Especially the Johnnies and the Nazis


It's worth checking out Josh Green's piece on a Tea Party candidate in Ohio (!!) who had been active in Nazi re-enactments. Those of you who've been following the Civil War stuff here will see a lot similarities. I should say, up front, that I am not against the re-enactment of any war. Indeed, I would watch re-enactments of slave-raids in Africa if I could. I could see that kind of theater being a healthy tool in reaching a complete understanding of history.

Unfortunately in my experience, re-enactments are staged to do exactly the opposite, preferring to "clean" state-sanctioned killing and excise war from the uncomfortable politics from which it emerges. From Josh's piece:

The website makes scant mention of the atrocities committed by the Waffen SS, and includes only a glancing reference to the "twisted" nature of Nazism. Instead, it emphasizes how the Wiking unit fought Bolshevist Communism: 

Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a "New and Free Europe", free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement. Regardless, thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free. 

Historians of Nazi Germany vehemently dispute this characterization. "These guys don't know their history," said Charles W. Sydnor, Jr., a retired history professor and author of "Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-45," which chronicles an SS division. "They have a sanitized, romanticized view of what occurred."

Obviously, I'm much better on the Civil War, than I am on World War II. But I know enough to know that this kind of hamfisted Manicheanism (Communism=tyranny, Nazism="New and Free.") is almost certainly wrong. There are people who are enamored with the tactics of war, and I get that. But then there are those who become drunk on war tactics, who want to be there--but then, not really "there." They want to go to idealized, fantasy of "there," where women waved handkerchiefs and the Wiffen "gave their lives for their loved ones" and, evidently, murdered no Jews.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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