A German Military Chest-Slapping Hazard, and American Pottery

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

(Image credit: Flickr user Medien Bundeswehr)

 by Marc Abrahams, Improbable Research staff

The repetitive---yea, rhythmic---impact of a rifle wielded by a highly disciplined military man can puff up his chest. This sometimes leads to worry, or worse.

Many manly soldiers, famously fascinated by big breasts, harbor a horror of what would happen if they themselves grew a pair. Or if they grew just one.

Drilling, Pursued Diligently
Some men do experience this affront. A study called "Gynecomastia in German Soldiers: Etiology and Pathology" analyzed the plight of 211 male German soldiers who suffered from, or at least exhibited, one or two enlarged breasts. The ailment has a formal medical name: gynecomastia.

"Gynecomastia in German Soldiers: Etiology and Pathology [Gynäkomastie bei Soldaten der Deutschen Bundeswehr: Ätiologie und Pathologie]," Sandy Egler, Stefan Lenz, André Lieber, Dietrich Doll, Björn Dirk Krapohl, and Hans-Peter Kuhne, GMS Interdisciplinary Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, January 9, 2012. (Thanks to investigator James Harkin for bringing this to our attention.)

The study's authors, Prof. Dr. Dr. Björn Dirk Krapohl, Dr. Dietrich Doll, and four colleagues at Bundeswehrkrankenhaus, the German Armed Forces Hospital in Berlin, played detective. They set out "to investigate the increased incidence of left-sided gynecomastia in members of the German Ministry of Defense Guard Battalion who perform ceremonial duties in Berlin.... A possible explanation is the mechanical impact of the carbine against the left side of the body during the drills that these soldiers regularly perform as part of their ceremonial duties."

(Image credit: Flickr user Wir. Dienen. Deutschland.)

The doctors compared those patients with other gynecomastic men who had not spent years frequently and intensively slapping rifles into their left breast.

They noticed a stark difference.

Seventy-five percent of the gynecomastiacal Guard Battalion chest-slappers had an enlarged left---only the left, not the right---breast.

The other patients---the non-chest-slappers---as a group, showed neither sinister nor dexter breastedness. One third of them did have an enlarged left breast only. But another third of them had only a big right breast. The third third had a big pair.

The doctors suggest that this ritual breast-beating damages the tissue so much that "surgical resection of excess breast tissue is the only effective treatment."

This medical investigation, with its tight focus on one possible cause of gynecomastia, smacks of an old national stereotype: that Germans overindulge their love of military precision.

The Search for a Cannabis Connection

An earlier medical inquiry, also performed by military physicians in Germany, looked at a different possible cause of gynecomastia, in soldiers from a different nation. Their homeland, far from Germany in both place and spirit, was famed at that time for its fascination with marijuana.

Two doctors at the U.S. Army Hospital in Nuremberg published, in 1977, a study called "Gynecomastia and Cannabis Smoking."

"Gynecomastia and Cannabis Smoking. A Nonassociation Among U.S. Army Soldiers," William Cates, Jr, and James N. Pope, American Journal of Surgery, vol. 134, no. 5, November 1977, pp. 613-5.

They examined eleven low-ranking, abnormally big-breasted male American soldiers. Some of those swell-chested fellows admitted to smoking marijuana. Others did not.

The report ends with a clear, sober statement: "Our epidemiologic evidence does not support [any] relationship between chronic cannabis use and gynecomastia."

The cannabis report, seen in retrospect, is incomplete. It makes no mention of how many of the toking soldiers had just one enlarged breast, let alone which.

Detail from the study "Gynecomastia and Cannabis Smoking. A Nonassociation Among U.S. Army Soldiers."


The article above is republished with permission from the September-October 2013 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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