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Shocked, Shocked by the Comparison to Civil War Re-Enactors

[ 35 ] October 9, 2010 |

This is awful, but I suspect we’re missing the point:

The Republican nominee for Congress for Ohio’s 9th District, Rich Iott, played a Nazi for years as part of a re-enactment group, reveals the Atlantic’s Joshua Green. Iott was involved in a group that calls itself Wiking, “devoted to re-enacting the exploits of an actual Nazi division, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, which fought mainly on the Eastern Front during World War II,” details Green. All mention of Iott has been scrubbed from the Wiking Web site. Iott insists that’s because he left the group, which he allegedly joined “as a father-son bonding thing,” three years ago. It’s unclear how long he participated in the group, although his name appears in rosters dating back to 2003. Iott acknowledged he was part of the group but insists it was about interest in World War II history and shouldn’t be seen as a sign that he agrees with the Nazi ideals. While Iott tried to liken his curious activity to Civil War re-enactments, the group takes a strangely sanitized view of the Nazis and barely mentions their atrocities, including the murder of European Jews. “Whatever worry” Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur “may have had about reelection, I think that’s over now,” writes Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

Odd; I think that Civil War re-enactments tend to take a strangely sanitized view of the Confederates and barely mention their atrocities, including mass treason and the waging of a war of in defense of the idea that white people should be able to own black people. In this sense, I think that Iott is 100% correct in comparing World War II and Civil War re-enactments. I won’t complain if he gets nailed on this, but this seems to be an area in which expunging the idea of American Exceptionalism is entirely sensible.

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  • The difference is that, for the most part, Germans have too much class to play dress-up and pretend that they are back in the good old days. There is precisely no difference between role-playing a Nazi and role-playing a Confederate, unless it’s the sexual kink that Nazi role-play seems to add as a bonus. And I wouldn’t be so sure that kink doesn’t enter into the Confederate play acting.

    • “I wouldn’t be so sure that kink doesn’t enter into the Confederate play acting.”

      I’ve actually seen some kinky Confederate role-play imagery. It isn’t something I’d recommend.

    • Jon H

      ” There is precisely no difference between role-playing a Nazi and role-playing a Confederate”

      Well, there’s the difference that a dork in a Nazi uniform might well encounter people who were direct victims of the Nazis, or fought the Nazis, or had friends killed by the Nazis, etc.

  • DrDick

    Have to say this really does resemble a lot of the Confederate re-enactments an awful lot and seems to have similar roots.

  • Ed

    I always thought the immorality of battle re-enactments had to do with the playing at killing and being killed, which is okay for kids playing cowboys and Indians but more troubling where grown men are involved. The side you elect to dress up as seems secondary, unless you are assuming that everyone who dresses in gray at such events is some sort of Confederate sympathizer, and if they were I doubt the presumably virtuous Union “soldiers” would consent to play with them. Me, I tend not to think that dressing up as a Confederate infantryman, as much as I think it’s misguided, is not the same as donning an SS uniform, but I don’t make the same equivalency between the Confederacy and the Nazis, which seems ahistorical and simplistic to me, that so many do here.

    I have attended a reenactment and generally everyone is too busy at their task to lecture anyone. But plainly romanticization is involved whether you are dressed in blue or gray, which is part of why I find these affairs are troublesome. (But I also realized these guys meant well.)

  • wengler

    How exactly do you re-enact WW2 in the US? Do these virtuous Wehrmacht soldiers go sit in a barracks somewhere with American soldiers guarding them?

    This is neo-Nazi shit straight up. That’s probably the main difference between it and Civil War re-enacting.

    • DrDick

      The latter is at least half Neo-Confederate shit straight up.

    • Richard J

      Not so much with the neo- bit. You don’t have to do too much digging into the history of German WW2 re-enactors to find actual echt Nazis. “The Myth of the Eastern Front” is interesting on the topic and on the wider topic of Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS revisionism.

  • efgoldman

    As Benen pointed out, the real stupidity is that this is the guy the GOBP picked for one of their top-tier target races (against Marcy Kaptur).

    Knowing what we do about how McCain’s people “vetted” Palin, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. This seems to be a recurring GOBP pattern this year.

  • Grant

    We’ll see if you DFHs maintain your high-falutin’ standards when a Democrat gets caught reenacting Guevara taking Santa Clara!

    • hv

      And the resulting kink, of course.

  • SEK

    My obligatory link to the best video on reenactments out there.

  • John

    including mass treason

    Tedious. By any legal standard, our whole country was founded by people committing mass treason.

    What is wrong with the Confederacy isn’t that they committed “treason,” but that they were fighting for the right to maintain and extend chattel slavery.

    • hv

      I think there was more specific oath-breaking on the part of Confederates.

  • Warren Terra

    The warm glow of remembrance for the Confederacy and the antebellum South that we still so often encounter deserves to be shattered with the brutal truth of what they were fighting to inflict on their fellow man. That being said, given that so many people are blind to the truth about the Confederacy and so few are blind to the truth about the Nazis, a group of Nazi reenactors really would be an especially awful thing even if they were playing at being Wehrmacht – and these petty would-be monsters are playing at being the freaking SS. I think we should encourage his re-enacting impulses, and suggest he go live under an assumed name in Argentina.

    • DrDick

      Uruguay or Paraguay. Argentina seems to be making some progress these days.

    • Ed

      I think we should encourage his re-enacting tendencies by coordinating a kidnapping by the Mossad.

      Why don’t more Jews vote Republican?

      That’s actually a longstanding question in some conservative quarters, who can’t understand why their unswerving fealty toward all of Israel’s policies forever hasn’t earned them the gratitude of Jews everywhere. I think they have their answer.

  • Before any action, both Johnny Reb and Karl Heinz would have received a strong dose of agtiprop.
    I can’t see either re-enactment camp allowing* the rally speech against the Slaves/Untermenschen.
    That would make it too bloody real.
    It might also spoil the whole Father/Son bonding opportunity.

    C

    *Cthulu would only hope

  • Why don’t more Jews vote Republican?

  • Warren Terra

    Well, we do owe the Republicans for their sterling efforts to provide a home for little Billy Kristol, that scamp.

  • There are also groups that do Roman reenactments. I was surprised at the number of these in the US, I though it was mostly a European thing. I’m not sure what the political implications of them are, if any. But I am clear on the politics of British conceptual artist Jeremy Deller’s reenactment of the Battle of Orgreave, the 1984 controntation between striking coal miners and police.

  • soullite

    Umm, yeah. LARPing isn’t much fun to begin with, I’d imagine it gets considerably less fun if you take time away from their little game to commit fake-atrocities in order to maintain historical realism.

    This is the lamest, most politically convenient argument I’ve ever heard. There is no way this would be less creepy if 20 fake nazis stopped to fake rape and murder a dozen fake jews.

    I bet you think the people who pla ythe ‘Horde’ in WoW do so because they really, really want to be undead monsters or giant minotaurs.

    • Oscar Leroy

      I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s why I play the Horde.

    • DrDick

      Isn’t that why you play troll here and at other progressive sites?

  • Larkspur

    I haven’t watched or participated in any Civil War re-enactments. I assume it’s a whole sub-culture, with an internal life and logic of its own, like competitive ballroom dancing or something. It is not something I’d be interested in.

    But the interest makes sense. You go to a place in your own country that was the site of a fierce battle, where tens of thousands of soldiers were killed in a day, and you can walk to a particular ridge or river that was pivotal. You go to a bluff where civilians gathered to watch a battle that subsequently shocked them with its carnage. You remember that this is the last time that hostilities of this magnitude took place on our own soil, and it makes you remember that in Europe, bloodshed like that happened over the whole continent merely 60 years ago, with infrastructure destruction on a far greater scale.

    But walking around those home-grown historical markers also makes you understand that soldiers and civilians die one at a time, and that they look like us.

    So to the extent that formal re-enactments are lots of fun, and encourage romanticizing of a bygone age, well, I wouldn’t know about that, although I find it distasteful. But the concept makes sense.

    Now, Americans re-enacting Nazi shit? For entertainment? Is just unforgivably weird.

    • DocAmazing

      Friends and I made a short film set in WWII; I made some Nazi uniforms out of surplus West German and East German stuff (frighteningly similar to the old-skool stuff!). Looking around for insignia, I ran into WWII reenactors of the Nazi variety. Interesting bunch; some neo-Nazis and SS apologists among them, but more than a few who were hyper-interested in historical realism, and dismissed the stuff I was making as “farby” or insufficiently period-accurate. I then ran across tale of Civil War reennactors who were equally wild about period accuracy; they were derided as “button-pissers” for their habit of soaking modern brass buttons in urine to acheive a patina consistent with their look.

      In summary, there are Nazi apologists and Nazis among the reenactors, but there are even more merely weird people.

      • Larkspur

        I remember reading somewhere that the Dutch actor Rutger Hauer (Roy the replicant in “Bladerunner”) was disconcerted by the reaction of some Germans during the filming of the TV movie “Inside the Third Reich” (1982).

        He played Albert Speer and apparently looking so dashing in his Nazi duds that older onlookers (it was filmed in Munich and elsewhere in Bavaria) seemed thrilled, even nostalgic. That’s what he said, anyway. He considered it creepy.

        I’m all in favor of the merely weird having their past-times. The U.S. is made of weird. With Civil War re-enactors, at least it keeps them in the fields and off the streets.

  • Linnaeus

    I think it’s significant that the unit that Iott role-plays himself as being a part of is one that operated on the Eastern Front. Because no one wants to be the Germans fighting against the virtuous western allies; when you see yourself as fighting the barbaric communist hordes, however, then it’s not so bad, I guess.

    • Lurker

      Playing soldiers of Nazi Germany is creepy, playing SS men is even creepier. However, the creepiest thing in this is that these guys are not re-enacting German soldiers. They are role-playing the SS-Division Wiking, which was composed of Scandinavian volunteers.

      Thus, these people are re-enacting Norwegian and Danish traitors who joined the forces of the occupier. Or the Swedish volunteers who joined the SS just for the sake of their ideological commitment to nazism. It is difficult to find a more abominable thing to re-enact.

      • Soren

        Its a little dicey whether the Danes fighting for the Nazis were traitors.

        The Danish government were in session during most of the occupation, and it encouraged the participation in the war effort. Just like the Danish police cooperated with the Nazis in tracking communists, who by the way made up the backbone of the Danish resistance.

        After the war people were busy distancing themselves from the Nazis, so suddenly the volunteers in German war service were labelled as traitors, just like some small fish were convicted as collaborators, while large companies, profiteering on the war where not censored.

        But the volunteers followed the advice an suggestions of the lawful government, so while they may be morally seen as traitors, legally its not as clear cut.

  • old

    Nazis! How do they work?

    • hv

      I would’ve gone with “Christ, what an asshole.”

  • cpinva

    i’m surprised no one’s addressed the truly weirdest aspect of this: the whole “father-son bonding” thing. what on earth did this guy teach his son, that his son decided this would be a fun way to spend his spare time?