Le Cafard

I found a wonderful description for the “desert madness” or “Le Cafard”  that sometimes overcomes Legionnaires stationed in desolate outposts.  Cafard in French means cockroach, but “J’ai le cafard” means “I have the blues”.  Erwin Rosen’s account of his day’s in the Legion has this gem…

The Foreign Legion has manufactured a special expression of its own for this mental state “Cafard.”  The “cafard” reigned.  The cafard of the Foreign Legion, a near relative to tropical madness, is a collective name for all the inconceivable stupidities, excesses and crimes which tormented nerves can commit.  The English language has no word for this condition.  In “cafard” murder hides, and suicide and mutiny; it means self mutilation and plan-less flight out into the desert; it is the height of madness and the depth of despair.  All idiocy in the Legion is called “cafard”.  A legionnaire is gloomy, sitting sullenly on his bed for hours, speaking to no one.  If you ask him what is the matter, he will answer with a gross insult.  He sits thinking all the time and does the queerest things.  He has the “cafard.”  His madness may turn into a senseless explosion or fit of fury; men suffering from “cafard” will run a bayonet through their comrade’s body, without any reason, without any outward cause.  Sometimes they rush out into the desert, sometimes they tear every piece of their outfit into rags, just to vex themselves and others thoroughly.  The “cafard” is at its worst in the hot season when the sun burns down relentlessly from the cloudless, deep blue sky, with the strange greenish coloring of the horizon peculiar to Algeria.  Then the barrack-yard of the Foreign Legion lies deserted.  It is so hot that the stones on the yellow clayey ground seem to move in the glimmering overheated air. The legionnaire sentries wear the flowing white neck-protector, and have stuffed wet cloths
into their kepis.

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About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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3 Responses to Le Cafard

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