Have you noticed that in military history no regular army has ever been able to deal with a properly organized guerrilla force? If we use the regular army in Algeria, it can only end in failure. I’d like France to have two armies: one for display, with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, fanfares, staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned with their general’s bowel movements or their colonel’s piles: an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country.
The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage battledress, who would not be put on display but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That’s the army in which I should like to fight.
—The Centurions, Jean Lartéguy
Many years ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a teenage boy, Soldier of Fortune magazine sold merchandise, including posters.
There were two that I kind of wanted: one was a poster of the classic Thompson submachine gun ad. I’m still looking for that, if anyone has any leads…
The other was a variant of Lartéguy’s quote above. I was struck at the time by his distinction between the two armies, and yes, that’s the army in which I should like to fight as well.
Now I’m actually reading the book that quote came from, and I’m growing quite fond of Raspéguy and his band of merry men. I’ve just reached the end of book two, where the colonel gets the band back together: he assembles his fellow POWs from the Indochina war and tells them:
I’ve just been given command of the 10th Colonial Parachute Regiment, the most useless bunch of s.o.b.s in the whole French army, the rejects from every other paratroop unit.
I know this is going to end badly for everyone: we’re talking about French Algeria, after all. But I expect the rest of this ride is going to be fun.