Deployed to cities at high risk of coronavirus, photos of the Spanish Legion provoked lust, loathing and comments about homoeroticism when they went viral on social media. Yet the history of the Legion makes these responses no contradiction at allby Catherine Baker / March 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
They are musclebound and tanned, with sage-green shirts open to the chest, bulges below their black leather belts, and chinstraps curiously slung along their chiselled jaws.
They are the elite troops of the Spanish Legion, and on an internet desperate to be distracted from pandemic lockdown, they are English-language Twitter’s latest thirst trap.
After the Spanish military was deployed to cities at high coronavirus risk, New York writer Jill Filipovic tweeted “Spain, hi, can you deploy some of that in our direction?” above photos of parading legionnaires. Thousands of Twitter users joined her in desire, some informed her of the Legion’s fascist origins, and others remarked on how homoerotic their uniforms seemed.
Yet the history of the Legion makes those three things no contradiction at all.
Spain is deploying its army to help manage their coronavirus outbreak and not to be insensitive at an anxiety-inducing time but uh… I think I speak for all New Yorkers when I say, Spain, hi, can you deploy some of that in our direction? We will comply with your orders. pic.twitter.com/LyxIPsGu3g
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) March 22, 2020
When the Spanish officer José Millán-Astray proposed his army should found a French-style Foreign Legion in 1919, Spain’s colonial ambitions in Morocco were growing, and the right longed to restore the country’s imperial glory through victorious desert war.
Millán-Astray, a veteran of colonial wars in the Philippines and Morocco’s Rif mountains, created the Legion’s immersive and brutal traditions to separate men from their past lives and unify them in brotherhood and death.
Inspired by the French example and what he understood of Japanese samurais’ bushidō code, Millán-Astray wrote up a “Legionary Creed” of tireless duty, bodily hardness, unconditional friendship, and combat to the deadly end.
Many of these themes were common across fascist movements and the militaries they influenced, but others were distinct to the Legion. Legionnaires swore to become “bridegrooms of Death” (from the title of a popular song about a Legionnaire’s sacrifice in the Rif), renouncing familial and romantic bonds and sublimating them into loyalty to each other and the Legion’s flag.
The open shirt which drew so many social media comments after Filipovic posted her photo was introduced by Major Adolfo Vara del Rey, and rejected the ordinary army’s nineteenth-century ceremonial dress to symbolise their readiness for open war in muggy desert air. The sage-green colour, meanwhile, was Spanish forces’ first adaptation to standards of camouflage.
Millán-Astray’s language of sacrifice and reconquest fuelled Spanish fascism well before the Spanish Civil War. Francisco Franco, commander from 1923 to 1926, harnessed his charisma to make the Legionnaires…