Confederate Nostalgia in Germany


I'm doing some research on the German immigrants who came down through Pennsylvannia into the Shenandoah Valley in the 18th and 19th century. They were different from the Virginia immigrants of English descent in that most of them didn't own slaves, and many of them were opposed to slaveholding outright.

Indeed, when the Civil War came some 200,000 German immigrants fought, most of them on the Union side. You'd think German Civil War re-enactors would be proud of that legacy.

After World War II, any talk of military glory became socially taboo here...So for those at the reenactment, it is appealing that the U.S. Civil War took place in another country, in another time. It is safer, even romantic. 

But the two parties to the fraternal conflict exert unequal appeal. When Germans gather at the reenactments, "more people want to be on the Confederate side." That produces a surreal spectacle. Germans marching about in butternut and gray, pretending to dwell in Dixie. With Teutonic precision, they have replicated every detail, down to the brass buttons and the brightly colored piping on their trousers. 

 They have missed only one thing. In their search for an anodyne conflict, lacking the baggage of their historical wars of mastery, these Germans have taken a wrong turn. The units they prefer to recreate fought to preserve an abhorrent system that kept more than three million men, women, and children in bondage while denying their very humanity.

If you listen to the accompanying PRI piece there's a lot of talk about heritage and pride. But it's all vague and hazy. There's no talk of Godfrey Weitzel, for instance, who commanded African-American troops and took Richmond after Lee fled. I am sure that there are all sorts of inoffensive theories about why this would be--losing being more interesting, for instance.

I will believe that when I start seeing people re-enact the Seminole Wars and there's a rush to play the blacks and Indians. I'm not sure that would be much better.