Richard Iott, Republican candidate for Congress in Ohio, has gotten some flack for his weekend hobby of WWII reenactment. He said it was something his son was interested in and he did it as a “bonding experience.” Puh-leeze. (More)

Civil War reenactors probably don’t understand all the hoopla, because, as one said, “you need two sides to reenact a battle.”  True. We’ll leave aside for the moment the glorification of war that comes from these things … although I’m fairly sure I’ll get back to it eventually.

A lot of people are upset because Iott chose to be a Nazi. Others claim he was just playing a German soldier, and it was for the purposes of reenactment. I’ll be the first to say I have no beef with the ordinary German footsoldier. He was a man called to the service of his country, just as many others were from many other countries.

But that brings me back to the whole problem of reenactment. (See, I said I’d get back to it.) Reenactment isn’t real. It doesn’t even approach real. It’s a bunch of people who put on uniforms and go out and play in the woods for a day or a week. They shoot blank rounds at each other, march around, pretend to get wounded, pretend to win.

Pretend is the operative word here. There is not one single reenactor who is living anything close to the reality of war: the terror, the anger, the suffering, the pain, the deprivation, or the horrific acts that every army in the history of mankind has wrought on non-combatants. You know, that thing we call “collateral damage:” wounding, pillage, rape, torture, murder.

Reenactors give us the glory of war with none of the atrocity.

So these guys go out for a fun weekend, run around for a little while, tell themselves it’s learning history or teaching history (depending on what they’re doing) and they learn nothing of history at all. And when the day is done, they go home, get cozy, having experienced absolutely nothing of what it’s like to be a real soldier in real battle, one who has to sleep at night with one eye open because every shadow is a threat. Their wounds are some red dye on a white cloth, not the gaping, tearing of bodies and minds.

Now to get back to Iott and his tour of duty as a re-enactor. He chose not only to don a German uniform, but a Waffen SS uniform. Some have claimed these Waffen SS were just soldiers. No, sorry, they were not. The Waffen SS were not part of the German Army. The Schutzstaffel (Guard Squadrons) were the Nazi party armed forces. While the Waffen SS were field units who served alongside German Army units, they had their own chain of command. Indeed, all Waffen SS who were inducted before December 1943 were considered guilty of war crimes, and were denied most veterans’ benefits in postwar Germany.

So what did the SS participate in? Well, for just one thing, the mass execution of over 3 million people in the Ukraine, among them 30,000 Jews, at a place called Babi Yar in September 1941. Yup. Lined ’em up and shot them, letting their naked bodies fall into a ravine. As the war wound down, they participated in the exhumation of their victims and the burning of the bodies so they could scatter the ashes and cover the atrocity.

Yes, the Babi Yar atrocity was carried out by SS Einsatzgruppen – death squads – but troops could and did transfer between Einsatzgruppen and Waffen units and in this case a full battalion of Waffen SS participated. And Waffen SS carried out atrocities of their own, including murdering 84 U.S. prisoners near the Belgian town of Malmedy, and 560 Italian civilians at Sant’Anna di Stazzema.

So here we have a man who claims he played the role of Waffen SS in order to bond with his son (some bonding, couldn’t you have played basketball?) and a group that claims to be learning and teaching history that has overlooked its blackest history.

At least I hope they have.  Because I’d shudder even more if I thought those men honestly knew the true history of the Waffen SS.

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