My wife and I went to New Oxford, Pennsylvania, for lunch today when we noticed that there were a number of people walking around in military uniforms. Their uniforms were not contemporary, however. They were uniforms from World War II, and there were some people who looked like they were in costumes from that same era.
After lunch, my wife and I walked over to a camp that was set up at the train station. We would later find out that it is all part of a reenactment done each year to celebrate New Oxford’s veterans. The reenactment consists of a simulated liberation of a French town by Allied forces. It’s not very elaborate or very big, but it’s interesting.
Even more interesting to me was seeing the “celebration” and remembrance of how the Axis soldiers lived and the equipment they had. I think that we often forget that wars have living, breathing human beings involved in them, and that those human beings are often not very different from us. The men and women who fight wars have loved ones back home, and they bring a lot of that with them when they go to war. We saw plenty of old magazines and mementos in the soldiers’ tents. One reenactor showed old pictures of the soldier he was portraying, explaining where the soldier was born in Germany, what school the soldier went to, and how the soldier joined the German army.
However, something funny happened along the way. Both my wife and I started getting a little “creeped-out” by the overwhelming amount of Nazi imagery in the camp. Yes, they were playing WWII German soldiers, so it made sense that there would be a Nazi symbol here and there. But there was rampant naziism everywhere!
Alright, not naziism, per se. No one was goose-stepping, and they didn’t drag me away to a camp because I was brown. But there were Nazi flags, swastikas, and plenty of propaganda.
Now, I’m not complaining about this. It was a historical re-creation of what Europe was at that time in history. Of course, you’d find all those things then. I’m just saying that we were a little uncomfortable because we are well aware of the stuff that went down in the name and under the banner of naziism, fascism, all that horrible stuff. So seeing it so prominently displayed in an all-American town, seeing men and women dressed in those uniforms and enjoying themselves… It was all kind of unnerving, to be honest.
I get the same way around Civil War reenactments.
On the way back to the car, my wife and I discussed the nature of war and how unreal it must have been for parents in quiet, small New Oxford to send off their young men to war all the way in Europe or in the Pacific. They must have known a war was raging, but that war never dropped any bombs on New Oxford. Still, their boys went off to war and many didn’t return. I can’t wrap my head around that.
Likewise, I can’t wrap my head around the people in Germany in the same era. The adoration of a single man to the point that they went on an aggressive war against the world. Say what you want about American incursions as of late, but we have a different president (of a different ethnicity) than the one that took us to war in Iraq. And we get to have free and open elections in November. There are no dictators here (except maybe John Boehner), and we’ll be damned if we’ll raise our hands and hail the name of a leader any time soon.
But that all is a very complicated subject that covers sociology, history, and other disciplines. I’d try to rationalize what happened in WWII and why, but it would take about 13 minutes, or so, to explain it all: