Artistic License - Military
An artistic license trope that pertains to depictions of the military in film and television. This ranges from minutiae (forgetting which branch of the military uses which ranks) to flat-out cases of They Just Didn't Care
and Rule of Funny
(having a character all but assault superior officers with no consequences).
The most common errors in depictions of the U.S. military:
- Failing to distinguish between different branches of the military (e.g., using "army" to refer to any military unit.)
- Failing to understand the chain of command (e.g., having regular privates taking orders directly from the President in the field, or having a private appealing to directly the President to overrule his company commander's orders.)
- Getting the ranks wrong, either in form of address, or in who outranks whom.
- Getting saluting protocol wrong.
- Getting patches, rank insignia, and uniforms wrong.
- Using incorrect radio or communication protocol (e.g., nobody says "over and out" "Over" means "Done talking, awaiting response" while "out" means "Done talking, no response needed").
- Along with that, it's the person who initiates the call that says, "Out," not the person who is called.
- Incorrect use of service-specific jargon (e.g., army privates regularly saying “aye, aye” without being ironic.)
- Tanks, But No Tanks
- Handling weapons incorrectly or dangerously.
- Getting promotion/demotion procedures wrong.
- Making Boot camp either more extreme or much milder than it really is. It's not unrelenting torture, but it's not summer camp, either.
- Having medals and ribbons inconsistent with the characters age and experiences.
- Using incorrect weapons or incorrect models. Very common in media as it's cheaper and easier to use older weapons as stand-ins for more advanced hardware that might be difficult or impossible to obtain, and vice versa.
There can be various reasons for this. Sometimes mistakes are made intentionally in order to facilitate the storytelling medium. Most often, though, Hollywood simply doesn't know or care about the particulars of the military. It does make you wonder what those six "military advisers" in the credits did all day, though.
Most current and former members of the military find this more funny than annoying, and military films that make countless errors are still more popular with members of the military than with the general public.
It should also be noted that since media portrayal tends to influence public perception, there are a few myths many people believe about the military thanks to movies
Related to Hollywood Tactics
and Mildly Military
. Subtropes include The Squadette
. Often averted by works that are Backed by the Pentagon
Since military customs, rules, and traditions vary from country to country and in some cases, branch to branch within the same country, many times what is seen as "wrong" by an audience in one country is actually correct for the military force being shown. (Because of this, please check that any examples are actually incorrect for the military service depicted before adding them to the page.)
Also, please remember that entirely fictional armed forces are under no obligation to behave exactly like their real life counterparts.
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- The official subtitled version of Strike Witches calls Mio a Major (an Army/Air Force rank) in the subtitles. It's the right grade, but as a naval officer she should technically be a Lieutenant Commander. They also call Shirley a Lieutenant in episode 5, but since she's an officer in her country's Army, she should technically be a Captain. The actual dialogue averts this, since the characters use the all-forces rank structure of the Imperial Japanese forces ('shousa' and 'taii' referring to grades as opposed to the actual ranks).
- Actually, during her introduction, Shirley was in fact a lieutenant. She is referred to as 'Chu-i"', First Lieutenant in the original voice track. However, she was promoted to captain right after the episode, making it incorrect in episode 5 unless it was referring to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. In any case, the translation did include numerous errors. However the original material tries to avert this trope as much as possible.
- The French-language Belgian comic Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats), set during the US Civil War, occasionally shows American soldiers saluting French-style, or presenting arms in the French way.
- Tom Clancy messed up in Clear and Present Danger with a conversation between an officer and a "Seaman First" in the United States Coast Guard. "Seaman First Class" was a World War II rank, not a contemporary one.
- Sidestepped in the Dune prequels by inventing a new ranking system and changing it two or three times throughout the series. For example, a general's rank in the pre-Butlerian Jihad times is Primero (with titles based on numbers). When the League Armada is renamed the Army of Humanity, the Primero becomes the Bashar (possibly a variation on the Turkish rank of "pasha"). Post-Jihad, the Bashar rank is downgraded to the Colonel level, while the new General rank is Caid. Given that this takes place tens of thousands of years in the future means the authors are free to create whatever ranks they wish. The idea of a starship commander leading ground troops is still completely ridiculous.
- S.M. Sterling and James Doohan got the Navy and Marines entry-level officer ranks mixed up in the Flight Engineer trilogy. Second Lieutenant Cynthia Robbins should be an ensign, and the two Marine pilots assigned to Commander Raeder's command in The Privateer are ensigns when they should be second lieutenants.
Films — Live Action
- At one point in the Stargate movie, Colonel O'Neil calls Kawalski, his second in command, "Lieutenant". Not only that, he's credited as "Lieutenant Kawalski" in the credits. The problem? He's wearing silver oak leaves throughout the entire movie, making him a Lieutenant Colonel. While the film's treatment of the military is far from accurate or flattering, that's actually a pretty easy mistake to make. After all, he's a "lieutenant colonel." It can be presumed that the Emmerich and Devlin were simply unaware that the appropriate abbreviation of the rank "lieutenant colonel" is not "lieutenant" but rather "colonel." On the other hand, they did get a detail right that even some people in the actual military forget: you do not salute civilians. After the final battle, the Abydonian boys salute O'Neil. You can tell he wants to salute back, but instead he waits until his own men join in so he can salute them.
- Many characters in Top Gun are wearing patches from every branch of the military except the Navy.
- Basic, a film starring Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen and John Travolta featured several errors, including:
- A female soldier wearing a Ranger tab. There are no Ranger-qualified females (or female Rangers, for that matter).
- The rank of Samuel L. Jackson's character changed (up and down) depending on the scene.
- Rolling Thunder:
- when Major Rane puts his Air Force uniform on, his U.S. lapel insignia not only are in the wrong location, but are the insignia used by enlisted personnel, not officers. Similarly, despite the character supposedly being a Vietnam War veteran, his uniform lacks the Vietnam Campaign Medal (an award given out to every single Soldier who served in that war).
- Similarly, in the same movie, Master Sergeant Vohden's uniform has a Fifth Army patch on the right sleeve. A patch on the right sleeve indicates that the wearer served with that unit in combat during a previous war or campaign. The Fifth Army last served in battle during World War II. Vohden, as a returning Vietnam War veteran in 1973, would have been only a year or two old during World War II, if he had been born at all.
- The hair of most of the military personnel shown in the film, including that of Major Rane and Master Sergeant Vohden, is too long for military standards.
- Iron Eagle II features rather rotund actor Maury Chaykin as a sarcastic, back-talking sergeant who wanders through the entire movie with his uniform unbuttoned, his hair uncombed (and too long for the military), and generally looking like a slob. However, the higher-ranking General who assembled the ragtag bunch of misfits of which the sergeant was a member had handpicked them because he wanted their mission to fail.
- Pearl Harbor:
- Rafe wears an Eagle Squadron badge, as do the Spitfires. The squadron code 'RF' is for No. 303 Squadron, which was a Polish unit - a very famous one at that. The only Hurricane seen in the film has the correct codes for an Eagle Squadron, 'XR-T' for No. 71 Squadron.
- Rafe is assigned to an RAF Eagle Squadron prior to American involvement by order of Jimmy Doolittle. In reality, active duty personnel could not be assigned to serve with a belligerent nation while the US was neutral. They would have to resign their USAAF commission, renounce their US citizenship, swear allegiance to the British Crown, and re-enlist into the RAF (usually via Canada)
- For that matter, the Eagle Squadrons were civilian staffed, and were formed after the Battle of Britain.
- Rafe volunteered and only claimed to be assigned; the problem is why Danny believed this excuse. Which opens another plot hole in trying to explain how Rafe got back into the US military in time for Pearl Harbor.
- The Doolittle Raiders scene is "how not to be the military".
- In The Hunt for Red October the main sonar technician wears the "crow" of a Petty Officer but is addressed as "Seaman Jones" more than once. The proper forms of address would be either "Petty Officer Jones" or "Petty Officer" by those unfamiliar with his rate, or "ST 2" by junior sailors who know , and "Jones" by those familiar with him.
- In An Officer and a Gentleman, officer candidates continually refer to Gunnery Sergeant Foley as "Sergeant". Navy OCS candidates refer to their Marine drill instructors as "Sergeant Instructor" (followed by proper rank and last name if referring to a specific instructor rather than the one yelling in your face). In addition, while the United States Army allows the use of "Sergeant" for any NCO from E-5 to E-8, Marine Corps etiquette insists on referring to non-commissioned officers by proper rank.
- The instant-promotion-to-captain at the end of the new Star Trek movie makes anyone trying to take Starfleet seriously wince.
- Partially justified since, by the time the movie is over, Nero has destroyed many ships and killed hundreds of officers and cadets. Also, the fact that Captain Pike hunted him down in a bar, elevated him to First Officer despite his not even being officially assigned to the Enterprise, and commented on the lack of imaginitive thinking in Starfleet leads one to think that there may have been some backroom dealing to put Kirk in the captain's chair.
- A Few Good Men: As he is leaving after questioning his client, Tom Cruise's Lt. Kaffee turns and says, "Whatever happened to saluting an officer when he leaves the room?" whereupon Dawson stands up and pointedly shoves his hands in his pockets. Great moment, great scene... except that Marines don't salute indoors, while Navy officers would not expect a salute indoors. (Specifically, in the Navy and USMC, covers (i.e. hats) are not to be worn indoors except for a few rare occasions...and in those branches, you are not supposed to salute without your cover. Therefore, there is a very small chance of saluting indoors for members of those branches of the US military.)
- Star Wars often conflates Army, Navy, and Air Force rankings, particularly in the Expanded Universe. For example, General Dodonna, the guy who gives the briefing in episode 4, had his rank despite there being almost no ground troops and very few capital ships available to the Rebellion at the time. Wedge Antilles, in the Expanded Universe, eventually becomes a general in starfighter command—only to end up in charge of a ship of the same class as Executor and its attendant task force. Han Solo is a general in command of ground forces and Lando Calrissian of the fighter group in Return of the Jedi, but Solo leads fleet actions in the EU. Finally, Garm Bel Iblis is a general but is always in command of a full task force.
- Also, in modern Earth terminology, a cruiser is a bigger ship than a destroyer. In Star Wars, Star Destroyers are amongst the biggest class of ships out there in common use. Furthermore, there were Dreadnaught-class heavy cruisers that were less than half the size of the Star Destroyers, and then the Super Star Destroyers are star dreadnoughts. Eventually the Star Wars RPG Saga Edition Starships of the Galaxy book clarified things by stating that the term "Star Destroyer" is not a class of ship the way star cruiser and star dreadnought is, referring more to a construction philosophy of overwhelming firepower mounted in one direction, which allows them to destroy (or more accurately, depopulate) entire star systems. The Imperial-Class Star Destroyers we see in the film are stated to be star cruisers.
- If Star Wars had actually been set in the future (instead of it all being a translation convention) that might be excusable though. Destroyers are the biggest ships in most fleets today and as such rapidly getting bigger. Cruisers have always been the smaller cousins of battleships, traditionally the biggest ships in the fleet, so it's not that far fetched to have destroyers and cruisers switch places in the future. Plus "destroyer" is just an awesome name.
- In Storm Over Ryloth, the terms "battlecruisers", "cruisers", and "frigates" are used to describe the same ships.
- In any case, in Real Life the relations between ship types of any given name are always changing. At one point in the Cold War, this caused confusion because the US Navy had a large force of Frigates, while the Soviets had a fleet of Cruisers, leading to concerns of the so-called Cruiser Gap. The solution? Reclassify the Frigates as Cruisers, as they were equivalent in size and capability anyways. In the age of sail, frigates served a role similar to what cruisers and desteroyers would in later centuries, patrolling and screening for the main force, at least until the destroyers became the main force, secondary only to the Aircraft Carriers.
- It's often stated that, as the Rebellion, the Rebels used whatever rank worked best with individual officers, since they weren't anything like a formal military yet. Thus General Dodonna, who at the time was the only force commander they had (and probably earned his generalship in the Clone Wars, to boot). Others progress through the ranks more or less naturally (like Wedge) but are assigned whatever their mission needs—Wedge once held command over two squadrons and a corvette while still a Commander, for perfectly logical though informal reasons.
- Dodonna was established as earning his rank in the Empire's service, doing so good a job the Emperor gave him a habitable moon as his retirement pension.
- The general consensus for the writers, with a couple of exceptions, is that Admirals (a fleet rank) are usually in charge of large Cruisers, Star Destroyers, or task forces. The rank of General is used by ground forces, Starfighter Command, and the Intelligence division. Han, Lando, and Luke (just barely) were made "generals" before the Rebellion had become the New Republic and things were a lot more, to quote one character, "piratical". Wedge is apparently continuously given Fleet Command assignments because General Cracken (head of intelligence) actively wants him to transfer to either the main fleet or intelligence.
- Applying United States/Commonwealth ranks to a fictional civilization in a galaxy with no connection to Earth may be a bit flawed in its premise, but we can certainly argue that Translation Convention is in effect. On the other hand, if that's the case, translating terms directly in a way that does not correspond to real rank/class makes little sense.
- Not that Hobgoblins was a bastion of reality in film, but Nick salutes his sergeant at Club Scum.
- Nick has insanely long hair for a soldier fresh out of basic training.
- In Full Metal Jacket, the Marines saluted officers while in Vietnam. This is a big no-no. You do not salute officers in a war zone because it immediately identifies the officer to the enemy, making them a target. The movie Forrest Gump even explained this.
- In the original novel (The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford, himself a Vietnam veteran) Joker, being Joker, was doing it on purpose - and when explicitly ordered to.
"Corporal, don't you know how to execute a hand salute?" "Yes, sir." I salute. I hold the salute until the poge colonel snaps his hand to his starched barracks cover and I hold the salute for an extra couple of second before cutting it away sharply. Now he poge colonel has been identified as an officer to any enemy snipers in the area."
- The Four Feathers: Well a British campaign was fought in the Sudan in 1884. That's about all it gets right. Major points include: The British wore grey not red in the Sudan, the force sent was much larger and comprised of several regiments not just one and the most egregious flaw, The Battle of Abu Klea was a British Victory.
- Down Periscope: There's plenty of stuff that has those actually familiar with the Real Life US Submarine Service laughing not only at the intentional comedy, but the unintentional variety as well. While some of the inaccuracies are due to writer ignorance, and some are due to Rule Of Cool or convenience to the plot, some of the issues surrounding the USS Orlando can be chalked up to the film production staff not having access to classified USN information.
- Battleship abandons all attempts at nautical terminology from the start. ("Hard left"? Really?)
Live Action TV
- Doctor Who:
- We'll start with New!Who's 'saluting while not wearing hats' (you can actually bow when wishing to show respect to a superior officer within most Commonwealth countries). Yes, it means that the Doctor can do his 'no don't salute' bit, but would it cost them too much to borrow the hats?
- In The Day of the Moon Rory, dressed in civilian clothes, salutes the NASA personal in 1969 with the British-styled salute. The NASA personnel are explicitly confused by his usage of the British salute, so is certainly an in universe example.
- Additionally, NASA is a civilian agency and while most of the astronauts during that period were either former military or on loan, the vast majority of NASA personnel were civilians. A salute, British or otherwise, was entirely inappropriate.
- Well, any salute in civilian attire is typically considered inappropriate, at least in the US.
- Mostly averted in the various Stargate series, although there were some uniform oddities that popped up now and then, most notably an airman in the pilot wearing the insignia for both a Staff Sergeant and a Major. It was officially endorsed by the U.S. Air Force, and had military advisers on board to avoid most flagrant mistakes.
- Stargate Universe:
- A character is consistently identified as a Sergeant despite wearing the rank insignia of a Senior Airman. This is sort-of understandable, as modern-day Senior Airmen in the USAF wear the same rank insignia that Sergeants did back when the Air Force rank of "Sergeant" existed. The rank was eliminated (it was at the same paygrade as a Senior Airman anyways) and the insignia repurposed.
- The 20-year old Master Sergeant Ronald Greer. Master Sergeant is a rank that requires at least 16 years prior experience, meaning Greer could not possibly have reached that rank at his age, unless we assume some kind of Applied Phlebotinum or time dilation plot went on behind the scenes. This being both Stargate and a more serial show than even SG-1 was in later seasons, this seems unlikely...
- Seven Periods With Mr Gormsby has a very minor one; Gormsby's medals are upside-down (making them appear in reverse order). But it's enough to make most watchers from a military background flinch.
- In Bones:
- A Ranger Colonel shows up to recruit Booth to train soldiers in Afghanistan. He immediately recognizes the Colonel as an army ranger, presumably due to the 75th Ranger patch on his right shoulder. Instead of a flag (argh!). Also, the Colonel is wearing a (deformed) black beret instead of the Ranger tan.
- Agent Booth himself at the end of the same episode counts as well. Wearing a presumably new uniform that looks like it came from the "reject" pile of the local CIF. Would be an aversion except that Booth has been reinstated to the rank of Sergeant Major and would at least ensure his uniform was presentable.
- In Star Trek: The Original Series, costumes often did not match stated ranks, and there would be some confusion over what rank a character held. The only character to receive a promotion during the run of the series is Spock, who starts out as a Lieutenant Commander and is promoted to full Commander at some indeterminate point in the first season. (Fanon cites the death of Kirk's original First Officer, Gary Mitchell, and Spock assuming his duties in addition to those of Science Officer, as the impetus for this.) However, he wears the two-braided shirt, denoting a full Commander, throughout. Many other characters described in dialogue as a Lieutenant Commander also wear the two braids of a full Commander. There is also no real distinction in costuming between junior officers and enlisted crewmen. Often, crewmen will wear jumpsuits and officers will wear shirts, but this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule.
- Averted by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which does manage to keep everyone's ranks straight, even the Army style ranks of the Bajoran military (e.g., Major Kira is subordinate to Captain Sisko). The only gray area is Chief O'Brien, but even he is consistently recognized as a specialist officer (NCO/Warrant) rather than a commissioned Starfleet officer, allowing him to, among other things, avoid getting in dress uniform and going to formal occasions a few times.
- Occasionally you see the Chief chew out an Ensign for screwing up an engineering task (he's still respectful about it), which some people complain about. If you were an Ensign Newbie and your commanding officer has placed you on work detail with a decorated CPO whose job designation is Chief Operations Officer, he's allowed to chew you out over your failures with the engineering. Indeed, in some military services, mentoring inexperienced officers was one of the duties of senior NC Os, given their experience. Another point about his rank was actually brought up by the character: O'Brien, while Nog is a cadet, muses that if Nog ever makes ensign he's going to have to start calling the kid sir.
- One interesting problem with Chief O'Brien. For several years (including during his days as an engineer on the Enterprise in TNG) the writers and costumers apparently couldn't decide what rank he was (he wore an Ensign's insignia in his first appearance and went all over the chart from there). Memory Alpha has the full list. By '95 they finally decided he was a Senior Chief Petty Officer, where he stayed.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation neatly sidesteps the issue by making everybody on the main cast an officer, even the ship's counselor. There are very few NCOs in the series in general and none in the main cast. Even Wesley Crusher is made an acting-ensign.
- They still manage to fail in matters of rank. Troi, the ship's counselor, must take a command test to advance to the rank of commander; it is stated that Medical Officer Beverly Crusher had to do the same. In the U.S. Navy (whose rank structure Starfleet shares), commander is a rank, not necessarily a position. One can gain the rank of commander without being qualified (or authorized!) to command a ship; indeed, it's highly unlikely that a psychologist or a medical doctor would ever be placed in command of a ship of the line, regardless of rank.
- Except she doesn't just want the rank she wants to command. The conversation about it takes place while Beverly is in command of the bridge during third watch.
- If she wants to command, IRL she would be required to transfer to a different specialization. Psychologists are staff officers, not line officers, and as such would not command a ship unless every line officer was dead or disabled (and maybe not then). Crusher might take command of a medical ship (as seen in the future of "All Good Things...."); she would not command on a ship of the line like the Enterprise.
- And yet, Crusher and Troi each end up in command on separate occasions — Crusher when the captain was alive, well, and (at the time she was placed in command) available. Oh yeah, and the ship was in Borg space.
- Given that Starfleet is a completely fictional military, this is pretty easy to justify. And they aren't even principally a military—they are scientists, explorers and diplomats as much or even before they are carrying out military missions. So, it might be justified that they do things differently.
- Star Trek as a whole appears to be severely lacking in enlisted (the only major noncommissioned character being O'Brien, and the only other noncommissioned characters being a group of former Maquis in Voyager). It also features the oddity that even O'Brien went to Starfleet Academy; apparently the writers, or at least Starfleet, have never heard of basic training.
- Ensign Harry Kim in Star Trek: Voyager should have gotten a promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade at about the midpoint of season two, based on having served about a year and a half in Starfleet. He ended season seven at the same rank he started the show at. It's possible Starfleet promotes entirely on merit, but that raises entirely different questions. The show seemed to imply that for some reason Janeway was unable to promote Kim. Perhaps Starfleet has some sort of review board an ensign must apply to before he can become an lieutenant.
- Lampshaded in the episode where a demoted Paris regains his Lieutenant rank. Harry makes a quip about how he hasn't been promoted during their trip. Fanon offers the reasoning that, as a closed system, the rank structure remains mostly static so as to avoid issues such as having to reorganize the ship's hierarchy if the crew were to become equally ranked across the board.
- Arrested Development is a serious offender. Buster seems to be in and out of boot camp whenever it's plot convenient, and the uniforms (when not grossly inaccurate) were out of date by about seven years.
- Blackadder Goes Forth, whilst generally fairly accurate on many uniform and insignia aspects (excepting the fact they are dressed perfectly accurately for 1914, not 1917!), has an easily missed error in the form of Brigadier-General Sir Bernard Proudfoot-Smith. The rank title is in fact correct for the era (it's currently just Brigadier, without the hyphened General, in the British Army). His insignia is, however, incorrect: Brigadier-General during WWI wore a crossed baton and sword (similar to other generals, but without any crowns or stars above).
- In The Wire, the second half of the fifth season has some plot points that revolve around whether or not a reporter is making up details in his stories. As part of his stories, he interviews a former Marine who served in Iraq. When the reporter first meets the Marine, the Marine talks about an "M niner niner eight," which (he explains) is a Humvee. He also calls a .50 caliber machine gun an M50 (which is actually an M2). Later, the Marine's credibility is called into question. Even a fellow Marine is questioned on the subject. In the second interview, the Marine correctly identifies the machine gun as a .50 caliber machine gun, but the audience is supposed to be left with the notion that the former Marine is a credible source of information, despite a few mistakes in his story.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Initiative can't seem to figure out whether it's a special ops arm of a civilian agency or a unit in the military, and if so, it's not sure which agency or which branch. In one episode Riley refers to his colleagues as Soldiers, in the next they are Marines. (There are some implications the Initiative is a unit all its own, and that personnel from all branches have been transferred there due to being deemed suitable for the program, but noting definitive.) Others use the terms interchangeably to refer to Riley. They answer to a civilian at first, but then are taken over by a general. Insignia seems to have been chosen by grabbing stuff at random and pinning it on wherever it would fit. Though they do avert Mildly Military by being very well disciplined with a clear chain of command.
- In the Disney Channel Original Movie Cadet Kelly, Hillary Duff and Christy Carlson Romano would have been discharged for what they did to each other if it had been military rather then a school.
- An episode of Destroyed in Seconds had footage from a helicopter crash during a Russian airshow. The helicopters were Mi-2's, but the narrator continuously refers to them as "M1-2's". The narrator then calls them "state-of-the-art". They aren't, having been introduced in 1965 and phased out of front-line service in most armies which field them, including Russia's.
- Sherlock contains several examples of details that were accurate in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's time, but are not accurate for the series' 21st century setting:
- Watson's backstory in the British Army. He states on several occasions that he is from the "5th Northumberland Fusiliers". The unit name is a carryover from the original Doyle stories. Watson served with the 5th (Northumberland Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Maiwand in 1880. The regiment was renamed simply to 'Northumberland Fusiliers' in 1881, but was frequently referred to as the "5th Northumberland" for decades thereafter. The regiment became part of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in 1968, before the current John Watson was even born. Additionally, he was a surgeon - not a normal soldier - so he should really be saying he's from the Royal Army Medical Corps.
- "The Hounds of Baskerville" features Major Barrymore, an officer with a full beard, which is not allowed by British Army regulations. Barrymore had a beard in the original story and in every other adaptation, which undoubtedly is the reason for his beard in Sherlock.
- The extras in "The Hounds of Baskerville" are also clearly overage, and do not wear uniforms correctly.
- In JAG the research and accuracy became better through the years the show was running, though inaccuracies could always be found. Having a Marine Corps veteran as its creator, executive producer, and show runner probably helped. Being Backed by the Pentagon probably helped a great deal too.
- The West Wing:
- The White House received weather forecasts from a Coast Guard 1st Lieutenant. The Coast Guard equivalent to this Army/Air Force/Marine Corps rank is Lieutenant (Junior Grade).
- The Army Chief of Staff is portrayed as a three-star general. The job is always held by someone with a least four-star rank.
- Aaron Sorkin in general seemed to have difficulty with military matters in The West Wing. He turned heat-seeking air-to-air missiles into radar-seeking air-to-ground missiles, and throughout West Wing's run talks about "Battle Carrier Groups" rather than "Carrier Battle Groups"... to name but a few. (This general ignorance is often expressed through the president, who typically plays The Watson to the Joint Chiefs.)
- Jericho, in a rare in-universe example. U.S. Marines come to help rebuild and resupply the town. A former Army Ranger notices details that are wrong; one calls an NCO 'sir', they say 'hooah' (Army) rather than 'oorah' (Marines). They are simply civilians wearing uniforms and using the town's resources.
- In the Fringe episode "The Arrival", a photo is shown of a Marine from an incident in 1987. Not only is he wearing digital camouflage, which was not introduced to the Marine Corps until the early 2000's, but it's ACU instead of MARPAT. What the Marine should be wearing are BDU's.
- M*A*S*H has too many to count, but a few stand out above the others:
- Frank demands and receives a Purple Heart for getting an eggshell in his eye during an artillery barrage. In real life, he would have been denied as the injury wasn't directly caused by enemy action.
- Potter is correct in stating that the Army Good Conduct Medal is only for enlisted soldiers. He's wrong in insisting that his status as a prior-service enlisted soldier entitles him to wear the medal, which he is seen wearing from time to time and he has his medal framed on his wall. What he (or the writers) failed to realize is that the medal was awarded long after Potter was an enlisted soldier and that the retroactive dates don't go back to when he was enlisted and eligible for the award.
- Flags (specifically the American one where its display is formally codified) facing the wrong way on sleeves and vehicles. US Flags worn on the right sleeves (or the right side of the vehicle) are always "backwards" compared to the normal display. The Union (the blue bit with the stars) is always forward so it never appears that the wearer is retreating.
- Which itself invokes Reality Is Unrealistic: Whenever a flag is displayed hung and unfurled, i.e. in the backdrop of a stage, the Union is in the Upper-left corner from the audience's POV. Under the above rule, that would be the proper orientation of a flag patch on the left shoulder, with the Union to the fore. Except that the American flag is, on many uniforms, properly placed on the right shoulder, putting the Union to the upper right.
- The flag patches worn on the shoulders don't reflect a flag at rest, like the kind used in stage backdrops. Rather, they mimic the effect of a flag on a guidon, being carried into battle. Thus, the Union is in the upper-right during forward motion.
- Prior to 2004 the flag was only used on uniforms & vehicles during multi-national operations. Although the "union to the fore" rule is much older, it wasn't much known until the 1991 Gulf War, which was the first time in many years the backwards flag patches were seen.
- The Brits get a lot of "flag incorrectness." The Union flag is often referred to as the Union jack (in fact, it is only this when flown at sea). It is also often pictured upside down (so much so that, when David Cameron recently visited the USA, the USMC got it wrong). For the record, the thicker white stripe should be in the top left.
- There actually a story behind the whole "Getting patches, medals, rank insignia, and uniforms wrong." It was believed for a long time that movies and television were doing this deliberately to avoid getting in trouble for impersonating an officer (they believed similar things applied to police officers, by the way.) However, the only law that was even close to doing anything similar to that was shot down in 1970. If they still do it wrong, it's not because they have to be "out of uniform," but whether it's out of respect, habit (if the costumer got their start before the 70's, or was an apprentice of same), or just goofing up, usually depends on the movie in question. It's explained on the "Goofs" page of the Charlie's Angels movie.
- Actually, one of the USMC regulations explicitly states that wearing the uniform in a film or theater type production is authorized by non-marines as long as they are not disrespecting the uniform or claiming the title in real life. The US Air Force regulation regarding dress and appearance similarly allows for the wear of the uniform by actors.
- Salutes, even in supposedly formal settings, are beat to a pulp, sodomized, then hung out to dry. Virtually every show and movie screws up either the salute itself, or the procedure. For starters, in the US Navy, US Marines, and all branches of the British military, salutes are only given while wearing a cover (hat, helmet, etc.) and saluting indoors is only done when someone is covered and under arms or under very formal circumstances. Superior officers saluting lower-ranked officers (as opposed to returning a salute) is only regularly done during promotion ceremonies, when receiving honors, or in a case where the lower-ranking officer is highly decorated (think Medal of Honor recipients), and this is situational.
- There is at least one Real Life exception, though one that has yet to show up on film: Anyone in any branch of the Mexican Armed Forces must salute anyone serving in the French Foreign Legion, rank be damned. (Look up "Camerone", a CMoA for the Legion, pretty much defining it as a Badass Army.)
- In another Real Life exception rarely seen in fiction, under US custom, anyone wearing the Medal of Honor is to be saluted, regardless of their rank, whether they're in uniform or not, or even if they're still in the service or not, regardless of the rank of the person greeting the CMoH bearer. This is in acknowledgment that anyone who has the award has proven themselves in combat to be a definitive badass deserving of the utmost respect. Technically the salute is directed at the Medal, not the person.
- The saluting protocol for the Medal of Honor appeared in Heartbreak Ridge—Gunny Highway was awarded the CMoH in Korea, and gets salutes from top brass as a Gunnery Sergeant, with another character even providing helpful exposition about them seeing the medal when he's at a formal ball and saluting him because of it.
- Ironically, they somehow got the saluting protocol right while missing the much more obvious fact that there were no Marines at Heartbreak Ridge. That little oversight had to be sloppily papered over with a post-production retcon.
- Tom Highway was in the Army and later enlisted in the Marines. Hence the medal is the Army and not the Navy M.O.H. as well as explaining his membership in the 2nd Infantry Division.
- Also done correctly in an episode of NCIS.
- Also shown in Gardens of Stone, but no explanation given. The film just assumes that audiences know the rule.
- A flashback scene from We Were Soldiers has some of the soldiers telling a story about a Bad Ass sergeant who was part of a platoon being inspected by a brand-new 2nd Lieutenant. The LT wanted to get an idea of the kind of guys he was leading, so he had them change into their working uniforms with ribbons to check out their awards. The sergeant at first comes back wearing no ribbons and is stoically chewed out by the LT to go back and put on his awards. He comes back a few minutes later wearing his boots, TWO Medals of Honor (!!) and nothing else. The LT stares in shock for a long moment before snapping off a salute, wise enough at this point not to try chewing the Sarge out for being out of uniform twice.
- "So that was Plumley?" "No, that was McDune." "So what was the point of that story?" "Well, Plumley was McDune's boss. And McDune was scared shitless of him."
- The main reason it was left out was the fact that the last double issuing of the Medal of Honour was in 1918.
- Also per regulation the only civilians that are supposed to be rendered a salute are members of the High Command (President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, etc.). In Top Gun, for all its failings, this is not only gotten right but referenced in dialogue—Jester informs the students that Charlie is a civilian, so "you do not salute her—but you better listen to her".
- Another Real Life exception are the Brazilian armed forces. Whenever any soldier or officer SEES someone of higher rank, whether or not they are on duty or even wearing a uniform, they MUST render a salute, even if they are driving, riding a horse or a bicycle. In fact, regulations say they must halt, salute the officer, and then ask permission to continue. That means that Brazilian fiction with correct saluting protocol is impossible to find.
- A common error is the left-handed salute: Saluting is done with the right hand. A left-handed salute is permissible only very occasionally. In the US Army and Air Force, you might get away with it if you lost your right arm in combat, but best not to try it otherwise. In the US Navy and Marines, it's allowed if your right hand is occupied in some way, such as carrying something heavy, or stuck in a bear's mouth.
- In the German army you are allowed to skip the salute if you cannot reasonably perform it, like having your right hand occupied. A left-handed salute is strictly forbidden, if you have you are carrying something and cannot switch it to your left hand you just stop walking, stand at attention for a second (without needing to drop your load) while giving the superior a nod.
- The Swedish Armed Forces only salutes when headgear is worn, and always with the right hand. In situations where saluting is impossible or against regulations (indoors, carrying something, during weapons drill, et.c.), the alternative is to turn your head sharply to face the officer in question, and say "good morning/afternoon/evening, [rank]"
- A general example that tends to crop up when British personnel feature in US media. In the UK, the rank of Lieutenant is pronounced "leff-tenant," not "loo-tenant." It can also happen with Canadian personnel, with Canadians pronouncing it the same way as the British.
- So would that make a British OF-2/Upper OF-1 a righ-tenant?
- Historically, it was pronounced differently in the Royal Navy to both the British Army and US Forces, being rendered "letenant" or "l'tenant"; this pronunciation is in desuetude nowadays, but is often ballsed up in WWII films (even in the era). Like In Which We Serve.
- One tradition in the Canadian Forces was that a Lieutenant (Naval) would be referred to as "leftenant" while a Lieutenant in the air force or army would use the "loo-tenant" pronunciation. It served some practicality as a Lieutenant in the navy is the equivalent rank to a Captain in the air force or army, so one could differentiate between them while speaking: Loo-tenant Smith has to salute Lef-tenant Degrasse.
- Additionally, there seems to be some confusion over the names of the British armed forces. There's a Royal Air Force and a Royal Navy, but the Royal Army hasn't existed since the Civil War. The eldest surviving regiments can trace themselves back that far, but the oldest was actually founded under Cromwell and the Protectorate.
- The spelling of "sergeant" in the British armed forces: prior to 1953 it was "serjeant" (It still is in the Rifles.) A surprisingly large number of works forget this.
- Also from the Brits. An OR-7 in the British Army is a Colour-Sergeant in the Infantry and Royal Marines, and a Staff Sergeant elsewhere. Referring to such individuals as "Colour"/"Staff" (As in "Colour Johnson", or "Staff Smith") or by full title is acceptable, but using the unadorned "Sergeant" will get your arse chewed out royally.
- One from the Russians. Frequently in media, Russian Special Forces are frequently called "The Spetsnaz", as if "spetsnaz" was an organization in and of itself. Spetsnaz are not an organization, but the term used in Russian for "special forces", and several branches of the Russian military (and even the police) have their own "spetsnaz" organizations. While some of them may include "spetsnaz" in their name, none of them are The Spetsnaz. It would be sort of like calling Navy SEALs, U.S Army Delta Force and Marine Force Recon as "The Special Forces".
- In Prototype, the Marine Base Commanders wear the scarlet and gold shoulder chevrons of a First Sergeant (on the utility uniform, no less), are always saluted and addressed as "sir", and, when they are given names, have varying officer ranks.
- There are also errors in the equipment used by the Marines. They use UH-60 Blackhawks, M2 Bradley APC's and AH-64 helicopter gunships. These should be UH-1 Venoms, LAV-25's or AAV-7's and the AH-1 Super Cobra respectively. Even though one could handwave this by saying they are U.S Army attachments, they are all specifically stated to be Marine vehicles, including by the Marines themselves.
- Madou Souhei Kleinhasa is an eroge set in a fictional military, so the usual "no fraternization between officers and enlisted" rule get ignored in some scenes. Roze and Llun also have ridiculously long hair, even by the standards of this page: Llun's hair extends to the small of her back, while Roze's hair almost goes to her knees.
- Given the Narm Charm, it's hard not to expect this of Command & Conquer Red Alert 2. Prominent general Carville is wearing insignia from an ROTC Cadet uniform (badges worn my student soldiers before they graduate college).
- Given every female character in all of the Red Alert games is intended to be a Ms. Fanservice, the nature of their uniforms should obviously be considered less-than-accurate. In the opening cutscene for the Allied portion of the Uprising Expansion, a female officer clearly has to modify the way she walks just to avoid flashing the camera.
- Starcraft appears to lack any sort of distinction between military branches. The Alpha Squadron, for example, is commanded by a general... who is in command of a starship. While this could be explained by having the Space Navy use army ranks instead of navy, we then have the UED show up with an Admiral in charge, with the Vice Admiral running around in a Ghost uniform (i.e. a psychic assassin). On a third hand, the UED and the Confederacy/Dominion are two very different governments; though both are human in origin, their society has been separated for centuries.
- The original Escape Velocity had a major become an admiral. That's not even trying.
- EV Nova may have an example with General Smart, a Federation officer who defected to the Rebels and is now in charge of their space navy. The Federation Navy appears to use US Navy ranks (the two named Federation officers, Krane and Raczak, are a commander and an admiral respectively), so the only way to resolve it is by having the Rebels use Army or Air Force ranks. Given that the Rebels are of Federation extraction, this seems unlikely.
- At the beginning of Mass Effect 3, there is a quick scene where Lieutenant James Vega addresses Shepard as "sir", accompanied by a salute. Ordinarily, this would be a perfect example of this trope; Shepard is a military prisoner at the beginning of the game, and thus would not be saluted or addressed by his rank. What makes it an inversion is that when Shepard points out that Vega isn't supposed to call him "sir", Vega responds, "Yeah, and I'm not supposed to salute you, either." Meaning Vega is intentionally violating regulations because of his personal respect for Shepard.
- There is, howver, a straight example of this trope later on in the game. If Ashley Williams is the Virmire survivor (and assuming you don't shoot her while rescuing the council), you meet with her at the docking bay right after Udina's coup attempt is stopped. She tells you she wants to return to the Normandy's crew. If you agree, Shepard says, "Welcome aboard, Lieutenant!". At this point, Ashley Williams is a Lieutenant Commander, and thus should be addressed as "commander" and not "lieutenant".
- Star Wars video games tend to merrily continue the tradition begun by the movies, and in more ways than just preserving the idiosyncratic ranks of the Rebel Alliance and New Republic. Examples:
- The Old Republic, particularly the trooper storyline, is all over this trope. NCOs being addressed as "sir", rather than by rank; salutes being done wrong (it's not an engine or animation limitation, as proper salutes are occasionally done); romantic relations between characters not only of different rank, not only in the same unit, but between the unit CO and a direct subordinate; apparently no branches at all in the Republic military (everything falls under the Army of the Republic, including fleet and special forces); fleet officers functioning as ground-based infantry; superior officers addressing junior officers as "sir"...
- Justifiable as it's more a way of keeping score, but in the X Wing games, your character's rank is a function of their game score. So if you perform well enough (or use exploits and other tricks to pad your score), your character can be a general being ordered about by fleet captains (about equal to a colonel) or even fighter lieutenants in the early game.
- A "wrong rank" version happens in an episode of Hey Arnold!. The ex-military substitute teacher gives his rank as "Lieutenant Major." No such rank exists.
- G.I. Joe: Renegades has people calling Duke "sir", when he's a Sergeant. Further, this version of Scarlett is called a "Lieutenant" in the credits and dialogue, but no such rank exists in the US Army. No, not even Army Intelligence, where Scarlett came from. There are 2nd and 1st Lieutenants, but simply "Lieutenant" with no modifier is a Navy rank. Although, given the aforementioned pronunciation errors, and the informal structure of their group, it was never mentioned if she was first or second lieutenant, and both 2nd and 1st Lieutenants are typically called "Lieutenant" when talking.
- Flint is listed as Warrant Officer in the opening credit sequence but is a Lieutenant in the show. His original rank in RAH was Warrant, so probably a production snafu. Speaking of RAH...
- The original G.I. Joe cartoon can go from surprisingly realistic military procedure to outright tomfoolery. Duke or Flint in the first season seem to be almost always in charge, despite being 1st Sergants and Warrants, respectively, with many members of the team outranking them. And Duke is explicitly stated to be higher in the food chain than Flint in Season 2 (at least by then they had a General leading them). Not even getting into how every member of the Joe team can expertly pilot the F-14 expy, among other things.
- While almost likely an intentional goof, the South Park miniseries "Imaginationland" had the two Army soldiers in charge of the Stargate spoof simultaneously wearing senior Sergeant patches AND General stars. Sergerals?
- An almost certainly deliberate example occurred in Rocky and Bullwinkle. Boris Badenov showed up at an American military compound and tried to seize control based on his seniority, claiming that he was a six star general. When the general in charge showed that he, too, had six stars, Boris responded with "Yes, but yours don't light up". The rest of the base accepted this without question.