A salute out of respect

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A salute out of respect

A military salute is the most disciplined form of paying respect. Without respect, the discipline is not properly expressed. When a soldier gives a military salute, he makes all the necessary gestures. But when he doesn’t respect the senior officer, his salute will not be perfect. The senior will see that the salute is not out of respect, but he won’t be able to criticize the soldier because his form was flawless.

As different cultures have different forms of courtesy, countries have different salutes. U.S. forces keep their palms down, just as South Korean forces do, but British soldiers hold their palms forward. The French salute is somewhere in between, raising the hand at a 45-degree angle and showing half of the palm.

The Polish salute is very unique. The index and middle fingers are extended to face the palm of the person being signaled at. The salute is made only when a military hat is worn, and without the hat, the Polish soldier will simply nod. It is a courtesy that dates back to the Duchy of Warsaw, which was established by Napoleon I in the early 19th century. But while the Polish salute has history and tradition, it doesn’t look very formal.

Members of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, the military unit exiled to the United Kingdom that fought alongside the Allies against Nazi Germany during World War II, found themselves in an awkward position because of this tradition. When British Armed Forces officers visited the unit to motivate the Polish, the Polish soldiers were quite rude. Their salutes seemed half-hearted, and some would just nod as they passed by. The British officers thought they were being insulted, and one actually brought the case to a military trial. While it turned out to be a misunderstanding, a salute can sometimes lead to a complicated situation.

U.S. President Barack Obama recently became mired in controversy over a salute. A few days ago, President Obama was departing by Marine One helicopter and was given a proper salute by some Marines. As he stepped out of the aircraft, he saluted back - but with a coffee cup in his hand. While the White House explained it was a misunderstanding, the Marines in question and the entire U.S. Armed Forces may have felt insulted.

Some Republicans compared the “latte salute” with former President George W. Bush’s famed version - holding his pet dog in his left hand - claiming the former president had nevertheless executed the salute flawlessly. This was a blunder, however, because a photo showed Bush holding the dog to his face while playfully attempting to salute.

These are rude gestures that would never have happened if the presidents had respect for the military in the first place. The same goes for salutes to citizens. People can spot a half-hearted gesture and are waiting for the time when they can punish this lack of respect.

The author is an international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 26, Page 35

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