A brief history of military humor on the Internet.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
April 30 2010 12:31 PM

War Is Gaga

A brief history of soldiers posting ridiculous dance routines on the Internet.

(Continued from Page 1)

Wash only 15 items of laundry per week. Roll up the semi-wet clean clothes in a ball. Place them in a cloth sack in the corner of the garage where the cat pees. After a week, unroll them and without ironing or removing the mildew, proudly wear them to professional meetings and family gatherings. Pretend you don't know what you look or smell like. Enthusiastically repeat the process for another week.

Another e-mail forward gives a good idea of how troops in Afghanistan perceive their Islamist foes. A sample: "You maybe Taliban if … You refine heroin for a living, but you have a moral objection to beer" or "You have more wives than teeth." The coarser jokes reflect the mood among troops in wartime. As Marine reservist Kim put it: "A sense of humor is something you need out there, although the sense of humor we have amongst the military rubs off civilians wrong—especially liberals. Then again there's a lot of self-deprecating humor about the military you hear all the time because it comes from frustrations people have within the system let alone being in the warzone."

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Of course, a darker side sometimes comes out as well. One widely circulated photo shows artillery with "Iraq Photo's (sic): Look Here, Smile, Wait for Flash" written on armor immediately below. A widely circulated video on YouTube shows troops jokingly threatening children with hand grenades. Another video, "Funny American Soldier fucking with Muslims Arabs," shows a soldier bellowing a profanity-riddled, Mohammed-insulting parody of the Muslim call to prayer into a megaphone. In 2005, a 26-minute video titled "Ramadi Madness" was created by members of a Florida National Guard unit that sparked suspicions of enemy prisoner abuse when not showing "two soldiers pretend to choke a third soldier with a plastic handcuff" and a "haji cat." Alternately, the argument has been made that some of the infamous Abu Ghraib photos were humorously intended.

However, these outliers are exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of military humor on the Internet is crude, goofy, and lowbrow—not criminal. It's hard for many of us to understand what's happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. For the price of watching a three-minute YouTube video or clicking through a Marine's Flickr gallery, we're able to briefly immerse ourselves in another world. The smell of gunfire and the sound of broken windows may not travel, but dirty jokes and homemade music videos certainly can.

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Clarification, May 10, 2010: Stars & Stripes is editorially independent of the U.S.
government and publishes without interference from the military or any outside organization. However,
Stars & Stripes' position as an organized newspaper with an editorial staff is what differentiates it from the comparatively uncontrolled environments of YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites. (Return to the original sentence.)

Neal Ungerleider is a New York-based journalist who has traveled extensively in the Middle East. He writes about the region for True/Slant.