The article examines the ways in which French officers manipulated the image of the "savage and violent" African colonial soldier. While the background for the development of this image was the general European perception of Africa as a violent space, during World War I, officers, as well as parts of the French public, began to see Africans as "grown children" rather than savages. However, as this image served French military purposes and made the soldiers useful on the battlefields, it was not rejected outright. I look at the debate around recruiting Africans to serve in Europe on the eve of World War I, and the French attempts to refute the German accusations around the deployment of African soldiers in the Rhineland during the 1920s. Finally I examine how, thirty years later, during the Indochina War, African officers dealt with these conflicting images in reports about violent incidents in which African soldiers had been involved.