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 off the ground, while keeping each leg straight and unbent.
Originating in Prussian military drill in the mid-18th century, the step was called the Stechschritt (literally, "piercing step") or Stechmarsch. German and Soviet military advisors spread the tradition throughout the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. The goose step is now used by the militaries of over seventy countries, comprising three-fifths of the world's population.
The term "goose step" originally referred to a British military drill, in which one leg at a time was swung back and forth without bending the knee. Apparently standing on only one leg reminded soldiers of how geese often stand. The term was later applied to the German march step during World War I and to the Soviet march step during the Cold War. As a result, the term has acquired a pejorative meaning in some English-speaking countries.
- 1 Ceremonial usage
- 2 History
- 3 Countries that use the goose step
- 4 High-stepping as an alternative
- 5 Abandonment
- 6 Association with dictatorship
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The goose step is a difficult marching style that takes much practice and coordination. It is therefore reserved for ceremonial occasions.
Goose stepping is often seen in military parades. Because it is difficult to maintain for long periods of time, troops only begin to goose-step when they approach the reviewing stand and return to a 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, 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 the same respect to the Olympic flag as they would to their own flag.
In the most rigorous form of the goose step, often found in guard mounting ceremonies, the pace is done at a slow march, and the leg is raised horizontal or nearly horizontal. In a standard goose step, found in large military parades, the pace is done at a quick march and the leg is raised only to knee-height, or even to calf height. The lower goose step improves balance and unit cohesion at the tempo of a quick march. Flagbearers and honor guards will frequently march with a higher goose step than the mass of troops following.
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 that 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 replacement of muskets with rifles greatly increased the accuracy of defensive fire. The practice of marching forward into battle in precise formation became hazardous and obsolete. However, armed forces continued to drill recruits in marching techniques that now focus on team building, military uniformity and ceremonial functions. This was true in Prussia and the later German Empire, where the goose step became emblematic of military discipline and efficiency.
Adoption outside Europe
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 decisive 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 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. Notably, the army of Nationalist China was trained by German advisors in the 1920s, accounting for the largest single goose-stepping military today.
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 introduced into many Third World countries in Asia and Africa.
Countries that use the goose step
The goose step is a feature of military ceremonies in dozens of countries, to varying extents. Some countries use the goose step as a general parade step performed by all troops, while others reserve it for honour guards and ceremonial units.
The goose step is very popular in Latin America, where it has been adopted by most Spanish-speaking countries. It is not found in countries where Dutch, English, or Portuguese is the official language.
- Argentina: The Infantry Company of the Colegio Militar de la Nacion uses the goose step as their parade step. Other units perform the high step.
- 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.
- El Salvador
- Haiti: The Haitian military has been dissolved. However, demobilized soldiers have formed militias that continue to drill with the goose step. The government is forming a new national military forces which is being trained by Latin American countries that use the goose step including Ecuador.
Goose-stepping is found primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, areas that were in close proximity to Germany and Russia.
- Czech Republic: A mild form of the goose step is performed by honour guards, with the foot raised only a few centimetres off the ground. It is not found at military parades, however.
- Hungary: Only color guards goose step in slow time during military ceremonies.
- Poland: Only honour guards, color guards and cadets perform the goose step in military parades and other ceremonies.
- Slovakia uses the goose step as a general parade step.
- Spain uses the goose step as a slow march for the most important ceremonies, such as royal funerals and the presentation of the colours. The goose step is not used for military parades or guard mounting ceremonies.
Most African militaries trace their adoption of the goose step to the Cold War, when the Communist countries supplied them with military aid and training. The German colonies used the goose step until World War I, when they were absorbed by the victorious Allies, but all of them restored the goose step after independence.
- Angola uses the goose step as a general parade step. The MPLA was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba during the Angolan War of Independence.
- Burkina Faso uses the goose step as a special march step for military bands and commando units. Other units do not goose-step.
- Burundi uses the goose step as a general parade step. Burundi was formerly part of German East Africa.
- Cameroon was a German colony prior to World War I.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Republic of the Congo
- Djibouti: At military parades, a horizontal goose step is performed at a slow march.
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ghana comprises the western half of the former German colony of Togoland. Only the Ghanaian Special Forces use the goose step in military parades.
- Namibia was previously known as German South-West Africa. 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.
- Rwanda uses a horizontal goose step for military parades. Rwanda was formerly part of German East Africa, and the rebels who won the Rwandan Civil War received their military training in the goose-stepping country of Uganda.
- Tanzania includes most of the former German East Africa. It was aligned with the socialist side during the Cold War, and its military forces were influenced by China and the Soviet Union. At military parades, a horizontal goose step is performed at a quick march.
- Togo comprises the eastern half of the former German colony of Togoland. Togo now uses the goose step as a general parade step, performed at a slow march.
Middle East and Central Asia
- Lebanon: The Lebanese Armed Forces do not perform the goose step. However, the Hezbollah paramilitary forces use the goose step, as they are trained and supplied by Iran.
- Syria adopted the goose step during the Cold War, when it was aligned with the Soviet Union. Government forces continue to goose-step, while Kurdish forces have adopted the high step.
East Asia and Southeast Asia
- The Republic of China adopted the goose step from its German military advisors in the 1920s. The Chinese term for the goose step, 正步 (zhèng bù), literally translates as "straight march" or "upright march". The practice continued despite American military aid and the government's move to Taiwan after its defeat in the Chinese Civil War.
- The People's Republic of China inherited the goose step from its predecessor, as surrendering Nationalist troops were absorbed into the Communist armies during the Chinese Civil War. The practice became universal in the People's Liberation Army in the 1950s, under Soviet military influence.
- India: The goose step is performed by colour guards, as well as border guards at the Wagah border ceremony. Some units, such as the Gurkha and Assam regiments, use the goose step as a general parade step.
- Indonesia: The goose step is performed by the military, police, schools, scouts, and flag raising squads (Paskibraka).
- Myanmar: The Myanmar Armed Forces do not use the goose step. However, the ethnic Kachin, Kokang, Shan, and Wa insurgents in northern Myanmar use the goose step, as they allied with the Communist Party of Burma in the 1960s and received training from Chinese advisors.
- Nepal uses the goose step as a general parade step. The practice has also been adopted by Gurkha regiments in the Indian Army, but not by Gurkha regiments in the British Army.
- North Korea practices a form of jumping goose step, which leaves a visual impression of a clear bounce in each step. This is unique among all militaries that practice the goose step.
- Pakistan does not use the goose step as a military march step. However, border guards perform the goose step at the Wagah border ceremony.
- Taiwan: The goose step used to be performed by the Republic of China Armed Forces, especially during the military parade on National Day or Presidential Inauguration. This practice was put to an end in 2003, as the goose step is considered to be a symbol of authoritarianism, and it is harmful to the heels, the spine and possibly the brain. Today much of the ROCAF uses the US march practice instead, but the tradition returned in a ROCAF veterans and reservists' parade on 12 June 2016, after more than a decade of absence.
- 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.
High-stepping as an alternative
Many militaries choose to use a high step in which the legs are lifted high off the ground, but the knee is bent. The high step is commonly found in countries that abandoned the goose step, were under German military influence, or border countries that use the goose step.
Countries that abandoned the goose step:
- Argentina: The Infantry Company of the Colegio Militar de la Nacion still uses the goose step as a parade step. However, several units of the Argentine Army and the Argentine Naval Prefecture that used to goose-step have switched to the high step, which is also in standard use in the Argentine Navy and the Argentine Air Force.
- East Timor adopted the high step after obtaining its independence from Indonesia, which uses the goose step.
- Syrian government forces continue to goose-step, but Kurdish forces have switched to the high step.
- 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 been replaced by high-stepping by the 1975 parade, as Marshal Tito asserted his independence from Soviet influence. It is still used in Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Countries that were under German military influence:
- During the Meiji era, the Japanese military was modernized along the German model, but the Imperial Japanese Army chose to adopt the high step instead of the goose step. The Japanese military dropped the high step after its defeat in World War II.
- Portugal adopted the high step in the 1910s, when it became a republic.
- Turkey's use of the high step dates back to the late Ottoman Empire, when the Ottoman military was modernized under German influence. Like Japan, it chose to adopt a bent-leg high step instead of the German goose step. Turkey continues to use the high step today.
Countries that border goose-stepping countries:
- Brazil uses the high step as its general parade step. Brazil borders several Spanish-speaking countries that use the goose step.
- Somalia shares a border with Djibouti and sea borders with Yemen. The Somali Armed Forces and the Somaliland Armed Forces both perform the high step.
- Uruguay is one of the few Spanish-speaking countries that does not use the goose step. Instead, it uses the high step as its general parade step in all ceremonies.
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 in the 1930s. In the later part of World War II, the goose step nearly disappeared because of manpower shortages, accelerated courses in basic training, and a paucity of appropriate occasions.
After the Second World War, West Germany opted for an hybrid march step based on the parade drills of France, the USA and Great Britain. East Germany preserved the goose step and renamed it 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.
Hungary used the high step during the regency of Miklós Horthy, and switched to the goose step early on during the Cold War. Neither march step was retained after the end of the Cold War, as the parade of 1961 formally ended its use in favor of the normal quick march. (It was only retained as a slow march for the entrance of historical colors.)
Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, introduced the goose step in 1938 as the Passo Romano ("Roman Step"). The custom was never popular in Italy's armed forces except amongst the Blackshirts. The goose step was dropped after World War II.
During the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1970s, ZIPRA was trained and supplied by the Warsaw Pact, adopting East German uniforms and the goose step. Meanwhile, ZANLA was supplied and trained by China in Maoist guerilla tactics. However, Zimbabwe ultimately attained black majority rule thanks to British influence. As a result, the unified Zimbabwean Army maintained a British march step.
Estonia, Georgia and Kazakhstan are the only three countries that ended use of the Russian styled goose step formerly used by the Soviet Armed Forces so far in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Association with dictatorship
The goose step was ridiculed by Allied propaganda in the World Wars as a symbol of blind obedience and senseless attachment to military form. Prior to U.S. entry into World War I, American military observers had remarked favorably on the goose step as a means of building unit cohesion. However, its association with Nazi Germany in World War II proved fatal to the goose step's reputation in English-speaking countries. 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 films.
During the Cold War, the Anglo-American hatred of the goose step transferred itself to the Soviet Union. George Orwell commented in "England Your England" (1946) that the goose step was used only in countries where the population was too scared to laugh at their military.
- In the episode of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers called The Germans, the main character Basil Fawlty infamously imitates the goose step in front of some German guests.
- 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.
In colloquial English, the phrase goose-stepping has connotations of blind obedience and submission. The term does not carry this negative connotation in countries that actually use the goose step. This can result in mistaken interpretations due to cultural bias:
- 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.
- Ruhl, Arthur (1916). Antwerp to Gallipoli: A Year of War on Many Fronts - and Behind Them. Scribner. pp. 115–116.
You have heard, let us say, of the German parade step, sometimes laughed at as the "goose step" in England and at home. I was lunching the other day with an American military observer, and he spoke of the parade step and the effect it had on him. "Did you ever see it?" he demanded. "Have you any idea of the moral effect of that step? You see those men marching by, every muscle in their bodies taut and tingling as steel wire, every eye on the Emperor, and when they bring those feet down--bing! bang!-- the physical fitness it stands for, the unity, determination--why, it's the whole German idea--nothing can stop them!"
- Walcott, Arthur S. (January 1916). "The Japanese Coronation Military Review". The Seventh Regiment Gazette 30 (4): 66.
The parade step in Japan is practically the German goose-step, and the arms are brought to horizontal position in front at each swing. This may, to the superficial observer, seem absurd, but it conveys a strong sense of momentum and force, and I fully believe it has a sort of hypnotic effect on the soldiers, making them feel stronger and more consequential. It is by no manner of means to be laughed at, that I am certain of.
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- "Doom Of 'Goose-Step' Sought By Nazi Military Officials", The Baltimore Sun, June 6, 1937. p. 19
- Cuban president Fidel Castro and Ethiopian leader Mariam watch military parade. AP Archive.
- Time magazine, Feb. 7, 1938
- "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.
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- this article contains text originally from the May 25 version of the corresponding German Wikipedia article.
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