As awful as war is now, it can't compare to the conflicts of centuries ago, when you had a great chance of dying from infection, cold, or the plague, even if you never came within sight of a battlefield. Did the fact that Army life back then was a never-ending parade of sickness and starvation kill the desire for wacky battlefield shenanigans? Not in the slightest.
"Pull my finger."
During the American Revolution, for instance, soldiers weren't always the most professional (mainly because they weren't professionals), which wasn't helped by the fact that they often went without pay, and their commanding officers were often stuffy, wealthy types. So the relationship often resembled what you saw between the students and principal in The Breakfast Club. There were ridiculous conflicts over the rules about how hats were to be worn, and soldiers got revenge by pulling childish pranks, like tying a hunk of burning straw to an officer's horse to make it freak out. It was basically high school, is what we're saying.
"I say we light Colonel Fuckingham's wig on fire next."
Which brings us to one of the most Breakfast Club-ish examples of this behavior. There was at the time a standing order to not fire muskets in camp -- powder and shot were for war, not fun, and they didn't have unlimited amounts of either. However, it was also a rule that a soldier named Joseph Plumb Martin decided would be perfect for driving the officers crazy. All he needed was a loaded musket, some string, and a place to hide ... all three of which were pretty easy to come by in a military camp.
Once they were ready, a musket was loaded with the string connected to the trigger and placed inside an empty tent. Martin pulled the string, the weapon discharged, and the officers proceeded to go apeshit looking for the person responsible. Unable to locate the violator, they went back to officer-ing, and Martin rigged up another surprise. Moments later, the officers were once again on the hunt for the joker who was making a mockery of the standing orders. They proceeded to do this all through the night.
"Oh, man. Dude, look what I just found. This one is going to be epic!"
Then everyone probably had a good laugh before dying of malaria.
Contrary to what you see in movies, in war you can't just start shooting the hell out of every enemy you see. Soldiers are operating under rules of engagement that actually change depending on the mission. And during Vietnam, the ROE sometimes put troops in a situation where they couldn't shoot unless the enemy shot at them first. And the enemy knew it.
"Come at me, bro. Too pussy to take a shot? I'm right here."
So during one mission in 1971, first lieutenant Gordon Evans was flying a small propeller-driven scout plane and saw some North Vietnamese soldiers he wanted to shoot. His four machine guns would do the job beautifully. Except the darn rules of engagement said the soldiers had to fire at him first, and here is where you realize that war is fucking madness.
In order to get the enemy to shoot at him, Evans went in low, intentionally trying to provide a juicy target. No dice -- they just watched him fly by. He went around again, slower this time, deliberately trying to get the men on the ground with machine guns to try to murder him.
"Next pass, I'm gonna fly real low and cockslap the shit outta 'em."
Again, they refrained.
Finally, Evans decided he'd give them a target they couldn't resist. He came around again, landing gear down, full flaps, landing lights -- the equivalent of a "SHOOT ME DAMN IT" neon sign on his aircraft.
This time he got a reaction: Several dudes shot him ... the moon. They knew exactly what he was doing and were too smart to take the bait. So, in true "war is just high school with more guns" style, they dropped trou and full-on mooned him.
"Now quickly, storm the beaches! Saturate it with your powers of smartass. And regular ass!"
Prince Henry Charles of Wales, affectionately known as Prince Harry, is a popular British "royal" who is third in line for the crown and is respected and admired in England, in part because he eschewed the posh life of traveling and going to university in favor of enrolling in the British military. But in 2012, he got in a bit of hot water when a party he attended in Las Vegas got a little out of hand and some photos of him sans clothing turned up on the Internet.
Instead of being embarrassed or angry, however, over 13,000 people joined a Facebook page called "Support Prince Harry With a Naked Salute." Standing in solidarity with the prince, who was subject to be reprimanded when he returned to the Army Air Corps, British soldiers stripped down and saluted him while taking pictures.
"This is my rifle; this is my gun ... wait, which is which again?"
The photos showed female as well as male participants, many of whom abhorred the idea of posing in a state of undress on the Internet, but damn it, they just had to express their support. And what else are they going to do, sign a petition?
"To be perfectly honest, we were doing this long before we heard about the Prince Harry thing."
Although no one was likely disciplined for the stunt, army commanders didn't approve. One source told a British newspaper, "Everyone sees the funny side but there are people at senior levels in the army who do not consider this to be appropriate. They will be thinking 'Does this really show us in the professional light we want to be seen in?'" And really, when have soldiers ever acted unprofessionally?
Douglas A. McDonnell also enjoys participating in our Photoplasty contests. Xavier Jackson has an email at XavierJacksonCracked@gmail.com, and he also has a "Fun Fact of the Day" on his Facebook page.
For more people enjoying themselves just a little too much during war, check out The 6 Coolest Things Said by Soldiers Before Killing People and The 10 Greatest Uses of Trash Talk in the History of War.