Distinctive salutes run the political gamut

Apr 17, 2012, 12:22 AM

Associated Press

(AP) – Black power. White power. Nazis. Communists.

Causes across the political spectrum have long used distinctive salutes to identify themselves.

After an Oslo courtroom guard removed Anders Behring Breivik’s handcuffs on Monday, the far-right suspect in the massacre of 77 people in Norway pulled his right hand to his chest and then thrust his arm out with a clenched fist.

It was hardly the first time such a salute has been flashed.

Dubbed the “Roman” salute by Fascists in the 1920s, the outstretched arm does not actually appear in Roman literature or art, according to a 2009 study “The Roman Salute” by Martin Winkler.

Just where it first cropped is not certain, but an early depiction appears in the 18th century French painting “The Oath of the Horatii” by Jacques-Louis David.

After being adopted by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, fellow fascist Adolf Hitler imitated the salute in Germany. The Nazi party’s flat-handed version was usually accompanied by the cry “Sieg heil!” (“Hail victory”) and was widely seen as an expression of virility, power and obedience.

But while such salutes are today best known for their use by the far right, they also have been a staple of the far left.

The Young Pioneers, a Soviet youth organization, turned the open-hand to the side for their salute, while other communist groups often used the closed-fist to symbolize unity and solidarity.

The raised fist has been used by the civil liberties movement, the feminist movement, the labor movement and scores of others to show the same thing.

The Nazi version of the salute was tolerated at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. But at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, two black American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were suspended by the U.S. Olympic Committee after giving the black power salute of a raised fist as a protest at their medal victory ceremony.

In Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin lampooned the gesture in “The Great Dictator.” And who could forget Peter Sellers’ inability to control his right arm as the title character in “Dr. Strangelove?”

More recently, in the popular teen book series and movie “The Hunger Games,” a three-fingered salute becomes a rallying cry for the oppressed in the nation of Panem, which holds televised games that have children fight to the death. In one scene, the main character, Katniss Everdeen, raises her left hand to her lips and then extends her arm outward, directly into a camera. People in Panem’s oppressed districts respond with their own salute and then start to riot.

In the book, Katniss says the gesture was “old and rarely used” and “means thanks, it means admiration, it means goodbye to someone you love.”

Not so for Breivik.

In a manifesto he published online before the July 22 attacks, he described the initiation rites, oaths and the “clenched fist salute” that he used in court, saying they showed “strength, honor and defiance against the Marxist tyrants of Europe.”

Tell that to the Young Pioneers.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Distinctive salutes run the political gamut