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Living History Rant

This rant has been one of my more controversial or beloved depending on your perspective. If you are new to the hobby, or have been out of circulation for a few years, here's the situation: A growing number of participants prefer to consider themselves "Living Historians". For some, the term "Living History" sounds more glorious and noble than "Reenacting"...a term which they associate with "cap busting". It's like the drunks at the Bel Air gentleman's club looking down their noses at the drunks at Hike's Point Bar and Lounge. I believe that this tizzy was an outgrowth of the previous conflict between those who prefer active events (playing war) and those who just like to dress up and pose for nazi shots and admire their collections...while wearing them. The LHer's simply cannot comprehend that no matter how they dress, slice or dice it, what they do is playing war. Reenacting and Living History are the same damned thing. 

Needless to say, my opinion has not been well received in certain circles.... 

LH Rant #1
LH Rant #2
LH Rant #3

#1

The Living Historian Rant
The problem with WWII Re-enacting


Over the last few years, I've been struck by the petty and pompous airs put on by many re-enactors. I think the main problem is this "Living Historian" bullshi*t. Until the late 1990's, most battles were just that, and they were approached on the basis of being a field problem or wargame...using antique gear. Suddenly, that concept was attacked and derided by the newer minions as "busting caps"; these types apparently are made of a higher, more advanced form of organic matter, and let it be known that they weren't just lowly "re-enactors". They were "Living Historians". Now, previous to their declaration, there was a movement underfoot to get away from running about the forest and shooting blanks. But this movement had no title; if it had one, it would be "Guys too old and fat to run anywhere anymore". We placated them by letting them putter about in Jeeps and Koobles eating cheeseburgers and sipping on Pepsis stashed in the backseat cooler. However, the Living History movement struck so suddenly that the majority of us were unprepared. Most of us viewed this as a fun hobby; meaning we didn't take ourselves or it too seriously. These supermen were not diddling. They are quite serious about their hobby. And like Republicans (if you question the war you're a terrorist) and Democrats (if you question Obama you're a bigot/ nazi) if you question these dorks they up the ante and proclaim that they are decked out in Oak camo in order to "honor the memory of the veterans"; question them and you're dissing the vets. OK Wilbur...
Not that the vets don't appreciate the attention, but more than a few I've talked to think we're just f*ckin' nuts. The word "wannabes" is frequently used when the 400 pound Knight's Cross winners rumble by. 

What's the point to this rant? This isn't near as much fun as it used to be. The main changes since the 1980's when I started are: 

1. Events are shorter. We always had a Sunday scenario. The battle itself lasted from about 08:00 until dark. Now, it's stumble out of bed at 10:00, into the field by 12:00 and waddle back to the catered meal at 14-15:00. The slogan of the day is "Say NO to exertion!"
2. Everybody's bigger. Maybe that's why they're down on tacticals. 
3. We used to march everywhere. Now they feel the need to car pool the 1/4 mile from the inspection area to the battle field. (For safety? To save hobnails?)
4. Catering? What the f*ck is "meals on wheels" doing here? This is a war, not a cook out. We knew how to use a breadbag and bring lunch. 
5. Attitude. There wasn't one. We were there to have a blast. Not have a beauty pageant and fluff egos. 
6. Medals and awards weren't taken so seriously. We knew that they weren't real....

Busting caps (as you higher life forms term it) happens to be fun. Making noise, blowing things up, rumbling about in tanks or shooting them with "Nerffausts" is good stuff. Tacticals (Cap Busting) need not sacrifice authenticity despite the protests of the LH's. Besides getting their uniforms dirty and causing them to break a sweat, they frequently claim that tactical events throw open the door to farbs and paintballers. (They omit "airsofters" for some reason). Sorry Buckwheat, but LH events are hardly immune from farbs. The farb level is controlled not by the type of event, but by those putting it on as well as the participants as a whole. As a teenager, I heard occasional cautionary tales about the degeneration of Civil War re-enacting into a politicking ego fest for amateur know-it-alls. Well, here we are.

This living history thing is a lie. Very few of these guys are trained historians. (This is equivalent to the actors on "ER" claiming to be doctors.) One worrisome and unfortunate result of this conquest of the hobby by the LH weenies is a decline in the quality of events. The truly capable people rarely step forward or volunteer to run events or the organizations anymore. When they do, they are quickly worn out and exasperated by the weenie brigades who deluge them with inane and incessant whining and sniveling over bylaws, catering concerns and political jockeying. The vacuum of effective and rational leadership is often filled by yoyos who always knew they should have been a general (or an FBI agent, a Green Beret, or Der Fuhrer) but who had to settle for a part time job as a night watchman at a used car dealership in Iowa. Their penchant for demonstrating untapped leadership skills pisses everyone off even more and often makes the whole hobby look like a bunch of fools. Scenarios are hopelessly overcomplicated (and some are just plain gay), the only concern the event organizers have is collecting the gate money, treasuries are used for new cars or gender reassignment surgery, and insurance policies lapse or don't exist. Rational, competent types who start into this hobby take one or two looks at such antics want no part of it. The desire to impress other re-enactors and the public (Look girls! I won a Close Combat Clasp in Gold! I'm one of 300...yadayada..) overrides all else and turns the whole affair into a "peacocking" expo.

Not surprisingly, the worst offenders are rarely veterans of any military service. The Civil Air Patrol, Volunteer Reserve Police cadets of Greater Tacoma, and the Red Berets of the Olson High School ROTC Company don't count; even if you did help quell a riot at the methadone clinic in 1993. The LH moniker is a flowery, and on the surface, defensible excuse to avoid physical exertion, soiling of the fancy uniforms, long walks with no air conditioning, and the need to stray too far from Doodle Burger. Even though "Living History" may sound marginally less threatening to those unfamiliar with the hobby, left wingers are going to call anyone wearing camo and swastikas a "militia". (The fact that many Americans will disagree with this hobby is the beauty of our country. They aren't besmirching the honor of you or your hallowed unit...or dissing vets...they just don't understand the concept. That's our right as Americans.) 

If you LH's really were "reliving history", your ass would be cowering in a muddy hole, you'd be half frozen, your precious uniform would be filthy and wet, you'd be too scared to worry about the shade of khaki on your buddy's jacket, you'd be sore, hungry, miserable, and praying to any and all gods available to please get you through this and get home...and you'd never be a complacent, thankless and arrogant ass again so long as he'll let you live. If you had caps to bust, you'd be damned thankful they were there. This can even be accomplished without live ammo. Until you characters are ready to put your E-tools to use, are able to complete a roadmarch of at least 5 miles (no SUV escort to pick you up when your feet hurt), sleep under a wet overcoat on a winter night in your hole, and continue your mission despite the rain...keep things in perspective. You're not a hero! Real heroes rarely if ever mention the whole affair. Many are heroes simply because they were the guys who survived. Surviving a drive to the airshow and a day without waffle house doesn't entitle you to any recognition, despite what MTV or your self esteem coach tells you.

Service wasn't about honor, country and glory. Those are the words used by politicians and propagandists to convince the younger and less experienced guys to go fight for them. You can't compete with what the vets went through. Don't try to lay claim to what's not yours. You don't want to go through what they did. Even though it is left unsaid, the main goal of the LHers is that they want to share the recognition and bask in a just a bit of the limelight that they perceive the vets to have done. They want a piece of glory and adulation without the suffering. How do I deduce such outrageousness? Simple; the attitude change in re-enacting is directly related to the celebration of the "greatest generation" starting about 10 years ago. Private Ryan fanned the flames, then BOB caused a firestorm. These characters are all about "honoring veterans" and "keeping history alive"; so long as the vets were in E Co. of the 506 and the history is the Normandy invasion. If a vet was in the Coast Guard and drove landing craft at Salerno or Anzio, or an Air Corps pilot who flew "the Hump", he's pretty much ignored. Who are the assholes now?

Static displays, public events as well as "tacticals" are all self complimenting components of this hobby. But don't overstate their purpose or importance. Otherwise it'll degenerate into a squabble-fest for idiots with time on their hands for nothing else.
Living History is simply another name for Re-enacting. Living Historians are no higher on the food chain than Re-enactors. Some guys think it makes them sound more important and that's where the trouble starts. 
"Re-enacting" is a far more accurate term for playing war. It's a hell of a lot more fun too. Quit overcomplicating and taking things too seriously. The War is over. Has been for awhile. This is a hobby. Not an honor.


Aftermath to the Living History/ Re-enacting Rant:
It seems that the percentage of those in agreement with my callous observations is far greater than those who are now and forever going to ruin our business by telling their buddies what a dickhead I am. I actually expected more pissy responses. The "atta boys" aren't as much fun to read. Ya know, dirt sells for a reason. 
To my disappointment, the genuine, hard-core LH responses were completely stereotypical. All were of the same ilk; 
"You attacked Living Historians of (random geographic region) and you just lost X number of customers eat shi*t and die you history hating pig"
No argument, no conflicting opinion, no attempt to show me the error of my ways. Nix. Just squawks and threats. Perhaps because I'm right? I'm a reasonable person. If I'm wrong, show me, I'll admit it. But if you want fame, it's gotta be so completely ridiculous that it's entertaining or at least a reasonably well written, half way intelligent counter point to my evil filth. The 8th grade quality outbursts only reinforce my point. Better check your grammar too. If I posted a few of the responses, there'd likely be some free samples of "Hooked on Phonics" in the mail from your buddies. On what authority do I stir the pot? I've re-enacted/ "lived historically" for 25 years and I was a real soldier (a paratrooper even!) so I have been around long enough to watch the gradual shifts in the hobby and draw edumicated conclusions.
One overriding aspect of the indignant responses; None of them got my point. The Living Historians immediately interpreted my rant as a personal attack on their character, their families and pets. It wasn't that deep guys. 
My point was this:
"Living History" and "Re-enacting" are the same thing.
If defining yourself as one or the other makes you feel better, fine. But don't start denigrating everyone else to the level of Untermensch (or excluding yourself from said category) based purely on your choice of term for playing war. 
One is not superior to the other. There's no difference. The attitudes of those who militantly prefer the former and ridicule the latter tend to polarize the hobby.
My issue is with those trying to overstate the importance of the whole affair (and often themselves) which has cost the hobby hundreds of good people. If stating a painful fact costs me a few customers, so be it.
It's a hobby dammit. It's not a real war.


Semantics...
This is the last LH installment. Promise. 
You guys STILL don't get it. You cannot "re-live" history. Not until they invent a working time machine. That's why it's called "history". It's over. Done. Gone. Vorbei. Nix mehr. You may be "living history" in your own little mind during the Fuhrer's last gamble..roaring along those roads in the "Ardennes"...but as soon as you wake up...you'll see a road sign and realize that you're in Pennsylvania. Sorry. Not Europe. Besides being over...60 years over...you're not even in the right location and you most likely wouldn't be able to understand Sepp D's commands if you did happen to encounter him on that Pennsylvania fire road. More likely he would be querying instead of commanding..."where the f*ck am I and who are you fatasses??"
You can "reenact" a historical event. Acting is fiction, what we do is essentially fiction. For all but a select few crazier-than-a-shi*t-house-rat types, the War is over. You're not really a Major in the 506th with a DSC. A few guys might have been in the 101st at some point, but most likely they wore woodland camo BDU's instead of khaki.
Whether one is attending a tactical, a public event, a display or an air show, you aren't reliving history. You can't even get close. You're buying and wearing mostly reproductions of old gear and clothing. That's where the similarity stops. Roosevelt isn't president anymore. He's dead. Many of you drove a Japanese car to the event. Germany has turned into the multi-culti liberal feel good mecca of the universe. A large percentage of re-enactors (yes, and you LH rebels too) have never even been to basic training. You have a cell phone and an Ipod in your backpack, sorbethane inserts in your jump boots and you get Burger King for lunch. Safety commitees dictate how much flour is in your rubber grenades and artillery barrages consists of light shows from "Martian rocket batteries". Sorry to ruin the fantasy for some of you.

"Living" History is a misnomer. That's probably why real historians cringe at the trespassers so naming themselves. Yes you can get cute and use "living" as an adjective instead of a noun and be a living (i.e.; alive..not dead) historian; if you have the degree to qualify. More likely a "living history buff" is most correct. Unless historians are most often found in a deceased condition, and "living" is required to indicate an anomaly, which is not the case in this instance. How often do you hear "living sports fan, "living doctor" " or "living mail man". Sounds silly doesn't it? "Re-enactor" is not only more accurate, in ALL cases, it's correct and grammatically less confusing. "Living Historian" denotes a person who has a degree of some level in history or a derivative of history (archaeology, paleontology, etc., etc.) who for some reason, one feels compelled to describe as not quite dead. 
Interestingly enough, the best events, both tactical and public, are those put on by guys who are organized, know that they are on planet Earth and are totally cognizant that this isn't real. The worst are run by the self important sort who derive a personal ego stroke (or like cleaning out the till) from the whole affair. The most successful units are those run as dictatorships, not by committees. Just like the real military. We need a David Hackworth and a few less Frank Burns running things....


Stand up to the Undead Historians


For some reason, the LH Rant has gotten some new play and it got me thinking about pots and spoons. Stirring the pot makes for a good time, so let's ruffle the butt fur of the undead historians. An anonymous soul sent me an email which further whetted my appetite for trouble stew. It was one of the best comments I've read on this matter. The gist was thus: Those Reenactors who look down their noses in disgust at their comrades who continue to enjoy "busting caps" have cloaked themselves in a two-pronged mantra whose noble mission is to educate the public and to honor veterans.

Those goals are superfluous at best. The public does not come to an event be educated. Any educating that occurs is purely by accident. They come to be entertained. They don't come to listen to some hogger in field gray chortle on about how the MP44 could have won the War had it only been introduced a year sooner...they come to see the battle. Even if it is just a dozen 45 year old yahoos shooting at one another in a pasture...while "taking cover" behind plywood and styrofoam "barricades". And don't think they aren't hoping somebody gets blown up. Many of the veterans I have met think Reenactors are, collectively, a bunch of kooks. Or they simply "don't get it". The vets come to the events because their grand kids made them or to see how much they can get for that nazi shi*t in basement.

If the mission actually were to educate the public, why are 9 out of 10 members of the 101st Airborne? Easy Company 506th to be more precise. Were the mantra an honest one, and their concern for the historical knowledge of our children was sincere, a few guys would , assumedly, be dressed as infantrymen. Or engineers. Or Germans. Dick Winters and his company did not win the War single-handedly. (Sorry to rain on your parade. Look it up. It's true.) Far more "heroes" were members of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th or other Infantry Divisions, and the Air Corps. Why is the 101st soooo popular? 
Because everybody wants to be a star. 
It's an ego trip. 
Impress the public. Make the ladies swoon. Be the envy of everyone.

Every Civil War reenactor I have met decries the effect that the Undead Historians have had on their hobby. By it's very nature, an ego contest such as the one Living Historians inspire, introduces politics to the hobby. When I began reenacting in 1981, such nonsense was minimal. We heard horror stories about CW events and the constant scheming and maneuvering that characterized their hobby. Things were simple and worked well. Events were either "Tactical" or "Public"...or a "Tactical with a Public battle" (like IGAP). There were a few peacocks (like Willard), some hard-core units (like the CHG's "HJ") and random packs of farbs to make fun of. But it worked well and few took themselves too seriously.

FYI: I am not espousing that public events are in some way inferior to tacticals. Unlike many of the undead armchair historians, I have no agenda seeking to curtail or eliminate either. They both have their place.

And 20 years later, here we are. The units and organizations are constantly squabbling, fragmenting and forming anew, like small town churches. Most events have about the same number of participants they had 20 years ago, but there are 10 times as many units and societies. The hobby gets an "F" for cohesion. 

"Living History" is semantically and grammatically a false statement. Perhaps it's an easier sell to the wife. But most of them know what the whole dress-up thing is all about and aren't fooled. Regardless of the label one gives this whole affair, whether it's "WWII Reenacting", "Living History" or "fat-guys-busting-caps-in-old-uniforms"...it's the same damned thing. The trouble starts when a group within the group decides to declare themselves superior in some fashion to the rest of the gang. This whole crock about "honorably educating the children" leads new members to expect too much. And it sounds like some Republican campaign slogan that ends up claiming that the pledge will save the nation...

My beef is thus. "Living History" is "Reenacting". In recent years, various parties within the hobby have attempted to elevate their personal status by using the former term as a club with which to flog those of us who aren't so concerned with our position in the food chain of undead history. I'm all about truth in advertising, no matter how much it hurts. "Reenacting" is a far more honest term. It's far more enjoyable for the participants and the audience. Those who bristle at being called mere "Reenactors" and demand one use the "correct" term for their past time are getting too carried away with this whole thing. Before you have a pissy fit, step back, and look at what we do objectively. It's like sex. Some people do it better than others, some look good doing it but are otherwise useless, others will surprise you and a few should simply throw in the towel and find a new past time. There are different ways to do the same thing...or rather, Reenacting and living History are the same thing done different ways. One is not "better" than the other. 

If tacticals are too much work for you, fine. There are plenty of public events where you can bore the kids with haversack packing demos. But stop picking fights with the guys who still have the energy to play war. And if you honestly want to educate the little darlings, take them to a tactical in November or December. Load them up with gear and ammo, and minimal food. Force march them into the woods about 5 miles. Then make them dig foxholes, fill them full of water, give them a wet, moldy blanket and leave them there for a couple of days. And make sure that they keep their weapons clean and don't go to sleep. That's fun, educational and it might be a better example of "living historically". 

The point has been made, repeatedly, that the gear costs too much to run around in the woods and tear it up. That's nonsense for two reasons. One, the average cost and quality of an impression has gone down since the 1980s. Less the rifle, GI's can be decently outfitted for $5-700 and Germans a little over double that. When you include a Garand or a K98 they nearly equal out. As for tearing things up, look at what you're doing. You're portraying a combat soldier. One should strive to look torn up. I fear this may be an extension of the helpless-nation-phenomenon where grown men no longer know how to wash clothes, sew buttons or shine boots...or they want it done for them. But that's another rant...As for cost, WTF? You go out and drop $1200 for a set of tires for your SUV or WRX...and tear them up. A few patches and stains make one look more authentic. And authentically ...recreating history...is the goal. Right? 
Or did I miss the part about dirt not coming out until 1946?

Bottom line, in all its forms, Reenacting/Living History is playing war. It's what happens when the kids who play cowboys and indians (or gooks vs. Jarheads etc, etc) grow up and have too much time on their hands...

Before you shoot off an indignant email about how I've mortally insulted the esteemed community of Living Historians...remember this...
I know.
And I don't feel any less virile referring to myself as a "reenactor". 
Or a "jackass" for that matter...


#3
If Living History is "better" than Reenacting
Fine. 
Do it right.


Since those who bristle at being termed lowly "reenactors" have been rather agitated by my politically incorrect critique of their hobby, let's assume that they are right and I'm wrong: 
That Living Historians do provide a valuable public service and are at the forefront of showing our veterans the appreciation that preceding generations have apparently refused them.

Fine. But, if you're goal and mission in life is to educate the public about what the troops went through, then you're failing miserably. Although static displays do illustrate the various equipment worn and used by the combatants, an objective person would assume (perhaps this is my mistake) that any committed group of historians would want to educate their pupils on more than the duds the soldiers wore. That's not what made the veterans ...veterans. It's what they went through. Granted, it's not feasible to recreate a full blown war on the football field of the county fairgrounds, but the good-natured chuckle-fest-cap-blasts most events put on look like fun. War is NOT fun. It may have it's moments, but fun is not the impression a teacher who is truly concerned about their pupils would want to convey. 

Here are some places that the committed Living Historians are falling short: 
Real soldiers don't get to go in when it rains. Or snows. Or gets too hot or too cold.
Real soldiers were rarely fat. It's not a judgment, it's simply a fact.
Real soldiers are rarely clean when they are in the field.
Real soldiers smell terrible.
Real soldiers are exhausted, miserable and dying to go home. 
Real soldiers don't get up after they're hit, bow and help the kids pick up brass.
Soldiers who are injured bleed, cry, scream and curse. 
Ask the guys from Iraq. War is ugly. 

So, how to do this justice? You can't. But don't make it look like fun. If you're honest about portraying combat, the audience should be shocked when you finish. The kids should be squalling and never want to come back. 

Think I'm crazy? That's a given. However, there have been a few public events over the years that went to the trouble and expense to hire real pyro experts and make-up people, practiced a "script", and were able to give a far more realistic representation than the average LH love-fest.

But no matter how hard you try, most of the vets will still think we're a bunch of loonies.

That's why it may be preferable to stop trying to make this hobby out to be something it's not.

 

 


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