The United States Military is full of bizarre rules that, at some point, probably served some obscure purpose before being ingrained in tradition. For example, you’re not allowed to keep your hands in your pockets. It all began because, apparently, putting your hands in your pockets “detracts from military smartness.” I don’t know about you, but in my lifetime, I’ve never equated pocketed hands with being aloof — but the rules are rules. Quit asking questions. But if you’re looking for an antiquated rule that’s really nonsensical, look no further than the (now) unwritten rule that states officers of the United States Army cannot carry an umbrella.
It might not be an official regulation anymore, but all Army officers generally adhere to the rule regardless, for tradition’s sake.
This was once a hard-standing regulation, put into effect under Army Regulation 670-1: Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, Chapter 20-27: Umbrellas. The regulated stated,
“Females may carry and use an umbrella, only during inclement weather, when wearing the service (class A and B), dress, and mess uniforms. Umbrellas are not authorized in formations or when wearing field or utility uniforms.”
This rule forbade the use of umbrellas by male officers entirely, from the fresh-out-of-OCS second lieutenant all the way up to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. As you can see, it didn’t stop female officers from carrying or using an umbrella, nor was it implemented for any other branch or applied to the Army’s enlisted. It affected male Army officers exclusively. The regulation wasn’t amended to allow for umbrellas until 2013.
It’s worth noting that the U.S. Air Force kept this regulation when it split from the Army in 1947, but in just 32 short years, they realized it was pointless and authorized their officers to carry and use umbrellas in 1979.
So, why was the rule put in place to begin with? It certainly wasn’t for appearances’ sake. In the rain, ribbons would sometimes start to bleed ink, which would potentially stain and ruin an officer’s otherwise pristine uniform. These stains were surely more unsightly than an officer holding an umbrella.
Furthermore, the regulation didn’t outright forbid officers from standing under an umbrella or having an enlisted soldier carry one for them – though most junior officers likely wouldn’t dare ask a salty NCO to shield them from the big, scary rain drops for fear of eternal mockery.
The regulation clearly says not to carry an umbrella, whether it was in use or not. In fact, holding a closed umbrella is what started all of this to begin with.
Leave it to one spineless politician to forever make umbrellas uncool.
To those who don’t recognize the men in the photo above, that’s disgraced British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler, infamously appeasing him just before his 1938 occupation of the Sudetenland, a region of today’s Czech Republic, despite his government’s clear promise to do everything in its power to protect Poland.
Chamberlain went behind his peoples’ and parliament’s backs in a deal that gave the Nazis the power they needed to arm a full-scale invasion of Poland, thus, in a way, kicking off World War II. When it turned out that the Nazis didn’t give a sh*t about peace treaties, Chamberlain again tried to appease Hitler in 1939. The invasion of Poland followed soon after.
Though Chamberlain’s actions may have been done with the best intentions for the UK, he will forever be seen as weak and enabling for them.
To this day, umbrellas are highly discouraged, but that may just be a “we’re too cool for umbrellas” kind of mentality.
All things Neville Chamberlain have been tainted by his appeasement policy – including his signature style of always carrying a black umbrella and his hat in his hand. Just as Churchill was synonymous with his cigar and Lincoln with his stove pipe hat, Chamberlain was almost always seen with his umbrella.
Before the appeasement with Hitler, the umbrella was seen by the Britons as a symbol of endurance, as it allowed people to carry on despite the crummy weather the British Isles are known for. After the deal, it became a symbol of treachery.
Immediately, most of the British Military was discouraged from using umbrellas. They never implemented it as official policy for practical reasons – it’s the British Isles, after all. But the U.S. Army made their anti-Chamberlain stance into an actual regulation.
Guess that’s what happens when you stand by and give Hitler time to start a world war.