Why Do Soldiers Salute?
The custom of saluting has always existed in all cultures. A salute is a gesture or other action used to display respect. Salutes are primarily associated with armed forces, but other organizations and civilians also use salutes. Until the 18th century, junior officers saluted by doffing their hats. In fact civilians still salute in this manner. This custom probably goes back to the middle ages when a knight would raise his helmet visor or uncover his head before a lord.
After the 18th century, there came a change in the method of saluting, for a very practical reason! When soldiers fired their muskets, black powder used to settle on their hands, covering them with grime. And if they had to then take off their hats, it would spoil the hats! So by the end of the 18th century, the form was changed.
In some cases it involved bowing and in others kneeling or laying on the ground or gesturing with hand and arm in a special manner. An officer or soldier carrying a sword at the shoulder salutes by bringing the hilt to his mouth and then the point to the right and downward. This form of salute goes back to the middle ages. The military salute of today — raising the right hand to the forehead or to the hat brim or visor is a recent innovation.
A soldier can salute with the left hand when the right hand is encumbered in some way, for example, a soldier with a rifle at Right Shoulder Arms; if movement of a weapon would be encumbered when making the armed salute; if the performance of duty requires the right hand for use or operation of equipment such as riding a motorcycle; if it is not possible to use the hand due to injury or amputation; when escorting a woman and it is not possible to walk on her right side.
According to some modern military manuals, the modern Western salute originated when knights greeted each other to show friendly intentions by raising their visors to show their faces, using a salute. Others also note that the raising of one’s visor was a way to identify oneself saying “This is who I am, and I am not afraid.” Medieval visors were, to this end, equipped with a protruding spike that allowed the visor to be raised using a saluting motion.
The US Army Quartermaster School provides another explanation of the origin of the hand salute: that it was a long-established military custom for subordinates to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. As late as the American Revolution, a British Army soldier saluted by removing his hat. With the advent of increasingly cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, the act of removing one’s hat was gradually converted into the simpler gesture of grasping or touching the visor and issuing a courteous salutation.
As early as 1745, a British order book stated that: “The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass.” Over time, it became conventionalized into something resembling our modern hand salute. The naval salute, with the palm downwards is said to have evolved because the palms of naval ratings, particularly deckhands, were often dirty through working with lines and was deemed insulting to present a dirty palm to an officer; thus the palm was turned downwards. During the Napoleonic Wars, British crews saluted officers by touching a clenched fist to the brow as though grasping a hat-brim between fingers and thumb.
In most countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, civilians do not salute the flag, although some may stand at attention when a national anthem is played or the national flag raised or lowered. In the United Kingdom, certain civilian individuals, such as officers of HM Revenue and Customs, salute the quarterdeck of Royal Navy vessels on boarding.
In Ireland, citizens stand at attention when the national anthem “Amhrán na bhFiann” is played. They either sing or remain completely silent during the playing of the anthem. This practice usually takes place before Gaelic Games begin. It is also observed at bars and pubs if live music is played. When the performer(s) are finished playing it is traditional to perform the national anthem but less common in recent years. In many countries, gestures such as tipping one’s hat when passing another on the street can be considered appropriate civilian salutes. A more formal hat tip-and-lift is common in Britain, especially by doormen in hotels.
In the United States, civilians may salute the American flag by placing their right hand over their heart or by standing at attention during the playing of the national anthem or while reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance, or when the flag is passing by, as in a parade. Men and boys remove their hats and other headgear during the salute; religious headdress (and military headdress worn by veterans in uniform, who are otherwise civilians) are exempt. The nature of the headgear determines whether it is held in the left or right hand, tucked under the left arm, etc. However, if it is held in the right hand, the headgear is not held over the heart but the hand is placed in the same position it would be if it were not holding anything.
The Defense Authorization Act of 2009, signed by President Bush, contained a provision that gave veterans and active-duty service members not in uniform the right to salute during the playing of the national anthem. Previous legislation authorized saluting when not in uniform during the raising, lowering and passing of the flag. However, because a salute is a form of communication protected by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment, legislative authorization is not required for any civilian—veteran or non-veteran—to salute the American flag.
Civilians in some other countries, like Italy and Nigeria, also render the same civilian salute as their American counterparts when hearing their respective national anthems. In Iran a salute similar to the United States is given. In ancient times a salute would be given by raising a flat hand in front of the chest with the thumb facing the saluters face. In Latin America, especially in Mexico, a salute similar to the United States military’s salute is used, but the hand is placed across the left chest with the palm facing the ground.
The same salute was instituted in Albania as the “Zog salute” by King Zog I. In the Philippines, civilians salute to the national flag during flag raising and upon hearing the Philippine National Anthem by standing at attention and doing the same hand-to-heart salute as their American, Italian, Nigerian, and South African counterparts.
People wearing hats or caps must bare their heads and hold the headwear over their heart. Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (including Philippine Air Force) and Philippine National Police, and sometimes airline pilots, meanwhile do the traditional military salutes if they are in uniform on duty; off-duty personnel do the hand-to-heart salutes. During the Martial Law years from 1972–1981 up to the 1986 EDSA Revolution, the “clenched fist” salute was done during the singing and playing of the National Anthem.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts meanwhile have their own form of salutes. In Indonesia, civilians may either place their right hand to their left-breast (heart) or salute the flag as per a military salute, which may be that of the PETA Revolutionaries, or as per modern military drill. All persons present regardless of nationality are expected to stand silently and respectfully during its raising and lowering. It is a severe criminal offense in Indonesia to dishonour the national flag (known in Indonesian as Sang Saka Merah Putih, “The Red and White”) and its ceremonies, or the national anthem, “Indonesia Raya”.
Thailand also has the same rule like Indonesia wherein all persons present regardless of nationality are expected to stand at attention and respectfully during the flag raising and lowering and upon hearing the Thai National Anthem every 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. or hearing the Sansoen Phra Barami. The Lèse majesté in Thailand says that it is a serious criminal offense to dishonor the flag of Thailand or National/Royal Anthem.
Many different gestures are used throughout the world as simple greetings. In Western cultures the handshake is very common, though it has numerous subtle variations in the strength of grip, the vigour of the shake, the dominant position of one hand over the other, and whether or not the left hand is used.
Historically, when men normally wore hats out of doors, male greetings to people they knew, and sometimes those they did not, involved touching, raising slightly (“tipping”), or removing their hat in a variety of gestures, see hat tip. This basic gesture remained normal in very many situations from the Middle Ages until men typically ceased wearing hats in the mid-20th century. Hat-raising began with an element of recognition of superiority, where only the socially inferior party might perform it, but gradually lost this element; King Louis XIV of Francemade a point of at least touching his hat to all women he encountered.
However the gesture was never used by women, for whom their head-covering included considerations of modesty. When a man was not wearing a hat he might touch his hair to the side of the front of his head to replicate a hat tipping gesture. This was typically performed by lower class men to social superiors, such as peasants to the land-owner, and is known as “tugging the forelock”, which still sometimes occurs as a metaphor for submissive behaviour.
In Europe, the formal style of upper-class greeting used by a man to a woman in the Early Modern Period was to hold the woman’s presented hand (usually the right) with his right hand and kiss it while bowing. This style has not been widespread for a century or more. In cases of a low degree of intimacy, the hand is held but not kissed. The ultra-formal style, with the man’s right knee on the floor, is now only used in marriage proposals, as a romantic gesture.
The Arabic term salaam (literally “peace”, from the spoken greeting that accompanies the gesture), refers to the practice of placing the right palm on the heart, before and after a handshake. A Chinese greeting features the right fist placed in the palm of the left hand and both shaken back and forth two or three times; it may be accompanied by a head nod or bow. The gesture may be used on meeting and parting, and when offering thanks or apologies.
In India, it is common to see the Namaste greeting (or “Sat Sri Akal” for Sikhs) where the palms of the hands are pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed. Adab, meaning respect and politeness, is a hand gesture used as a Muslim greeting of south Asian Muslims, especially of Urdu-speaking communities of Uttar Pradesh, Hyderabadi Muslims, Bengali Muslims and Muhajir people of Pakistan. The gesture involves raising the right hand towards the face with palm inwards such that it is in front of the eyes and the finger tips are almost touching the forehead, as the upper torso is bent forward. It is typical for the person to say “adab arz hai“, or just “adab“. It is often answered with the same or the word “Tasleem” is said as an answer or sometimes it is answered with a facial gesture of acceptance.
In Indonesia, a nation with a huge variety of cultures and religions, many greetings are expressed, from the formalized greeting of the highly stratified and hierarchical Javanese to the more egalitarian and practical greetings of outer islands. Javanese, Batak and other ethnicities currently or formerly involved in the armed forces will salute a Government-employed superior, and follow with a deep bow from the waist or short nod of the head and a passing, loose handshake. Hand position is highly important; the superior’s hand must be higher than the inferior’s. Muslim men will clasp both hands, palms together at the chest and utter the correct Islamic slametan (greeting) phrase, which may be followed by cheek-to-cheek contact, a quick hug or loose handshake.
Pious Muslim women rotate their hands from a vertical to perpendicular prayer-like position in order to barely touch the finger tips of the male greeter and may opt out of the cheek-to-cheek contact. If the male is an Abdi Dalem royal servant, courtier or particularly “peko-peko” (taken directly from Japanese to mean obsequious) or even a highly formal individual, he will retreat backwards with head downcast, the left arm crossed against the chest and the right arm hanging down, never showing his side or back to his superior. His head must always be lower than that of his superior.
Younger Muslim males and females will clasp their elder’s or superior’s outstretched hand to the forehead as a sign of respect and obeisance. If a manual worker or a person with obviously dirty hands salutes or greets an elder or superior, he will show deference to his superior and avoid contact by bowing, touching the right forehead in a very quick salute or a distant “slamet” gesture.
The traditional Javanese Sungkem involves clasping the palms of both hands together, aligning the thumbs with the nose, turning the head downwards and bowing deeply, bending from the knees. In a royal presence, the one performing sungkem would kneel at the base of the throne.
A gesture called a wai is used in Thailand, where the hands are placed together palm to palm, approximately at nose level, while bowing. The wai is similar in form to the gesture referred to by the Japanese term gassho by Buddhists. In Thailand, the men and women would usually press two palms together and bow a little while saying “Sawadee ka” (female speaker) or “Sawadee krap” (male speaker).
Some cultures use hugs and kisses (regardless of the sex of the greeters), but those gestures show an existing degree of intimacy and are not used between total strangers. All of these gestures are being supplemented or completely displaced by the handshake in areas with large amounts of business contact with the West. These bows indicate respect and acknowledgment of social rank, but do not necessarily imply obeisance.