Warrior Ways: Explorations in Modern Military Folklore

Warrior Ways: Explorations in Modern Military Folklore

Warrior Ways: Explorations in Modern Military Folklore

Warrior Ways: Explorations in Modern Military Folklore

Excerpt

As countless recruits have been told by their boot camp instructors, “There’s a right way, a wrong way, and the Army way. You will learn to do it the Army way.” The familiar adage reflects not only the armed forces’ perhaps exaggerated reputation for inflexibility, but the less debatable fact that the members of military organizations, like the members of other occupational folk groups, are enculturated into characteristic behavior patterns that identify them as group members, create solidarity, help them manage stress, and distinguish them from those not in the group. These patterns, which are observable in everything from dress to discourse, from jokes and songs and stories to institutional memory, comprise the capacious “it” that members perform the Army way or, if they are in another service branch, according to the customs and traditions of that branch. Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines: each has its own occupational folklore—and there are often specialized variants of that lore at unit levels, such as among Army nurses or Navy Seals.

Examples of military folklore are scattered throughout the vast literature on war and warriors, going back to Homer and the Old Norse sagas; indeed, it would be difficult to write about any military activity without reference to warriors’ vernacular speech, dress, daily routines, customs, and traditions. But as a subject inviting academic exploration in its own right, this particular form of occupational folklore, at least in English, has entered the scholarly purview only fairly recently. Tristram Coffin’s analytical index

1. Tristram P. Coffin, An Analytical Index to the Journal of American Folklore (Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, 1958).

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