What a 1963 Novel Tells Us About the French Army


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In his novel La 317[SUP]e[/SUP] Section, and in the movie that Pierre Schoendoerffer made after his own novel, there's also a very important character, not mentioned in the article, who is the platoon sergeant, adjudant Willsdorff, an Alsatian (like Schoendoerffer btw) and a German army veteran who fought in Russia (many Alsatians who were considered Germans – Volksdeutsche – by the Nazi regime were enrolled by force in the Wehrmacht during WW2). In opposition to the ‘romantic’ attitude of his platoon leader, 2nd Lt Torrens (not Torres, as inaccurately mentioned in the article), Willsdorff represents the ‘pragmatic’ way of doing war. He's the one who recommends to abandon the wounded, because evacuating them on stretchers would slow down the whole platoon and that is refused by Torrens.
Contrary to what the article says, Schoendoerffer in the Indochina war was a combat cameraman, not a photographer. Only a detail. Otherwise this article is quite true in particular this quote : “the French military ethos attaches more importance to courage and beau geste than to victory. The greater the difficulties, the greater the courage to face them. At the end, we prefer ‘magnificent losers’ to ‘ugly victors’.â€￾ There are numerous examples of this type of mindset, like of course the celebrations of the battles of Camerone in the Legion or Bazeilles, its equivalent in the Troupes de Marine, and of course Dien Bien Phu (all considered ‘splendid defeats’). This is also seen in quotes, like the one by King François I[SUP]er[/SUP], after his defeat at the battle of Pavie (in Italy) in 1525, “Tout est perdu, fors l'honneurâ€￾ (everything has been lost, except the honor) or “la Garde meurt, mais ne se rend pasâ€￾ (the Guard will die, but not surrender) by General Cambronne, commanding Napoleon's Old Guard at Waterloo, or this comment from Kaiser of Prussia Wilhelm I during the battle of Sedan in 1870 (another major defeat that will put an end to Emperor Napoleon III's reign) “Ach ! Die tapferen Leuteâ€￾ (Ah... The brave men) when witnessing the French Chasseurs d'Afrique (light cavalry) being decimated in repeated and futile charges against the Prussian lines.

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