Let's face it: Being a warrior for a Native American tribe in an era when the white man was steamrolling his way westward was already kind of a shitty job. You're part of a long, horrible, doomed war against a technologically superior opponent you don't completely understand. And, on some level, you know that in the future Kevin Costner is going to make a condescending movie about you.
Up yours, Costner.
But there also comes a time in a young warrior's life when his superiors would say, "We need you to charge through the enemy's lines, dodge their gunfire and bayonets, and poke one of their soldiers with this here dull stick."
The Plains Indians called it counting coup, and it was basically a way to prove yourself in battle. You had to go in and touch the enemy with your coup-stick, and get out. If you did it successfully, you got an eagle feather in your head dress telling everyone you were a badass. If you got wounded in the process, you had to paint the feather red -- you lost points for that. If you got killed, well, that was that.
Keep in mind, there was no ceremonial purpose to this -- as in, they didn't believe the coup stick was magical or that it would curse the enemy or that it was good luck. It was just for bragging rights. Only, to be fully accepted by the tribe, you had to do it. Everybody would sit around after the battle and count coups. You certainly didn't want to be the guy sitting on a goose egg.
There were other ways to get points -- such as stealing an enemy's weapon, or touching an enemy's horse while it was tied up at their camp. Seriously, the Indians treated war like a video game, and the coups were their Xbox achievement points.
"Alright, who has the bag of poop? I'm gonna make a run for the fort."
In 1942, Joseph Stalin established Order 227 to make it clear that no commander or soldier fighting in the war had the authority to retreat in battle. And anyone who defied the order would be eligible to serve in something called "penal battalions." These separate units of convicts and rejects were intentionally sent to do the shittiest and most suicidal jobs in the war. They were to be sacrificed so as not to risk "real" soldiers.
Thus, penal battalions were composed of gulag labor camp inmates, disgraced soldiers accused of cowardice and liberated POWs. You read that right ... their own POWs were punished for their stupidity of getting caught by having to serve in penal battalions, and that's if they weren't executed on the spot after liberation. So why not just run away? Because backing them up were barrier troops who were there for no other reason than to kill soldiers who tried to retreat.
Otherwise known as, "the second crappiest job ever".
So, for instance, the first penal unit was deployed on the Stalingrad front in advance of the invading Germans. Of the 929 disgraced officers who were sent, 300 survived. Some soldiers who actually had been sentenced to death penalty were instead assigned to one of these battalions -- everyone involved knew it was basically the same thing.
Pictured: Not a safe place.
It's hard to nail down what exactly was the worst job for a penal battalion member. Mine-clearing has to be way up there -- and it almost certainly had the shortest life expectancy. Among them were people whose job it was to just dig up the mines and hope they didn't explode in their faces, but then there were the "tramplers" -- guys who ran ahead of advancing troops, with the intention of tripping any mines that might be up there. If you did your job well, you'd wind up in bloody chunks scattered all over the battlefield.
So, yeah, you'd definitely hate to be one of the unlucky few who served in the -- wait, what's that? Over 400,000 troops had to serve in the penal units?
That is hard core, ladies and gentlemen. We don't know if we should be more amazed that the Soviets ever lost a battle, or that they ever managed to win one.
For people who made Rambo-ade out of their shitty wartime jobs, check out 5 Real Life Soldiers Who Make Rambo Look Like a Pussy. Or, for proof that old-timey folk didn't need war to give kids shitty jobs, check out The 6 Worst Jobs Ever (Were Done by Children).
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