— France will be proud of you, corporal … your name?
— I do not understand (with thick accent).
The French have a long tradition of satire. Some would say it is part of the French DNA–a collective and individual impulse towards amusement by mocking and poking fun of authority figures, making dark commentary on current events or simply making light of the human comedy/tragedy where we all exist. Graphic and written satire certainly exists in many other countries but for volume and quality none do it as well as the French. Charlie Hebdo immediately comes to mind.
This cartoon is a perfect example of French Satire. It is a simple one panel cartoon depicting an exchange between a senior French Army officer and a lowly corporal in the Foreign Legion. The officer is offering praise on behalf of France but the poor legionnaire does not understand French. As good satire the subtle meaning of this graphic goes far beyond the immediate joke. It could be taken as a critique that questions the very existence of the Foreign Legion and asks “do the foreigners of the Legion even realize why they are fighting for France?” and “do they even care?” or “why do we have men who don’t understand French fighting on France’s behalf?”. It may have been meant to be ironic, in that the heroic corporal can’t understand the very officer who has chosen to convey the gratitude of France in her own language. It’s also tragic when words can’t convey the gratefulness of France to many of those foreigners who lay their lives on line on her behalf. One can infer many different meanings into this picture.
…or maybe it’s just a semi-funny cartoon (a woodcut no less) by Felix Vallotton.