What’s Wrong with Tradition?

Crossing the equator on a US Navy ship during the 1980s was not the horror story that the chiefs talked about from during the 60s and 70s, but it was difficult enough for young sailors away from their homes and families for the first time. I imagine that the young sailors of the 60s and 70s felt the same way during their initiation as we did during ours.

We were hazed, we were humiliated, and it took days to get the grease and oil out of our hair and off our skin (and years to get the memory of kissing of Neptune’s belly out of our minds), but by the time we were finished, we were part of a larger tradition. We had gone through the same ritual that those older chiefs, petty officers, and officers had gone through and come out as part of a brotherhood of sailors.

We had literally gone from pollywogs to shellbacks and had become part of a tradition of sailors from all over the world. For all but the most obtuse, becoming a shellback carried a sense of pride and accomplishment.

We weren’t given the option of not participating, although I am certain if a sailor had a good reason not to, the skipper would have found a way to get him out of it, but we did the crossing as a ship. Once we had completed it, we were a crew.

No one died, no one was injured and other than some recurring nightmares, no one suffered any ill effects. We forged a bond that day that carried us through West Pac, some trials and tribulations in the Persian Gulf and back home. The old guys grumbled about how this younger generation had it easy, but we were a team.

After leaving the Navy, I worked for several corporations. Most of them stressed the concept of team building exercises but had no idea how shared discomfort and humiliation could build esprit de corps and create bonds of trust that were almost unshakeable.

It was a different time then, of course, before camouflage uniforms at sea were a thing and females only served on non-combatant ships. The Navy has changed with the times, some of those changes have been positive while some…not so much.

There is an old truism that says, “not everything old is bad and not everything new is good.” Crossing the line is an old tradition – our version comes from the British Navy – and has been used for centuries to build camaraderie. It’s easy to relegate Crossing the Line to the dustbin of outdated traditions, but we have tossed a few too many traditions away over the last couple of decades for it to be comfortable watching another one pass on.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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3 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Tradition?

  1. As an embarked aviation Marine on the USS Inchon, I worked in the AIMD with Navy personnel. Many of the embarked Marines, including myself, got to go through the Blue Nose initiation for crossing the arctic circle.
    I still remember, in a good way, the ceremony and the 03 lieutenant who we kind of became “battle buddies” motivating each other to do our best on the events.
    Tradition is a large part of the dynamic that builds the character of its members.
    Leave tradition alone.

  2. You have to remember, tradition is considered offensive in today’s society. Tradition is prejudiced, it’s mean, it’s apparently racist, it countermands what mommy always said about her little snowflake being perfect just the way he/she/“them” is. In a society where kids are practically told to question the gender they were assigned at birth, any obstacle to automatic enrollment in a club, society, association or group such as Shellbacks is seen as cruel and unusual punishment. The snowflakes coming into the Navy today are thinskinned and poorly trained because the minute they are told they did something wrong they start crying and whip their cell phone to call mommy or tweet about the mean instructor who doesn’t get just how special the recruit is. Asking new sailors to participate in a tradition is like asking a vegan to eat a porterhouse: it’s mean and disrespectful. It hurts feelings. It makes them feel dirty and small.
    Kids today are not as tough, resilient, self-sufficient, durable, honest, trustworthy, or just plain not as good as we were. Studies show their immune systems are weaker and they suffer withdrawal symptoms similar to heroin addicted whenbtheir cell phones are taken away.
    They hate tradition. Plain and simple, and sadly we have allowed these pathetic sad-sacks to proliferate.

  3. JB,
    I couldn’t have said it any better !!! As a former Marine, now in the Air Guard, i have seen first hand the snowflake mentality take a foothold in the military. It’s a crying shame, i don’t know how / why these people join the military in the first place.

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