Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hiding Hatred in the Name of History (pt. 1)

Before we get too far into it, let's set things up a bit. I have been a Civil War reenactor for 16 yrs. now, and have seen a lot of changes during that time. I reenact Confederate, even though I was born in Pittsburgh, PA and lived most of my life about 50 miles north of the city. This was through no love of slavery, hatred of blacks, or any other such reasons. It merely was the side that most fascinated me. The uniforms were so different, the equipment was at times so lacking, and the manpower of the Southern armies often was not there, yet they almost surprised the World and won it all. Though their cause ended in the almost-total destruction of their country, they managed to keep their country alive for four years, and came very close to gaining the foreign recognition and intervention they needed. Much like the Colonials of the late 1700's, this outnumbered and outgunned bunch of "rebels" existed longer than and accomplished more than almost anyone thought possible. That is what intrigued me about the Southern soldier. Their was no "Lost Cause" mystique, no hatred, etc.

Now, of course, there are many people who see Confederate reenactors, and think we're all are merely anti-government and pro-slavery. They could not be more wrong! In my 16 years of reenacting, I attended such events as the 135th Antietam and Gettysburg reenactments, the so-called Mega-Events of the '90's. During these times, when several thousand reenactors of both sides from not only around the country, but from around the world, were drawn together for whatever personal reasons, I had the privilege and honor of talking with many like-minded people. Quite often, our conversations were similar to what we all can imagine that the conversations of the actual Civil War soldiers around the campfires must have been like.

At the 135th Gettysburg in 1998, we had reenactors from all 11 Confederate states around our campfires or in our camp, along with people from 7 Northern states and 4 foreign countries. We got to talking politics, weather, frustrations with currrent government, the economy, and so forth. Quite a bit of time was spent discussing the upcoming battle scenarios of the next day, or reviewing and re-fighting those of the day prior. Spirits and ales were shared, as were snacks. Some had brought instruments and were playing period music. With the sights, sounds, and smells in camp, it was a surreal sense of what at times it must have been like for the soldiers of both sides.

Through all the conversations, two subjects never came up. What were they? Hatred based on race and acceptance of or desire to preserve slavery. Slavery as a cause of the war was discussed. Frustration with big government was discussed ( though EVERYONE agreed that we were in the greatest country in the World, even the foreigners in attendance). The World politics and sentiment in the 1860's compared to current world politics were often discussed. But, the aspect of hatred was lacking. This was the case in every event, big or small, that I attended through the years. There are a lot of Northern Confederates and Southern Yankees, but no one I ever heard expressed tolerance of slavery or the desire of a victorious Southern Confederacy. While I'm not saying such types of folks do not exist (I'm sure they are out there), I've been to many events throughout the Eastern US, and I've never met any of them that I know of. All agreed that in the case of Confederate Independence, re-unification would have had to occur at some point, or neither country would have survived the World Wars.

Let's now fast-forward to the early 2000's. I picked up a new hobby. I had met some folks who were WWII reenactors at a nearby timeline event. They told me of a WWII vehicle museum nearby (that unfortunately no longer exists), and of the owner who allowed his vehicles to be used at events. If I had any interest, I could move into their era, and I could hang with them and work with them and get a chance to not only learn about the vehicles and see them in action, but to work with them, riding in the vehicles (not just Jeeps, but Halftracks and Sherman tanks) in parades, and living histories. So, I purchased WWII paratrooper gear (under the advice of and with help from my good friend Joe), and started to get involved.

I went to the museum, and read about the vehicles. I took pictures of them and began learning all I could about them. At events where the vehicles were being used, I'd try to arrive early and help with the setup. When the events were over, I'd stay late and help with cleaning up and securing the vehicles. I made new friends, and was starting to have experiences that few other people I knew had ever had. Have you ever heard an "Easy 8" Sherman tank with the radial engine run, or seen what is required merely in start-up of such a vehicle? Have you ever ridden in a halftrack, helped change the sparkplugs in a Sherman tank, helped change the battery in a Stuart tank, or even ridden in a Sherman tank?...Not to brag, but...I have! It was not only fun, but it was a tremendous learning experience! I now knew what things I had previously only read about or seen in movies felt like, sounded like, and more importantly, smelled like.

The next step was going to an actual battle reenactment and trying to simulate and re-create WWII combat. To do that, though, you need some other guys to help. What other guys? Germans, of course, and here is where the basis of this posting begins to become apparent!

Pt. 2 to come soon!

It's an interesting way to try to disguise it!
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