The goose step is a special marching step performed on formal military parades and other ceremonies. While marching in parade formation, troops swing their legs in unison high off the ground, while keeping their legs straight and unbent.
Originating in Prussian military drill in the mid-18th century, the step was called the Stechschritt (literally, "piercing step") or Stechmarsch. Although "goose step" is a pejorative term in English, it is used officially by the armed forces of the nearly 50 countries that maintain the tradition.
Like other march steps, the "Stechschritt" originated in the 18th century as a method to keep troops lined up properly as they advanced towards enemy lines. It was introduced into German military tradition by Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, a Field Marshal whose close attention to training transformed the Prussian infantry into one of the most formidable armed forces in Europe. Other armies adopted different march steps which served the same purpose: in the British Army, soldiers were trained to swing their arms in a wide arc to allow officers to keep the advancing line in order.
By the mid-19th century, the widespread replacement of muskets with rifles, with their greater range and accuracy, made the practice of marching forward into battle in precise formation obsolete. However, armed forces continued to drill recruits in marching techniques that now had only a ceremonial function. This was true in Prussia and the later German Empire, where the goose step became emblematic of military discipline and efficiency.
Historian Norman Davies explains the complicated action:
- The lines of jack-booted soldiers were trained to point their toes on every upward beat, raising their legs to a high horizontal position. In order to keep their balance, they had to lean forward, swinging their arms like cantilevers, and holding their chins and a characteristic jutting posture. Since every step required enormous effort, the musical tempo had to be moderate to slow; and the march was performed with a grim, deliberate air of latent menace. Fierce facial expressions were an essential adjunct to the soldiers exertions.
The goose step is a difficult marching style that takes much practice and coordination. It is therefore reserved for ceremonial occasions today.
Goose stepping is often seen in military parades. Because it is difficult to maintain for long periods of time, troops will only begin to goose-step when they approach the reviewing stand, and will switch back to their normal march step once they have marched past. Large military parades require several days of practice to ensure that troops can perform the goose step without injuring themselves. Preparatory training includes having soldiers march in small groups, sometimes with arms linked to maintain balance.
Honour guards also use the goose step during solemn ceremonies, such as at war memorials or military cemeteries. It has been featured in several Olympic opening ceremonies held in countries that use the goose step, as military units pay respect to the Olympic flag as they would their own flag.
In the most rigorous form of goose stepping, often found in guard mounting ceremonies, the pace is usually done at a slow march and the leg is raised horizontally. In a modified form of the goose step that is often found in large military parades, the pace usually done at a quick march and the leg is raised only to knee-height, or even to calf height. This makes it easier to maintain balance and unit cohesion at the standard march tempo of 120 paces per minute. Flagbearers and honor guards will frequently march with a higher goose step than the mass of troops following.
The goose step became widespread in militaries around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. Military modernization and political influence carried the practice to Asia, Africa, and Latin America from its origins in Prussia and Russia.
The first wave of adoption took place in the late 19th century, as the Prussian army became greatly admired for its complete victory in the Franco-Prussian War. This led many countries to modernize their military forces along the Prussian model. The Chilean Army was the first non-European country army to adopt the goose step, importing many Prussian military traditions after the War of the Pacific. The practice of goose stepping then spread widely throughout Latin America thanks to Chilean and Prussian influence. Goose stepping continued to gain ground even after Germany's defeat in World War I, as many nations still looked to the German model for military organization and training.
The Russian Empire adopted the goose step during the 1796–1801 reign of Paul I. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union trained the military forces of many of its client states with Soviet military drill and ceremonial practices. This led to the second great wave of adoption, as the goose step was adopted in many Third World countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The goose step is a feature of military ceremonies in dozens of countries, to varying extents.
- Bolivia practices the waist-high form of goose stepping, even in military parades. This is made possible by using a slower march pace than other militaries.
- Chile uses the Prussian form of the goose step essentially unaltered.
- The Czech Republic uses a very mild form of the goose step at honor guard ceremonies, with the foot raised only a few centimeters off the ground. It is not found during military parades, however.
- In Poland, it is difficult to tell whether the goose step is actively used or not. It sometimes appears during military parades when officers seem to raise their foot higher and during honor guard ceremonies, and other times does not appear during these events.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Namibia was a German colony before World War I. Its current use of the goose step dates back to the Namibian War of Independence, when SWAPO forces were backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba.
- Tanzania was ruled by Germany and by Britain prior to independence. It was aligned with the socialist side during the Cold War, and its military forces were influenced by China and the Soviet Union. Tanzania currently uses the goose step alongside an otherwise-British military drill.
Middle East and Central Asia
- Lebanon uses French military drill. However, the Hezbollah paramilitary forces use the goose step, as they have been trained and supplied by Iran.
East Asia and Southeast Asia
- The Republic of China adopted the goose step from its German military advisors in the 1920s. The practice continued despite American military aid and the government's move to Taiwan after its defeat in the Chinese Civil War. However, the goose step has become less visible recently, as the formal military parade on Double Ten Day has given way to a less ceremonial parade. The Chinese term for the goose step, 正步 (zhèng bù), literally translates as "straight march" or "upright march".
- The People's Republic of China inherited the goose step from its predecessor, as Nationalist troops trained in the goose step were absorbed into the Communist armies. However, the practice did not become universal in the People's Liberation Army until the mid-1950s, under Soviet military influence.
- Myanmar uses British military drill. However, the ethnic Kachin, Kokang, Shan, and Wa insurgents in northern Myanmar use the goose step, as their military leadership descends from communist guerillas that had been trained by China in the 1960s.
- North Korea
- Vietnam received Chinese and Soviet military aid during the Vietnam War. North Vietnam had already begun adopting the goose step by 1954, when the victory at Dien Bien Phu was celebrated with a military parade in Hanoi. This practice continues on in Vietnam today.
As a ceremonial march that requires substantial training, the goose-step is often abandoned in times of war as more pressing needs occupy the available training time. Opinion on the goose-step was divided even in the German Wehrmacht, which curtailed its use after the fall of France in 1940. Later in the war, the goose step nearly disappeared because of manpower shortages, accelerated courses in basic training, and a paucity of appropriate occasions.
After WWII, West Germany opted for an American-style march step. Conversely, the German Democratic Republic preserved the goose step in a modified form, renamed the "drilling step" (Exerzierschritt) to avoid references to old Prussian and Wehrmacht military traditions. The longstanding German tradition of goose stepping finally ended with German reunification in 1990, as East German forces were absorbed into the Bundeswehr and conformed to West German military customs.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia adopted the goose step shortly after World War II, as its army was modernized along Soviet lines. Goose stepping can be seen in the 1950 military parade in the capital Belgrade. However, it had disappeared by the 1975 parade, as Marshal Tito asserted his independence from Soviet influence.
During the Zimbabwean War of Liberation, ZIPRA was trained and supplied by the Warsaw Pact, adopting East German uniforms and the goose step. After independence, however, the unified Zimbabwean Army standardized on British marching style.
Association with dictatorship
The goose step was especially ridiculed by Allied propaganda during the world wars of the 20th century as a symbol of blind obedience and senseless attachment to military form. In the United States and Great Britain, the custom became virtually synonymous with German militarism. During WWII, it was condemned in George Orwell's essay The Lion and the Unicorn, and proved an easy target for parody in many editorial cartoons and Hollywood movies.
In English-speaking countries World War II propaganda has indelibly associated the goose step with fascism. There, and sometimes elsewhere in the West, it is invoked as a reference to Nazism, fascism, communism, or militarism in general.
- George Orwell commented in "Why I Write" (1946) that the goose step was used only in countries where the population was too scared to laugh at their military.
- In the film and concert of Pink Floyd's The Wall, a famous scene includes animated goose-stepping hammers.
- In the British sitcom Fawlty Towers, the main character Basil Fawlty infamously imitates the goose step in front of some German guests. In turn, it is an exaggeration of John Cleese's "ministry of silly walks" stride gag from Monty Pythons Flying Circus.
- In Walt Disney film The Lion King during the musical sequence "Be Prepared", a rally of Scar's Hyena henchmen are shown goose-stepping to the song.
- Zim, in the show Invader Zim, walks with a goose step as his normal walking mechanism.
- José in the show Cybersix, regularly walks with a goose step in reference to his and his father's Nazi roots.
- On the back cover of the album Bear's Choice, the Dancing Bears are engaged in an exaggerated goose-step march.
- In a 1999 television adaptation of Orwell's Animal Farm, the goose step is appropriately performed by a flock of geese, singing the praises of their porcine leader Napoleon in a propaganda film.
- The militarised cockroaches in The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers cartoons march in goose step.
In colloquial English, the phrase goose-stepping has connotations of blind obedience and submittance without any criticism, and being in favour of militaristic, inhumane or totalitarian regimes. The goose step does not carry this negative connotation elsewhere. This sometimes results in inaccurate conclusions being drawn by English-speaking observers.
- In Spartacus, a ballet by Aram Khachaturian, the Roman soldiers goose-step in most of their scenes. English-speaking reviewers sometimes conclude erroneously that the choreography must be intending to link the Roman Empire with the tyranny of Nazi Germany. However, goose-stepping in Russia carries no such connotation, and reflects only military discipline. Goose-stepping can be found in a number of Russian ballets in which it is not associated with the villains.
- Norman Davies (1996). Europe: A History. Oxford UP. p. 612.
- Haythornthwaite, Philip J. (1987). The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars: Infantry, 1799-1814. Osprey Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 978-0850457377.
- Wollenberg, Erich. "The Red Army".
- "Doom Of 'Goose-Step' Sought By Nazi Military Officials", The Baltimore Sun, Jun 6, 1937. p. 19
- "Swiss Army Drops Goosestep," Associated Press, February 28, 1946.
- Petter-Bowyer, Peter J.H. Winds of destruction: the autobiography of a Rhodesian combat pilot. Johannesburg: 30° South Publishers, 2005. p.382.
- Siff, Peter. Cry Zimbabwe: Independence -- Twenty Years on. Galago, 2000. p. 97.
- Time magazine, Feb. 7, 1938
- "Bolshoi in DC -- Nutcracker". Ballet Alert!. Retrieved June 27, 2013.
- Norman Davies (1996). Europe: A History. Oxford UP. p. 612.
- this article contains text originally from the May 25 version of the corresponding German Wikipedia article.
- Marching Orders - Mark Scheffler, Slate.com (Jan, 2003).
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