Two weeks ago Andy McLean wrote, in a letter to the editor titled “Nazis reenactors like a tribute to Ted Bundy,” that he was very hurt by seeing them and those artifacts or reproductions that have anything to do with that segment of history. As executive director of the Living History Association, which was the host group for all the reenactors of all the various time periods being represented, I feel sorry for your hurt emotions and assure you that was not the intent of the organizers. I also realize that the closer we are to a historical subject the deeper our emotions are likely to be. Any time a historical presentation is done we take the risk of offending someone.
Some years ago I did a Revolutionary War presentation for the Vermont Council for the Humanities and Native Americans showed up to protest a war in which they lost their lands. I just returned from the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg where there were 7,000 Confederate reenactors with dozens of Confederate battle flags flying that many black people see only as a racist symbol. Some years ago at the battle of Bentonville a black man was portraying a Confederate soldier and a white spectator from New Jersey badgered the man about his portrayal and what a travesty it was to see a black man in that uniform. The black Confederate told the man, “Obviously your enthusiasm for the subject outweighs your knowledge.” He then proceeded to give that person a history lesson on how he was portraying his great-grandfather, who indeed fought for the South in that very battle. So we reenactors do realize that our portrayals in this form of outdoor theater known as living history do conjure up all kinds of emotions both good and bad, as well as occasionally misinformed.
At the time line event we had World War II Russian reenactors. That army ravaged Eastern Europe as it marched to destroy Hitler, and prior to the war Stalin used that army to kill 28 million of his own people. Do we say these reenactors can’t attend the event? Then there were also the bright and shiny helmets and colorful shields of the ancient Romans that every spectator seems to love, they just look so cool, yet they were responsible for the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, mass crucifixions in Italy’s slave revolt, persecution of both Christians and Jews for hundreds of years, not to mention the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. So where do we draw the line on history? LHA board members ask themselves that question a lot.
Fact is, history is messy and it is too bad we don’t remember more of it so that we might not be so prone to keep repeating it. We can’t all just wave the American flag and blindly say we live in the greatest country in the world, because if you study our history closely there are parts of it we should hang our heads in shame for. Human morality is a fragile condition where greed and insensitivity often have led to heinous acts and actions regardless of what flag is flying over them.
You saw a Nazi party flag and I do regret that happened. Since LHA began we have always banned that political party flag from our events, largely because it generates more emotion than we care to deal with.
The group who had it had never attended an LHA event before and all of the event administrators were overwhelmed in their own camps with visitors.
None of us ever saw it, but you were not the only one to mention it to us, so we know it happened, and can only assume that some reenactor told them to take it down. Again, sorry for your pain.
James A. Dassatti
Executive Director, LHA