Oct 17, 2010

Godwin Self-Pwnage

Meet Rich Iott.  Rich is running for Congress as a Republican.  Here is a picture--he is the short one in the middle:

Understandably, the idea that a candidate for national office likes to dress up in an SS uniform and go gallivanting around the countryside on the weekend has created a bit of a stir, but it's important to realize, past the hullabaloo of offended sensibilities, what the real problem is here.

The problem is not that the guy put on a Nazi uniform and got in front of a camera.  I've actually taken part in a skit whose premise was that the leaders of WWII--Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill, and Roosevelt--lived together in reality TV-style house.  I wanted to be Hitler, but another guy showed up in a full Nazi uniform complete with jackboots and 'stache, so it was unanimously decided that he would get to be Hitler.  I played Stalin instead.  The fact that I wanted to play Hitler doesn't mean that I don't view him as one of the most evil men that ever lived, or that I'm a Nazi, it means that I speak German and wanted to be the one who got in front of the camera and started ranting about how "ze ozzer guyz, zey don't give me enough Lebensraum!"

That, of course, is satire--we played Hitler out of irreverence.  Rich, it seems, is actually acting like a Nazi soldier in a non-satirical fashion.  Even so, there's a place for it.  The little group that our friend belongs to is a part of the much larger WWII Historical Reenactment Society.  Just like the movies, you need someone to play the bad guys--and I don't believe that California's governor is really a cyborg from the future or an amoral barbarian, despite that he played both.

It's also fair to draw an analogy to video games.  Play some Crossfire: pick the blue team or the brown team.  But play Counterstrike, and you'll pick between the terrorists and SWAT team.  Crysis pits the Americans against the North Koreans.  In fact, most games let you play the bad guy, and I've done so.

So yeah, I know that role-playing something isn't actually being that thing.  But here's a key difference: you remember that time when I conquered Alpha Centauri by nerve-gassing the other factions while brain-stapling the dissenters at home?  That didn't actually happen.  The Nazis traipsing through Eastern Europe and killing millions of people?  That did--and furthermore it was done in the name of an ideology that continues to hold a dangerous appeal for far too many people.  Even I'm oddly fascinated by this particular episode in history: my stamp collection, for instance, includes not a few examples from Hitler's Germany.

What's fascinating about Nazism?  One wonders at the question of how it could have happened; one looks in horror at the evil that was wrought; one marvels--and shudders--at just how close they came.  Impressive, at least militarily, but one gets the idea reading through Wiking's website, and especially watching their video, that they're a little too impressed--that they've done rather a lot of marveling, and relegated their shuddering to a disclaimer or two.

Yes, yes, they seem to say, we know that the Nazis were Very Bad People, but wasn't the Wiking Division the coolest?  Lest you think that I'm exaggerating:
quickly earned itself a reputation for efficiency and dependability under fire ... the grudging respect of the Soviets in several battle reports for its pugnacious fighting spirit (Soviet commanders were always concerned to learn that thier [sic] troops were facing the soldier [sic] of the Wiking Division) ... [54] Knights Crosses of the Iron Cross ... one of the finest and most highly decorated soldiers of the Waffen-SS ... a formidible [sic] and equally high-moralled [sic] fighting force ... the men of the division fought like tigers ... to this day the phenomenal espirit [sic] de corps engendered within this elite division lives on through a thriving veterans organisation. The Wiking Division was without a doubt the finest of all the SS volunteer formations, and indeed of of [sic] the best units in the entire German armed forces.
There's far more wrong here than just the spelling.  It would perhaps be one thing to read such a paragraph in a military history (especially that allocated sufficient space to the horrendous crimes perpetuated during the war), but reading it on the website of a group who post videos of themselves dressed up as these fellows firing blanks and charging a hardware store to heroic music?

Well, that's something else.  I said earlier of our little skit that we played Hitler out of irreverence.  These guys are playing Nazi out of reverence.  Speaking of the video, here are some of the comments on it:

And the very first one:
Forgetting something, aren't we?  Just a minor detail, after all.  Definitely not something which can curb our breathless admiration for the folks we like to dress up as.  Perhaps Rich and company aren't as far gone as their Youtube commenters (who are, after all, the dregs of humanity), but it is precisely that same admiration and that same forgetting which push this over the line from 'playing the bad guy in an educational reenactment' to something deeply wrong and creepy.

1 comment:

  1. I don't like and appreciate the idea of anyone disguising as a Nazi killer, no matter it is just for fun (at Halloween, let's say).

    Last week we went with the gang to watch a movie called "Empty Boxcars". it was about all the Jewish people from Northern Greece and Macedonia in the territory of then Bulgaria who were driven in wagons to the Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland - Treblinka. Facts that were striking to me (we don't study them in History classes. or at least I don't remember them. - the latter is less plausible!!).

    People killing people! no, not people - these killers were the "dregs of humanity" as you colorfully describe them. people who were deprived of anything human, just machines for killing. and I can't comprehend it/ grasp it/ imagine it how could there be a single person on Earth who would like to be dressed up like a Nazi. this is not a person, indeed!

    I don't like anyone's idea to disguise as a Nazi soldier! It is not fun!!

    "rescuing one person, you rescue a whole universe" - Jewish proverb.