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Why a 21-gun salute? – ‘The Why’

Why a 21-gun salute?

Welcome to today’s edition of The Why.

Everywhere you look the media is pushing you telling you who to follow, what to watch and when to watch it.   You’re even sometimes told how to do it all.  Truth is, here at American Live Wire we do a bit of that too.  The big difference is we also tell you why.

You ask the questions.  We provide the answers.

“Why a 21-gun salute?” you ask?

Before answering the question “Why a 21-gun salute?” let’s review a bit of military history to make sure everyone is on the same page as the person who posed the question.  A 21-gun salute is the highest (and often posthumous) military honor rendered.

why a 21-gun salute

Why a 21-gun salute?

Since August 1875 the US national salute uses 21 guns (or shots).  In the US the 21-gun salute is fired off to honor the American flag, the chief of state or sovereign of another country, someone from a reigning royal family and the President, former President or President-elect.  It’s also fired at high noon on the day of a presidential funeral.

All over the world and far back through the mists of time you will find examples of weapons being used as salutes for military occasions.  It’s a universal custom wherein warriors show their “peaceful intentions” by holding their different weapons in an ineffective position.  According to An army history website notes that a “North African tribe . . . trailed the points of their spears on the ground to indicate that they did not mean to be hostile.”

That explains the use of “guns” but “why a 21-gun salute?” you ask?  Why 21?

The origin of 21 is uncertain.  There are some definite military-related possibilities.  For example, the above-mentioned site notes that land batteries had a larger supply of gun powder that those on ships.  They were able to fire cannons for every single shot fired from a ship.  “Hence, the salute by shore batteries was 21 guns.”

The first gun powder was basically sodium nitrate.  It often spoiled out at sea because of the dampness.  When scientists started using potassium nitrate to improve gunpowder, ships started using the 21-gun salute as well.

why a 21-gun salute

Why a 21-gun salute?

So the salute by shore batteries used 21 guns.  Ships eventually did as well.  Still that doesn’t fully answer the question: “Why a 21-gun salute?”

Some sources suggest that it also has to do with math.  7 is taken from The Bible which says that after creating the world in 6 days God rested on the seventh.  Additionally, every seventh year is said to be sabbatical the Jubilee year was brought in by “the seven times seventh year.”

They used a multiple of three possibly because of the mystical or spiritual significance that goes back to ancient civilizations.  7 times 3 equals 21.

“Why a 21-gun salute?”  As we have learned, it involves not only using specific weapons in a peaceful way but also has its roots in the history and quality of weaponry as well as the spiritual and mystical properties of the multiples of 21.

“Why a 21-gun salute?” Now you know.

You ask the questions.  We provide the answers.

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(Images courtesy of Espiya and Wikimedia)

About Will Phoenix

W. Scott Phoenix, B.A., B.S. was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and resides in California. He has been a published writer since 1978. His work has appeared (under various names) in numerous places in print and online including Examiner.com. He is a single parent of three children and has also worked as an actor, singer and teacher. He has been employed by such publications as the Daily Collegian and the Los Angeles Times.