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All about the military salute

All about the military salute

The military salute has been around for thousands of years. It is a sign of politeness and a symbol of solidarity between corps members. Used by many officers, soldiers and other military personnel, this gesture has several distinctive features.

This tradition, practiced all over the world, nevertheless varies according to country and culture. But where does it come from? Here's what you need to know.

History of the military salute

The origins of the military salute date back to antiquity. Back then, when soldiers met, they saluted each other face-to-face, raising their right hands with palms wide open. A gesture of fraternity that signaled the absence of weapons. Over time, the practice was passed on to other generations of militia and army forces.

Later, in the Middle Ages, this sign of peace underwent a minor evolution. When two army officers crossed paths, they were systematically required to remove their visors with their right hands to salute each other. Around the XVIIᵉ century, the military salute became associated with a sign of patriotism and loyalty to the national flag.

Military salute performed by an army soldier

Military salutes in the contemporary era

Today, the military salute is associated with a gesture of respect. Armed forces, troops and combatants use it to salute the ranks of their admiral or lieutenant, for example. However, a member of the regiment will not salute an ally by raising his hand to his temple if he is armed. In this case, you'll have to make what's known as a "coup de bouc". This gesture consists in stealthily raising the chin while looking into the eyes of the person being saluted.

In theFrench army, the military salute is performed with a visible palm. This is not the case with the Germans and Americans. In these countries, the palm must be concealed by turning it downwards. This practice is part of a naval custom. In the past, members of the French navy used this military sign to camouflage the tar of the caulker.

French soldiers performing the military salute

What's the point of the military salute?

Whether in France or other countries, the military sign has a fraternal character. It is a gesture of courtesy and a mark of friendship specific to members of the army (combatants, non-commissioned officers, marines, chiefs of staff, reservists...). The military salute is also a sign of attachment to one's country.

Persons authorized to perform the military salute

Military and government corps are the only ones entitled to perform a military salute. In fact, this gesture is part of the savoir-vivre of soldiers and war fighters. It is therefore practiced by members of the Army, Navy and Marines. It is also common practice among gendarmes, firefighters and veterans in certain circumstances.

Officer performing the military salute

When should you perform a military salute?

The military salute can be performed as part of official ceremonies (presentation of medals, raising of the flag, burial of an army commander...). Sometimes, however, soldiers are not authorized to perform the military salute. This is particularly the case when they are armed. There's no need to put the weapon down before performing the military salute. In such cases, the soldier must simply refrain from saluting. 

The same applies to army waiters who do not wear headgear. However, if the situation permits, they may still perform the salute, provided they adopt a comfortable position in respect of their fellow soldiers. Finally, soldiers are not allowed to perform a military salute when in civilian dress.Uniforms must be worn for this practice. 

A custom that varies from country to country

Army policy differs from country to country. This is why the military salute is not the same for everyone. Generally speaking, soldiers salute by raising their right hand towards their head, following the extension of the forearm.

According to the Army Infantry Book, the salute is performed briskly, with the head held high, gazing into the other's eyes. At the end of the salute, the commander quickly lowers his hand and returns to his starting position. However, the military salute varies from nation to nation.

Military salute by American soldiers

The American military salute

This military salute is one of the best-known gestures, as it is often featured in American feature films. It is also frequently used by the American head of state during public speeches. Depending on the corps involved, this gesture will undergo a number of variations. The best-known is the flat hand gesture towards the headgear. The palm of the hand points downwards, and the elbow is just below the shoulder. 

The British military salute

For the English, the military salute is a mark of attachment to the royal tribe. The salute of the Marines, for example, is similar to that of the Americans, the only difference being that the soldier is allowed to use the other hand if the right hand is occupied. For officers in the British Air Force, the military salute is made with a slight clap of the left hand at the hip.

A British soldier's military salute

The Turkish military salute

For Turkish officers, the military salute is performed with the elbow below the shoulder and the hand at face level. In this country, however, this gesture has its own distinctive feature. The fingers must be above the right eye, and the hand must be horizontal.

The Polish military salute

In Poland, the military salute has an important historical significance. It is performed with the middle and index fingers held up to the temple. Soldiers must then join the thumb to the ring finger, and the palm of the hand must face forward. This military salute is known as the most surprising of all.

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John - December 13, 2023

A soldier, armed with a handgun (pistol...) and when the weapon is holstered, can perform the salute!

CHERSOULY - November 15, 2023

Why don't you talk about the French military salute?

GIRARD - November 11, 2023

Those authorized to perform the military salute are the army, navy and air force, not the navy.

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