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At some undetermined time in the recent past, George Elford, a zoologist, casually met an "extraordinary" individual, Hans Josef Wagemueller, a former Nazi SS trooper, in a bar somewhere in Southeast Asia, and therein lies the origin of this disquieting document, a conversational memoir of Wagemueller's morally constipated activities as a dedicated anti-Communist mercenary in the French Foreign Legion in Indochina after the defeat of Hitler's Reich and prior to Dien Bien Phu. Reputed to be all true (except for personal names, changed to protect the real identities of Wagemueller himself, now an honored citizen of an undisclosed Asian country, we are told, but still subject to possible prosecution in Germany for war crimes; those SS buddies who also served with him in the Legion; and his dear old publicity-shy mom, still alive and well in Germany), Elford says Wagemueller talked for 18 straight days into a tape recorder. What comes out is a sickening firsthand account of the French war operation, tales not unlike our own Vietnam ""turkey shoots"" and mass murder atrocities. The enemy is conned into capturing food supplies doctored with strychnine; women are raped, killed, mutilated; men are tortured for information or the hell of it, forced to eat propaganda leaflets, their own excrement, drink machine oil; others get worse treatment: ""He ran the fuse down the man's hip, attached the detonator and slipped the charge under the prisoner's scrotum. . . . The man's body heaved as a spurt of blood splashed across his thighs."" Although the book occasionally reads like a John Wayne movie script (""Make it straight there, or I will spill your filthy guts right here""), it provides an important insight into the cruelties and crudities of guerrilla war as well as the men who fight these wars; anyone disturbed by the Calley case should get some useful input from Devil's Guard.
Editorial Review - Kirkus Reviews Copyright (c) VNU Business Media, Inc.
Is it a true account, or is it fiction?
Regardless of its authenticity, the Devil's Guard is a gripping tale of German veterans of World War II fighting in France's Indochina War. This, of course, is factual, as vast numbers of German prisoners of war were recruited into the French Foriegn Legion, to assist with keeping order in France's overseas colonies. This was really not so unusual, as the French Foriegn Legion has a history of being largely composed of various German-speaking personnel.
The escalating conflict with the communist Veit Minh of Indochina (Veitnam, Cambodia, and Laos)was precisely the place for former Waffen S.S. and Wehrmacht veterans to apply their skills. It was better than languishing in a p.o.w. camp. Many of these Legionaires saw little reason to return to their devastated homes in Germany or Austria, for varying reasons.
"Hans Wagemueller" (a pseudonym for a real or fictional man) was hunting partisans and guerillas in Czechoslovakia, when the Second World War ended. Refusing to surrender to the Soviet army, he and his comrades made their way west to surrender to Western Allies. In French custody, he joined the Foriegn Legion, and soon found himself in an even more brutal war in Southeast Asia.