sensation of millions of tiny beetles crawling around inside one's head. . . a condition that immediately precedes madness."" He goes to Sully, ""an absolute shithouse,' for parachute training, and watches the full unleashing of Legion sadism on two deserters. Thou shalt not steal is the top commandment, and thieves are spreadeagled to tables with bayonets driven through their hands. A 54-mile march leaves everyone with bloody feet. After six thrilling parachute jumps, he joins his new regiment and is quickly sent against the Arab fellahin for his baptism of fire. When he's ordered to return from the field with the heads of some Arabs, he brings the heavy heads back in his dripping musette; they are photographed and he's told to throw them away in the bushes. Later he finds that some Spanish Legionnaires have put one of the heads in the soup pot for a joke. And so it goes, for five lunatic years of unbelievable punishment, all--chillingly--from the worm's-eye viewpoint.
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