I'm going to do something I seldom do around here--I'm going to comment on current events and (gasp) politics. But this article and the accompanying Anderson Cooper video really hit home for me, and upset me quite a bit.
In it, a Republican Congressional candidate is attacked for and defends his hobby--historical reenactment. He reenacts Civil War, WWI, and WWII. The issue? His WWII units portrays an elite German tank division--and the unit was part of the military arm of the Nazi party.
Now, I have no comment on this guy's politics because I frankly don't care and, even if I did, this isn't the place to try to espouse my political views. But this upset me as a fellow reenactor. I'm sorry, but if you're going to recreate the Revolution, you need the British. If you're going to reenact the Civil War, the Confederates are requisite. And if you're doing World War II living history, there are Nazis.
I get the stigma--really, I do. We recoil at certain things, like spiders, hydrochloric acid, and Nazis. But to say that this guy is a Nazi or is glorifying Nazis because he dresses as one to educate people about the war is as sensible as saying a Revolutionary War reenactor who portrays a redcoat is a monarchist. (I would say it's as silly as saying all Confederate reenactors are racist, but that's already a common misconception.) Dig deeper, and even on the "right" side of these conflicts, there are unfortunate mindsets and mores applently--racism, chauvinism, nationalism. Do we give a half-hearted narrative because part of the story is unsavory? No: We tell the whole story, even--in fact, especially--the parts that make people uncomfortable, because that's what we learn from.
I also wonder where to draw the line--yes, this fellow's unit in the Panzerdivision was part of the SS, which was the military arm of the Nazi party. But I question whether this issue would be raised if he was portraying Wermacht, the "regular" German army. I speculate that it would. Because, of course, anyone who fought for Hitler was a rabid Nazi, right? Easy-peasy. Nazis bad, Allies good, we're done.
Well...we know that's not the case. And it raises one of those uncomfortable points that living history can raise so well--participants in the past were people. I'm even going to go out on a limb and say something potentially offensive--Nazis were people. They were people who made choices. In some cases, they were people who were disenfranchised of their choices. Either way--we don't really learn from the past unless we understand that, and recognize how similar we are to those who committed the atrocities we condemn.
Regardless--we as reenactors want to give a full picture of the past, and that means that someone plays the other side. I've never in a lifetime of reenacting met someone who portrayed a unit because of personal political, moral, or ethical affiliations that connected with that unit's history or beliefs. Perhaps there are some goofballs who do live out crazy alternate histories by reenacting--but I've never come across a unit that would support that and permit Goofball to continue. Some people do get a kick out of playing the bad guy--but it's not because they agree with those mindsets. If anything it's often because they disagree so strongly they feel the need to make sure that part of history isn't forgotten.
Sorry for the rant--I just felt that Mr. Cooper and the writer of the article took something they did not understand and, without realizing it, attacked the entire living history community. What they don't get is that we are all in this together--after firing across a field at the British, we invite them to our camp for dinner. We're not enemies--we're united in presenting history.