Because my sister participates, I have been thinking a little lately about the peculiar practice of military reenactments. That people in America reenact the U.S. Civil War is, I think, pretty widely known, but readers from other countries may be interested to learn that WWII is also very popular. The climate and topography of the East Coast is such that passable locations can be found for many European theater battles, so long as they took place outside of cities or towns. People who live in Michigan could probably reenact evil Soviets vs. Finnish commandoes on cross-country skis, and for all I know, they do. I had thought that WWI was too depressing to attract much interest, but I see now that I was very wrong:
The accurate recreation of such an era of warfare has been no simple task, but on small battlefields around the United States (around the world, in fact) reenactors have created the closest thing possible. These battlefields have trenches, bunkers and yes, real barbed wire. There are grenades and working mortars, as well as machine guns and full-scale over-the-top assaults. Nighttime is punctuated by trench raids carried out under the eerie light of flares and star shells. In the adjacent trench bay, there is the sound of a hand-to-hand struggle, as each side battles for possession of the trench…If this kind of madness appeals to you, if it makes you curious, then you might want to consider reenacting the Great War.
But then again, perhaps not. Now, I am fairly sure that WWII reenactment would be illegal in Germany (and France?) where you are not allowed to trade Nazi memorabilia or make new, accurate SS uniforms and so on. Germans make up for this with their ridiculous Wild West fascination, based on the works of Karl May. But what about other countries? Do Belgian people like to do WWI reenactments? That would seem…morbid, but no more so than Americans doing the Civil War, I suppose. I am dead certain that Italian people are not off replaying the battle of Lake Trasimene in their free time. Italian people have better things to do, like see friends, ride Vespas around, and eat gelato. I could imagine British people going for this in a big way, however. Let’s see…oh, hell yes. English Civil War reenactments; I had forgotten. I’m sure that Japanese people are discouraged from doing WWII reenactments, just to spare feelings. Australian people, you will be happy to know, reenact the U.S. Civil War, so you can be sure they like to pretend they’re dying like flies in Turkey during WWI as well.
Why do people do this? I can see the appeal, to an extent. You get to play with guns and artillery, which is fun, and there is a hide-and-seek element to it, plus the obvious costume party aspect. According to my sister, people who dress as ordinary German soldiers in WWII reenactments are not necessarily crazy (just as there is no shame in choosing to be the Axis in a game of Axis and Allies, especially since you get more tanks). However, as you’d expect, among people who dress up as SS officers, there is a high proportion of unsavory characters. I am unable to parse the modern-day cultural significance of choosing to be a Roundhead vs. a Cavalier. Do you see yourself as more of a Guelph, or a Ghibelline? Punic invader, or Roman defender? Finally, Irish Timberites may be amused to know that this weekend my sister is reenacting the Easter Uprising of 1916. (I can only assume they have some town for this.) She gets to wear clothes of the period (the main appeal) and smuggle guns and bombs to partisans under loaves of bread and what not. People have their little ways.