Friday, October 15, 2010

What Richard Iott’s Nazi Re-enacting Really Means

A bit late on this one, but well worth it...

The Republicans and the Tea Party are the gift that keep on giving. In one party we have quite likely to be mentally ill Christine O'Donnell, secessionist kook Sharon Angle, Republican Senators such as Glenn McConnell who attend galas (with happy slaves and auctions) set in the "Good Ol' Confederacy," and now a Nazi role-player in Richard Iott who dresses up as a Waffen SS officer for weekend sport. As someone with more than a passing interest in military affairs and issues of historical memory I was going to chime in. But, I am also practical.

Why do something yourself, when you can have a friend--one who actually has a forthcoming book on Weimar-era Germany--do it for you?

As always, Werner Herzog's Bear has kindly obliged us by emerging from his comfy cave to bring some sense to this tea party brigand nonsense.


Like a lot of people, I was both dismayed and amused by the news that a Tea Party-approved candidate for the House used to spend his weekends in a Nazi uniform re-enacting the exploits of a Waffen SS unit in World War II. The amusement came from seeing a bunch of middle-aged, suburban beer bellied slobs playing dress up like they could have survived ten minutes on the Eastern Front. The dismay came from the fact that they were not re-enacting a regular Wehrmacht unit, but one from the Waffen SS, the military arm of the institution responsible for carrying out the Holocaust. Not only that, the material on their website claims that members of the original Wiking unit were just doing their patriotic duty:

“We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free.”

As anyone who actually studies these things can tell you, the German military’s invasion of the Soviet Union was a war of racial conquest, extermination, and enslavement. Anyone who tries to downplay that fact, or to celebrate the perpetrators behind it, is either horribly naïve, deluded, or a closet fascist.

There are a lot of ways to analyze Iott’s participation in the Wiking re-enactors. On the surface, it must be said, is the ultimate irony that Tea Partiers have been foaming at the mouth over the supposed parallels between Adolf Hitler and Barack Obama. To me, it’s increasingly easier to read those slanders as a desperate attempt to cover up the hard Right’s fascist tendencies.

That being said, I think we can actually go much deeper. Beyond the hypocrisy and the authoritarian fever dreams lurking in the Teabagger id, Iott’s hobby reveals the Tea Party’s ignorant and false understanding of history. Ultimately, the Tea Party views history as a vindication of their ideas, but they understand history as a kind of playground emancipated from any rules of historical fact and interpretation.

Tea Party events are infamous for the participants dressed in powdered wigs and tricorn hats. Their mouthpiece, Glenn Beck, likes to pose in costume himself, and constantly uses a distorted view of history to brand Progressives “fascists.” As I have pointed out in the past, he took Thomas Paine, an avowed enemy of organized religion and a proto-socialist, and turned him into a Bible-thumping free marketer. Why did he get away with this? Because his followers do not know or care about the real historical record, just as Iott seems to be unaware of the realities of the Eastern Front. (I will actually give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s not a Nazi, he’s just stupid, confused, and insensitive.)

They use and abuse history in this fashion because they need its authority to give their blinkered worldview some legitimacy. Their ideas have failed miserably in the present, so why not create a false, idealized distant past where they worked? I think that professional historians like myself need to do a lot more to set the record straight, since Teabagger history not only distorts the truth, its funhouse of costumes and invented facts threatens to confuse the past so much that Teabagger fabrications will be accepted for reality. After awhile it does remind one of a certain political group that blamed their nation’s military defeat on a “stab in the back” from their political enemies and used the resulting anger to grab power for themselves. Gosh, I wonder who they were again…


Bill the Lizard said...

Thanks a lot for positing this Werner Herzog's Bear!

In general, while I don't care for the hobby, I don't have a huge problem with historical reenactors. If they want to dress up in costumes and run through the forest, with beer bellies in tow, more power to them.

However, that said, I have a SERIOUS problem with what Rich Iott is doing, and here's why:

First off, it's completely insensitive to both Holocaust survivors and their families.

Secondly, it's completely unbecoming of someone who would seek public office.

And third, it shows Iott's completely lack of understanding about what the Holocaust was and the role of the Waffen SS within the Holocaust.

According to the Wiking website, the reenactor group is a non-profit with a "common interest in the German side of the war." They "want to tell the story of the average combat soldier of the German military".

And apparently, Rich Iott must agree with this statement, because he's said in his own defense:

"They were doing what they thought was right for their country. And they were going out and fighting what they thought was a bigger, you know, a bigger evil."

It's this complete and utter lack of understanding about the Nazis and World War Two that causes me simultaneous shock, horror and outrage.

Contrary to what Rich Iott thinks he knows, the 5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking was not an average combat unit, nor was it even apart of the Wehrmacht. It’s members were not just “average combat soldiers”.

The 5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking was Waffen SS, and the Waffen SS was the combat arm of the Nazi Party. This means that they were the political "world view" soldiers, indoctrinated completely into what Winston Churchill would call "the spread of Hitlerism" and the Final Solution. Their official motto was "Meine Ehre heißt Treue" (My Honor is called Loyalty) . This means loyalty to Hitler unto death. There unofficial motto: "Den Tod geben und den Tod empfangen" (Give death, Take Death).

Not only did the Wiking Division commit war crimes against the the Allies and civilians, but it was directly involved in the Final Solution. Josef Mengele actually served with this unit as a combat medic!

For anyone who is interested, here is a short list of the known war crimes of the 5. SS-Panzer-Division.

Henri B. said...

"They were doing what they thought was right for their country. And they were going out and fighting what they thought was a bigger, you know, a bigger evil."

I am 100% willing to accept this argument if just ONE member of this group would be willing to apply this philosophy to our enemy in the middle east. They have a cause too.

I don't expect that to be forthcoming.