I always read Valley Views when I am in Wilmington. In the last issue I was most impressed by the response of James Dassatti to a letter from a person who was a distressed spectator at the LHA Timeline who saw the Nazi flag being displayed. In addition to expressing regret at what the original letter writer had experienced, Mr. Dassatti identified many of the issues that do come up for those of us who portray living history. In that he did a most commendable job.
The truth of history is often not politically correct. Vermont is a state where citizens are very aware of their history and the roles this state has played in it. Mr. Dassatti was quite correct that those who do not know history are most likely to repeat its mistakes. History is also quite complicated.
Today people like answers to problems that are quick and easy. It is a new version of the “Devil Theory” of history...namely, if something is unfair or hurtful, simply find the one person responsible and make him/her pay. Then all will be well. Sadly, there is seldom ever such a simple answer. If the Continentals could throw off the yoke of King George, then we would be free of taxes. If the Federals could “hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree” then the Civil War would have been over, since he “caused” it all, and all men would be treated as equals. If Osama Bin Laden could be caught or killed, then the US would be free of terrorism. Well, history shows that things just did not end that simply.
Now, emotions are a very different matter. We are our feelings. Feelings are not good or evil, they simply “are.” Feelings are not to be judged. (One way to tell quickly if something is a feeling is to substitute “I am” for “I feel.” If you can do that, it is a feeling, if you cannot it is more likely a thought.) Now, even though feelings are not to be judged, how we act on those feelings can certainly be judged. The person who attended the timeline expressed hurt feelings through your paper. That was a good way to express hurt and to start some discussion of what happened. Hopefully, the reenactor who displayed the Nazi flag read that letter and can avoid hurting others in the future.
If the event had been a reenactment of an event from WWII, the presence of a flag might have been justified in explaining the issues and portraying each side in an historic engagement. However, a timeline may not be the place for such a display. One must ask if the hurt caused will be more than offset by accomplishing something good. From all that has come out since the timeline event, perhaps that question will be asked more frequently.
Professor, Mercy College
Dobbs Ferry, NY