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The military is a fertile breeding ground for official and unofficial traditions. The United States is particularly renown for its unusual traditions, but there are so many other countries with current and historical traditions that must be seen to be believed. From Scandinavia to Pakistan to Japan to New York, here are some of the most interesting military traditions from around the world.
The British Rum Ration
In modern society, it's hard to believe that militaries of the world would give any amount of alcohol to their service members. Back in the day, however, sailors in the navies of the world were given large "tots," or rum rations, every day. In the British Royal Navy, sailors received a daily ration of 71ml of rum. A standard bottle of a hard liquor like rum is 750ml, which means these sailors drank almost a full bottle of high proof rum every ten days! Of all the unique military traditions from around the world, this is one of my favorites, as it unites so many different countries, from the United States, who abolished the rum ration in 1862, to New Zealand, who didn't abolish the rum ration until 1990.
Wagah-Attari Border Ceremony
One of the most fascinating and mystifying military traditions from around the world occurs every single night during the lowering of the flags ceremony at the Wagah-Attari border. Wagah and Attari are villages in Pakistan and India, respectively, and the road running through them was once the only road link between the two countries. The ceremony consists of elaborate dances and high-stepping performed by specially trained soldiers with large mustaches and highly elaborate uniforms. It is simultaneously a symbol of the intense rivalry between the two nations and of their reluctant brotherhood.
Scandinavian soldiers are great at whittling.
Most militaries train their forces to some extent in wooded areas, as soldiers must be able to survive in a variety of climates. Due to the large amount of forested areas in countries like Finland and Norway, Scandinavian service members are particularly comfortable in this setting. One popular hobby that has arisen from this familiarity is whittling large pieces of wood as a method of passing the time. The Swedish Army and the Finnish Defense Forces are particularly adept at carving shapes into logs. Though the nature of the shapes rarely ventures beyond the phallic, a shared enthusiasm for whittling has brought about impromptu competitions, judging speed, quality, and including friendly wagers that unite the service members in the various Scandinavian countries.
One military tradition that transcends borders is the culture of ridiculous hazing and creative punishments handed down by superior officers. In most militaries, there is no "getting fired" unless you commit serious crimes. Instead, severe mistakes are met with severe punishments ranging from physical activity (running however many laps or doing however many pushups) to KP or "Kitchen Patrol" duty (peeling potatoes or scrubbing dishes) to cleaning out the latrines. Creative sergeant majors and other superior officers will prescribe more unique punishments for extra special offenders, such as forcing them to cut grass using just a pair of scissors or dress in unusual outfits or refer to themselves by an unflattering nickname.
The Annual Pillow Fight at West Point Academy
West Point, formally known as the United States Military Academy, is a prestigious four-year school for students seeking a career in the United States Armed Forces. Universities and military organizations are particularly fertile ground for unusual traditions, so it's no surprise that academies like West Point have loads of unusual traditions. One of my favorite West Point traditions is the annual pillow fight undertaken by first year students to celebrate the end of the summer training. The 1,000 person pillow war sounds like an excellent way to let off steam after an undoubtedly high-stress school year. Unfortunately, things got out of hand in 2015, and the pillow fight has been banned.
The Bundeswehr is not popular.
In the United States, military service is considered an honorable contribution to the nation. Service members are revered and veterans are considered heroes. This is not necessarily the case in many other nations. In particular, Germany has become an incredibly pacifistic nation since World War II. Obviously, Nazi Germany was not peaceful at all, but the nation has moved far away from this mindset. The closest thing to a military tradition in Germany right now is actually a rejection of a militaristic society, a marching in a different parade. There are no "military discounts" and veterans are not greeted with parades.
United States Marine Corps' Birthday Ball
The US Marine Corps is now well-established for its pride, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the branch throws a huge birthday party every year on November 10. However, this hasn't always been the case. Prior to 1921, the Marine Corps celebrated July 11 as its birthday, with little pageantry. July 11 was the day the Marine Corps was re-established in 1798 after having been disbanded following the American Revolution. In 1921, however, Commandant John A. Lejeune issued a statement to the Corps stating that the branch's original birthday, November 10, 1775, should henceforth be considered the true birthday of the Marine Corps. The Commandant went on to encourage that the day be one of marked celebration. The resulting Birthday Ball remains a yearly tradition for the Marine Corps, and even the ball has its own separate set of traditions every recruit should know.
Japanese Soldiers Refusing to Surrender
Refusing to surrender may seem a bit generic to be considered a truly notable military tradition, but Japan took the notion to new extremes during the second World War. Of all the unique military traditions from around the world, none has become more of an identifying trait than Japan's refusal to surrender during World War II. Even after being confronted with nuclear warheads, the Japanese Emperor refused to concede defeat or even use the word "surrender" in his broadcast to his constituents. The most morbidly impressive examples of this mentality are the Japanese soldiers who were found decades later, waiting in isolation in places like the Philippines, believing they were still in the midst of war.
US Air Force pilots get the hose.
Though smaller than the US Army and Navy, the United States Air Force is not without its fair share of military tradition. In particular, fighter pilots in the Air Force have one of the most interesting military traditions, the hosing down of a pilot after his final flight. This stems from the classic football trope where players douse their coach in Gatorade after winning a championship game, but it is much more severe. After all, aircraft carriers aren't exactly fitted with weak garden hoses. These are heavy duty hoses, and these days the strong blast of water is complemented by food products like flour and mayonnaise.
Brotherhood and Sisterhood
One of the military traditions from around the world is as true for US troops as it is for Russian troops. No matter where you go in the world, the deeply rooted camaraderie that develops between the men and women of any branch is apparent in any military around the world. They know that most of their time in the service will not be fun. Even during times of peace, military life is characterized by grueling schedules, endless physical activity, strict routines, harsh punishments, and lots and lots of time spent standing at attention for no apparent reason. This miserable time unites the brothers and sisters of the military as they fight to get through every day.