When do the presidents say hello

"There is something childish about it"

Is it appropriate for a civilian to salute militarily with a dog under his arm? Hardly likely. Unless the civilian is President of the United States and the pooch is Barney.

Is it appropriate for a civilian to salute militarily with a dog under his arm? Hardly likely. Unless the civilian is President of the United States and the pooch is Barney.

Like masters, Barney has many advantages over his fellow dogs. The two-and-a-half-year-old Scottish Terrier prefers to play a few tennis balls with the president with his own website (“Barney Cam” *). But Barney is also fully concentrated when he is allowed to receive the military honors: in each case before departure to one of the Bush’s weekend residences or when returning to the White House, for example.

As respectful as the president, who usually tucks the cute black animal under his left arm and puts his right hand to his temple in a military salute, Barney then accepts the salute of the rigid naval honor guards. No barking, no growling, no whining. The pooch knows the protocol. One would think so.

In fact, there is no protocol that imposes such military formality on George W. Bush, with or without a dog. And if there were, it would have to go straight ahead and declare the presidential salute improper. Because the old Prussian etiquette is still valid in the civilized world, as demonstrated by Theodor Weyler in 1886 in his “Handbook of good tone for adolescents”: “The military greeting is not used by civilists and therefore not used by them. »

Playing soldier

"Stop this saluting, Mr. President!" Demanded the American historian and author John Lukacs recently in the New York Times. The military salute presupposes the wearing of a uniform, just like in Europe and in the USA, the conservative professor from Pennsylvania is annoyed about the conservative president in Washington, with whom he claims to have identified more than "just the disintegration of military morals". The saluting, Lukacs fears, is an expression of the increasing “militarization of the American presidency”.

For almost two hundred years, the presidents, although constitutionally high commanders of the armed forces, had strictly striven for civilian manners - knowing full well that the primacy of civilian over military leadership was the immovable principle of the founding fathers of the United States of America. It was Ronald Reagan who first introduced the military salute as a presidential greeting. Apparently this was so convincing that even the Democrat Bill Clinton formally saluted the soldiers. Although never with as much verve and enthusiasm as George W. Bush Jr. "There's something childish about Bush's salutes," says Professor Lukacs. “It looks like the joyful gesture of someone who likes to play a soldier. And above all, it is the overemphasis on the military role of the presidency. "

The military pose of the incumbent boss in the White House, which is unusual among civilian leaders, was also noticed in the Ministry of Defense in Bern. "Federal Councilor Schmid would never do that," replied VBS spokesman Martin Bühler, almost indignant, when asked whether the Swiss military minister occasionally made a military salute.

Without any ifs or buts, Colonel Albrecht Ringgenberg, head of the Swiss military protocol, confirms that, according to the rules of conduct of international diplomacy, “the military salute is reserved for military personnel”. Even when walking through the guard of honor, greeting by the laying on of hands is improper for civilians, i.e. for presidents, ministers and diplomats. Military honors or decorations would generally only be returned or greeted by civilians with a nod of the head or a slight bow. In the USA in particular there is even a special salute for civilians: right hand on heart. If he were to be greeted militarily by a civilian, he would find it strange, Colonel General Staff Ringgenberg implied.

Darling of the troop

In the United States, George W. Bush is widely praised for his military formality, especially by the conservative media. There are detailed articles circulating on the Internet about the special military-formal grant that the uniformed corps sends to the incumbent chairman in the White House. “Most people wouldn't notice, but the military would see it at first sight,” enthuses the Internet publication “Patriots' Herald”: “When President Bush leaves his helicopter or“ Airforce one ”, the guardsmen greet him head-on when he gets out, they turn their face to him as he walks past them and finally salute his back when he walks away. " You didn't see anything like that under Clinton. Back then, the soldiers only said hello because it was their duty. Turning or greeting the presidential back, on the other hand, was not required and was therefore not done at Clinton.

In most armies, saluting is a strictly regulated military form - and as such an “expression of togetherness and military order”, as stipulated, for example, in the service regulations of the Swiss Army. The salute arose from the gesture with which a knight wanted to show that he had come with an unarmed hand, i.e. with peaceful intent. In this way, military formalists also justify why the subordinate must greet first: because the greeting puts the person in a worse position to attack. The military salute also corresponds to the handle with which the knights opened their visors in order to identify themselves. The open visor also enabled eye contact, which was only allowed for free men. Only they were allowed to carry weapons. When a prince recruited people for a campaign, he is said to have ridden through the people with his visor open, and those capable of weapons "reported" for service by looking him in the eyes, it is said. Slaves and serfs were not allowed to look up. Eye contact has survived as a military ritual to this day: When marching past the superior, military associations salute with all soldiers turning their heads synchronously in his direction.

Lots of unexplained wars

The military salute therefore only made sense among knights and soldiers. Only those who wore weapons, armor or a uniform had to show by raising their hand that they had come without the will to aggression, i.e. with peaceful intentions.

Civilians, on the other hand, are unarmed anyway. The salute of a state president is therefore alien to the system - even if, as in the USA, he is in charge of the army and navy. Especially since the Constitutional Fathers deliberately delegated command to a democratically elected civilian and not to a general or admiral.

Apparently, the constitution makers of 1787 did not believe that the military would ever play a major role in the United States. They did not even devote a whole paragraph in the constitution to the command of the armed forces. In addition, they reduced the presidential powers as warlords by granting the right to declare wars exclusively to Congress. With moderate success, however: while historians have since counted over 300 major and minor emergencies such as wars, campaigns, "police actions" or other military actions by the USA, the representatives of the people in Washington only passed five formal declarations of war: 1812 against Great Britain, 1846 against Mexico, 1898 against Spain, 1917 against Germany and the Central Powers - and finally in 1941 against Japan and other Axis powers.

Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has lost over half a million soldiers in military actions, although legally they were never at war. For example, since the undeclared Vietnam War, American presidents have sent troops to Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, the Persian Gulf and Iraq, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and Iraq without Congress ever formally declaring a war.

* www.whitehouse.gov / kids / barney