The 'Heroic Ignorance' of American Politicians


Rich Iott seems about finished, politically speaking. But the debate over the appropriateness of historical re-enactments, especially those portraying Nazis, is not. Over at Talking Points Memo, the topic has been taken up here, here and here. Ta-Nehesi wrote about his uncomfortable firsthand encounter with Confederate re-enactors here. (For the record, Iott told me he dressed up in Confederate uniforms, but has not, despite his outspoken defense of his hobby, seen fit to share pictures. I take that as a tacit admission that this, too, is inappropriate, or at least politically damaging.) But what caught my attention over the weekend, was a scathing column entitled "The Tea Party and Himmler's Black Legion" by Omer Bartov, a professor of European History and German Studies at Brown University, who is the author of "Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich" (Oxford, 1992) and "The Eastern Front, 1941-45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare." (Iott's group, the Wikings, modeled itself on an actual Waffen SS division stationed on the Eastern Front.) I think it's significant, and under-appreciated in our "everyone is entitled to their opinion" culture, that the people most knowledgeable about Nazi history are also the ones most vigorous in their condemnation of these activities. Here's an except from Bartov's column:

The revelation that Rich Iott, the Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District seat in Ohio and a Tea Party favorite, has been in the habit of dressing up as a Waffen-SS soldier, is just one more sign of the heroic ignorance that characterizes large sectors of American politicians, the media that covers them, and the public that votes for them.  Such monumental ignorance, of truly Wagnerian dimensions, is the product of a failed educational system, which has relegated the study of history to a marginal spot in the curriculum and has completely forgotten the dictum that those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat its errors, even if at times such repetitions turn out to be nothing more than farce.  But while Mr. Iott may well have been just a fool masquerading as an expert in military history, the organization in whose activities he participated, the military unit it professes to support, and the ideology that formation believed in and implemented, were and are anything but funny.  Criminal war and genocide are not a joke, and before one dresses up in the uniform of its military instruments, one should be informed of their deeds.

Read the rest here.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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