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Posted at: Dec 6, 2018, 10:40 PM; last updated: Dec 6, 2018, 11:17 PM (IST)

Uniformly humorous

Comic strips, one-liners, parodies, and many more... humour in uniform has entertained readers across generations
Uniformly humorous
Illustration: Sandeep Joshi

Aradhika Sharma

Why are most faujis so humorous?” I enquired of Brig Neeraj Parashar. He responded: “Well, since a fauji’s role is to die for the country with a smile, he may as well practice the smile throughout his life. He certainly can’t practice  death!”

“On a more serious note, however”, he continues “since the protection of the country’s borders, even at the cost of their lives, is a prerequisite of the job, humour is a natural defence mechanism for the soldier. An attitude of nonchalance towards life makes the possibility of sudden death or disability less morbid and the daily rigours of fauji life, more endurable.” Armymen know that humour is the best antidote to melancholy, sadness, stress and depression, helping in elevating the mood and diffusing tense situations. A sense of humour indicates high emotional quotient and is a recognised leadership quality for military leaders.

There is an entire sub-section of literature devoted to Army humour. Reams have been written about humour in uniform, mostly by the faujis themselves. The internet has pages devoted to comicality in the army. Army humour appears as comic strips, one-liners, quips, jokes, parody, ridicule, pranks, double entendre and, of course, the famous “barracks jokes”, which are essentially bawdy jokes, rhymes and songs. Some of the milder jokes that have cracked up generations of people are:

What branch of the military do babies join?

The infantry!

What don’t you say to a marine?

I thought you had to be in relatively good physical condition to join the Marine Corps.

What happened to the soldier who went to the enemy bar?

He got bombed.

Reader’s Digest has been running “Humor in Uniform”, the hugely popular column now known as “Offbase”, which has been appearing for half a century and has published “more than 3,500 jokes, quotes, and funny stories from the more than a million readers who have submitted them.” These were compiled into a book with the same name. Several long-running cartoon strips have been based on the funnies in the Army. Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey (begun on September 4, 1950), set in a United States Army military post where several maladroit soldiers are stationed, was a popular comic strip. Also noteworthy are George Baker’s Sad Sack, Dave Breger’s Private Breger and William Henry “Bill” Mauldin’s Willie & Joe, to name just a few. Hank Ketcham’s strip of Navy humor, was distributed by King Features Syndicate from 1970 to 1975. Nguyen Charlie by Corky Trinidad (later compiled into a book, Nguyen Charlie Encores) was a Vietnam war comic strip. The best Ordnance cartoons came from Sergeant Robert Vittur, USMCR, who found humour in the riskiest of occupations, bomb disposal. He created the popular EOD cartoon character, Mulvaney. 

World War II demanded immense perseverance and courage from most American soldiers and gave birth to a lot of authors among whom was former soldier, Spike Milligan who wrote Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, Rommel? Gunner Who?, Goodbye Soldier and Mussolini: His Part In My Downfall. The bestseller Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. It mainly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a US Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. 

MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors and the series of M*A*S*H books that followed were written by Richard Hooker, an American writer and surgeon. The novel was based on his own personal experiences during the Korean War at the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. 

The Virgin Soldiers by Leslie Thomas (who was briefly involved with the military action against communist rebels in the Malayan emergency) spawned two film versions.

For reasons unknown, although the Indian Army has a long tradition of repartee, humour, bawdy songs and jokes, there aren’t too many officers who have written humour. Among those who have forayed into the realms of writing are Col Sudhir Jee Sharma with Military Anecdotes: Indian Military Humour.  Sajita Nair’s debut novel For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow is an amusing take on the life of a woman officer in the Indian Army while Militarily Crazy: The Lighter Side of Life in the Indian Army by Maj Gen. Anil Sengar is a compilation of humorous real-life stories of life in the Indian Army. 

Ordered to Laugh: Essentially Indian Humour in Uniform by Sudhir Mudgal is supposedly an “authentic Indian military joke book”. Some fauji wives have also tried their hand at writing humourous books on Army life (Soldier & Spice: An Army Wife’s Life by Aditi Mathur Kumar, Fin, Feather and Field by Simren Kaur)  

A specialty of army humour are the quips and one-liners that are, in fact, pithy doses of good sense, but full of wisdom. These form an essential part of the parlance of the armed forces the world over: 

Military Expert: One who tells you what’s going to happen tomorrow - then tells you why it didn’t.

All battles are fought at the junction of two or more map sheets… printed at different scales.

Says Col Tarun Parashar: “Spontaneity and timing are essential to humour, as these are to military operations. A good joke is like a well laid ambush, sprung in time, to catch an unsuspecting audience off guard, and …well…. make them die laughing!!” 

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