War is hell, but it is a hell that historically is made up almost entirely of young, high-testosterone males. And no matter what the setting, when you get a bunch of dudes together in the same place, shenanigans will ensue. That's why the horrific history of warfare is littered with wacky pranks that are alternately admirable and utterly insane, making us think that war is really just high school with bombs. How else do you explain things like ...
With World War II raging in Europe, the Germans were fighting a losing battle. They needed to look more powerful than they actually were, so they came up with an ingenious solution: build a bunch of fake airfields out of wooden decoys. It's not as stupid as it sounds; a good fake can look just like the real thing from 30,000 feet.
This is a remnant of one. We're pretty sure it's now just filled with used condoms and homemade crack pipes.
But in fact, the Allies soon realized that all of those airfields, complete with runways, fake aircraft, and buildings, were nothing more than elaborate props that could be defeated by an army of termites. The only thing left was to figure out the best way to let the Germans know that they weren't fooling anyone (in the most sarcastic way possible).
So the Allies flew bombing raids over these fake wooden airfields, presumably sending the German fake (wooden?) ground crews scrambling for cover. After several intense minutes in which nothing happened, the Germans finally realized what the Allies were doing: They were dropping fake wooden bombs on them.
"We need a volunteer for a highly classified mission. Who's good with a lathe?"
Just to make it absolutely clear to the Germans what was going on, many of these bombs had the phrase "Wood for Wood" painted on them. Yes, what the military calls "psychological warfare," the rest of us call "being a smartass."
Have you ever watched a cop movie where the hunt for some serial killer gets interrupted by a pissing match between the cops and some other agency, like the FBI? You know, where the feds are asserting "jurisdiction" in order to get all the credit for catching the bad guy? Did you find yourself thinking that the whole thing was ridiculous, as if nobody in the real world would actually put the mission aside over some dumb rivalry? Just wait until you hear about the pissing match between the U.S. Marines and the Navy frogmen.
People always think the Marines were the first ones to hit the beaches in World War II, but there was an elite group of Navy sailors who actually went to the beaches first to scout them out. They were known as the frogmen, and they were basically the Navy SEALs of World War II.
"War is that way. Here's your Speedo."
Being the predecessors to bin Laden killers, the frogmen had a reputation they took quite a bit of pride in -- so the frogmen wanted to make it abundantly clear to the Marines who exactly was at the beach first. And after the Marines bragged that they would totally be first, the completely mature frogmen planned a prank to prove the Marines wrong.
So, on one mission in Guam, several of the frogmen scurried up onto the beach in full view of the enemy. With bullets and death quickly reaching them, they hastily left something behind and got out of there. They had risked their lives so that when the Marines invaded Guam later, they would find a certain sign waiting for them:
"We'll be in town getting syphilis long before you pull out your filthy Marine junk."
Yep, it's a hand-painted sign planted in the middle of a war zone, taunting their fellow soldiers for coming in second place in the race to get to a spot where they were likely to die. We're telling you -- war does funny things to people.
Naturally, the frogmen's commanding officer was pissed off and reprimanded the men. And then proceeded to brag about the incident to Marine generals later.
"It was a dangerous and stupid stunt, and- wait, this isn't a person I'm yelling at. Oh, you wacky frogmen!"
In 1979, the British comedy film Life of Brian was released. Among its more famous sequences is when Brian is left to be crucified, and a soon-to-be-dead Eric Idle starts singing a song about always looking on the bright side of life, aptly named "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." The song caught on in popular media and, of course, war zones.
In 1982, the Falklands War was raging between Argentina and the United Kingdom. On the fourth of May, an Argentinian jet unleashed a lethal Exocet missile onto the British ship the HMS Sheffield. The ship was destroyed, and the crew was left to sit and wait for rescue. Sensing an abrupt drop of morale, the crew decided to cheer themselves up by singing. Appropriately, they sang "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." And this, it turns out, would begin a truly insane tradition among British troops.
"It's going down! Quick, break out the emergency karaoke machine!"
A month later, the HMS Coventry was bombarded and eventually sunk. Sitting in the water while watching their ship flip over and fall to the depths, the crew could think of nothing better to do than sing a wonderfully ironic tune to cheer themselves back up. And stick it to the enemy as well.
Nearly a decade later, the tradition still hadn't died out. In 1991, during the Gulf War, British Tornado bombers often had the most dangerous missions. They were flying hazardous low-level bombing runs on Iraqi airfields in a storm of anti-aircraft fire. Every time they went up, they knew there was a good chance they might not return, so they needed something cheerful to send themselves off. Which is why they sang "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."