by Warner Todd Huston | June 3, 2011 12:50 pm
The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum has a troubled little mind. He seems to be an excitable sort, too. I say this because during this 150th anniversary of the American Civil War he strangely sees evil Confederate, German, Nazi, racists at Civil War events. He might want to see a therapist about this. Either that or he’s just another left-wing writer that is striving so hard to find something, anything, to write about that he’s put aside common sense and instead decided to illicitly impute any manner of absurd motivations to Germany’s Civil War reenactors. You know, because he wants to be considered the thoughtful type, because this sort of tripe is what passes for intellectualism in journalism.
Appelbaum’s article on Germans that reenact the American Civil War is entirely absurd, of course. He imputes all sorts of motives, dark and evil, to a mere hobby. He sees shadows of low and dangerous undercurrents to this pastime and desperately tries to tie a plethora of evils into the harmless fun of dressing up as a soldier from some 150 years ago.
Appelbaum finds that many Germans reenact the American Civil War in Germany as Confederate soldiers and this troubles him. He notes that Germans that reenact the American Civil War as Confederates are play-acting contrary to their own pre-WWII cultural history because few Germans fought for the South in the conflict. In this he is correct. But after getting one thing right, Appelbaum launches off into paroxysms of agonized fantasy. One gets the feeling he is not writing to explore truths but is writing to get the knowing and concerned nods of other wacky leftists like himself.
Of course it is true that most Germans that immigrated to America in the decades previous to the American Civil War ended up fighting for the union (my own ancestor included). In fact, even the German immigrants that moved to the South fought for the North or fought southern authorities on their own hook deep in Southern territory. Texas is a prime example of that for in the Lone Star State some German communities launched into open rebellion against Confederate authorities causing a small civil war in the greater Civil War. So at some level it really is a bit of a weird juxtaposition to see modern Germans wanting to reenact the American Civil War as Confederates when their ancestors fought overwhelmingly for the Union during that great conflict.
But, let’s face it. This is just a hobby we are talking about here. People reenact the Civil War not because they want to preserve slavery, as Southerners did, or want to fight to “save the union,” as Northerners did, but just to have some fun and indulge a little fantasy. They just want to escape the modern world for a few days.
Motivations differ from reenactor to reenactor, of course. Many are deeply interested and fascinated by history. Some want to “preserve” history for their own generation and those to come. Others just like to play shoot ’em up. Some like doing things out-of-doors and still others just like the camaraderie of a military-like organization. Motivations to join such a hobby is no different for Civil War reenactors than it is for WWII reenactors, French-Indian War guys, Wild West enactors, Napoleonic Wars guys, American Rev War folks, Medieval reenactors, or what have you. The fact is that nearly every western nation has reenactors representing many of their own historic eras, most, but not all, of them military related.
Regardless of what reenactors are doing when they reenact Appelbaum hyperbolically sees shades of Nazism in German Civil War reenactors. Like the child shaking under the sheets sure that he sees a monster in the closet at night, Applebaum thinks that there is a racist, Nazi related motivation for any German that wants to reenact the American Civil War on the Confederate side.
They [the Germans] have missed only one thing. In their search for an anodyne conflict, lacking the baggage of their historical wars of mastery, these Germans have taken a wrong turn. The units they prefer to recreate fought to preserve an abhorrent system that kept more than three million men, women, and children in bondage while denying their very humanity.
Well, if you are going to do the American Civil War someone has to take the side of the slavocracy, right? I mean it would be hard to fight mock battles if everyone was a federal soldier!
That explanation, though, is too simple for Appelbaum, apparently. He sees the dark arts bubbling underneath the fun of a mock battle.
No, the problem is that in Nazi Germany, the glamor [sic] extended beyond the magnolias and the melodrama. Hermann Rauschnning, in his memoir, alleged that Hitler regretted the outcome of the Civil War. A literal master-race, holding those it deemed inferior in hereditary bondage: this was the Confederate vision as the Nazis approvingly understood it. It was what they saw when they watched Gone with the Wind.
And, gosh, if that wasn’t enough to prove that all German reenactors that dress for the C.S.A. aren’t at least subconscious Nazis, Appelbaum found one of those “experts” that his sort of writer always love to trot out for deep think pieces like this.
Wolfgang Hochbruck, a Professor of American Studies at the University of Freiburg and a Union reenactor, is less charitable. “I think some of the Confederate reenactors in Germany are acting out Nazi fantasies of racial superiority,” he told author Tony Horwitz. “They are obsessed with your war because they cannot celebrate their own vanquished racists.” It’s an unsettling thought.
Leave it to a left-wing, pseudo intellectual journalist to find a pin-headed, university blowhard to confirm his outlandish thesis, eh?
Listen, the whole thing is like imputing deep philosophical reasoning to the mind of a soccer hooligan or like assuming heavily thought out motivations from a basketball fan. There just ain’t no there, there. Being that we are talking humanity, it would not be surprising to find a tiny minority of German Civil War reenactors that pick the Confederates because they themselves are racists or lean toward Nazi ideology. I am sure that in any group of anybody you can find a racist or a Nazi or two. But to assume that such a minority would be large enough have any real affect to the entire hobby of Civil War reenacting either in the USA or Germany is simply a reach beyond good sense.
There is also one last thing that makes Appelbaum’s outlandish concept untenable. The French like to reenact as Confederates alot too. Are the French all just like the Nazis? Oh, and the Brits, Irish and Scots have hundreds of Confederate reenactors on their isles, too. Are they all secret Nazis? Why do we have many thousands of Confederate reenactors across the world but only the Germans do it because they are all secret Nazis?
Like I said, for this stretch of a concept there’s just no there, there. But I am sure that Appelbaum’s left-wing buddies will all pat him on the back for this deep analysis of a hobby where guys dress up like Civil War soldiers.
For the rest of us, let us just shake our heads in bewilderment at another leftist seeing monsters under his bed at night while assuming that everyone but he and his left-wing pals are lunatics, haters, Nazis, and racists.
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