Distorting the History to Celebrate the Soldier or Heritage Not Hate

The Tea Party movement has given us a number of colorful candidates this election cycle.  Now we can add to the list one Rich Iott, the Republican nominee for Congress from Ohio’s 9th District.  It turns out that Mr. Iott enjoys wearing Waffen SS uniforms as a one-time member of a Nazi reenactment group.  Of course, Mr. Iott claims no sympathy with the Nazi cause apart from a respect for “a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things.”  I’m not sure what those incredible thing included, but let’s leave that for now.

What I find interesting is the description found on the group’s website explaining why members chose to portray men in the Wiking Division.  Iott and others seem to believe that there is something historically and – by extension morally – significant about the unit’s service on the Eastern Front against the Russian Army:

Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a “New and Free Europe”, free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement. Regardless, thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. 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.

Of course, historians of World War II take issue with such a characterization as unhistorical and overly romantic.  Hmm…I think I’ve seen this before:

Asked whether his participation in a Nazi re-enactor’s group might not upset voters, particularly Jewish voters, Iott said he hoped it would not: “They have to take it in context. There’s reenactors out there who do everything. You couldn’t do Civil War re-enacting if somebody didn’t play the role of the Confederates. [This] is something that’s definitely way in the past. … [I hope voters] take it in context and see it for what it is, an interest in World War II history. And that’s strictly all.”

It’s interesting to reflect on another example where the history is distorted so as to allow for the commemoration, celebration, or reenactment of the lives of soldiers without having to confront the tough moral questions.

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24 comments… add one

  • mcvouty Oct 9, 2010

    “Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to [Insert War Crime Here].”

    We should celebrate such devotion.

  • Patrick Oct 9, 2010

    Yep, I’m going to make the following prediction. Thirty years from now, after the WWII generation and their children, are gone, Nazi Germany & Imperial Japan, will be transformed by revisionists, as the “victims of Allied aggression”, who were forced to “strike a first blow in self-defense”. The Axis will no longer have been fighting for world domination, but simply to “protect their way of life”, and make a stand against communism. “The war was never about white supremacy ” will be the catch phrase of this historical viewpoint. The Sheeple will be smugly telling everyone that “history is written by the victors, therefore, everything written in the history books is a lie”.
    Hollywood will be showing movies which help perpetuate this “enlightened” historical perspective, portraying SS Officers as misunderstood rebels, with a heart of gold. Every red-blooded American guy will want to reenact as German infantry, because “they were way better soldiers, who only lost the war, because they were out-numbered, and out-gunned”. You know…”they were just defending their homes against an invader”.
    The “suppressed history” of thousands of Jewish Nazi’s, who stood by their German brothers, in defense of the Fatherland, will be all the rage.

    Thank all the gods, I will already be dead.

  • John Oct 9, 2010

    I feel I must point out a difference between the Civil War and WWII. The Confederacy, despite its hateful nature, was at least a semblance of a democracy. Nazi Germany most decidedly was not. The Confederate soldier was free to try to desert and if caught, except in the heat of battle, was at least given a trial. The average German soldier in WWII was given no choice but to serve. If he refused, he was summarily shot or sent to a concentration camp where he would very likely be worked to death. This is not to defend the Confederacy or the candidate’s re-enacting as part of the Waffen SS (a volunteer force). It is simply to point out the danger of comparing two vastly different historical periods without providing the necessary historical contrast. Just my two cents.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 9, 2010

      John,

      I certainly don’t intend to overlook salient differences between these two wars, but I don’t understand your point. What exactly does it mean for a soldier to be “free to try to desert”? Any soldier is free to try to desert. Certainly, Confederate soldiers deserted, but for many who did and were caught a trial was followed by execution or some other punishment. Perhaps you can clarify.

      • John Oct 10, 2010

        I should have said that, at least at the beginning, no Confederate soldier was forced to serve. On the other hand, once Hitler came to power, the average German male knew he must either serve or be shot or subjected to life draining punishment after at best a show trial. My point was to try to distinguish between the early Confederate infantryman who volunteered freely and the German infantryman who knew he must either “volunteer” or die either swiftly or slowly. In short, their circumstances were very different. The Waffen SS are a different matter. They were not only true volunteers but fanatical adherents of Nazi ideology. For that this guy needs to be asked if he’s truly antisemitic or just woefully ignorant. Either one should disqualify him from holding public office.

  • TF Smith Oct 9, 2010

    Grown men playing dress-up is sad.

    Grown men playing dress-up in German uniforms from WW II is freaking sad.

    Grown men playing dress-up in SS uniforms from WW II is just freaking sick.

    And for God’s sake – this idiot is from Ohio – the 37th Division isn’t sharp enough for him?

    • mcvouty Oct 10, 2010

      Yeah, but he’s from Northwestern Ohio (technically just Northern Ohio, but anything that includes Toledo is considered NW). That’s like a world unto itself. The difference between the I-71 corridor and everything else is sort of like the difference between North and South.

  • Dan Wright Oct 9, 2010

    After reading this, I wonder if there is a Mort Kunstler-type artist somewhere doing romantic paintings of the Nazi army.

    • Phil R Oct 12, 2010

      Not yet, but it’s possible he/she’s been born by now.

  • Marianne Davis Oct 10, 2010

    If Mr. Iott were thinking, he might have to think more deeply about his uniform. The Waffen SS was not just any unit with cool insignia and boots to make a dominatrix weep. It was not strictly a German Army unit, though it committed some serious slaughter. Waffen SS was the armed unit of the Nazi Party. So Mr Iott’s admiration for his predecessors in those uniforms must become even more thought-provoking. That would be, of course, if he were thinking.
    This whole episode is pretty easily understood. We don’t know if he is a Nazi sympathizer, or if he is a man who likes to dress in sadist drag, or if he got blackballed at the local chapter of the Rotarians which left his Tuesday evenings empty. But he is certainly an idiot. His campaign handlers are dancing as fast as they can, but I am hopeful the voters will not be distracted from that one fact. Yup, an idiot.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 10, 2010

      Marianne,

      I tend to agree with you that we don’t have any idea as to whether he sympathizes with the Nazi Party and I tend to doubt it. My guess is that he enjoys reenacting and probably finds the uniforms and weapons to be pretty cool. Yes, his advisers apparently have no idea how to handle it. At the same time I think it is appropriate to ask whether he expects Jewish voters in his district to vote for him regardless of his explanation. I can certainly understand their caution and concern as I can understand the concerns of those who worry about Civil War reenactors who flirt with various aspects of Civil War heritage.

      • Marianne Davis Oct 10, 2010

        Kevin,
        It’s important that we agree we have no proof that he is a Nazi sympathizer. Any Democrat, though, caught in a 10th grade snapshot wearing Che t-shirt would be unelectable.
        On another point — You said, “I think it is appropriate to ask whether he expects Jewish voters in his district to vote for him regardless of his explanation.” Jews, homosexuals, political dissidents and Christians of conscience were all targeted by the regime, and their families bear a particular burden. But all the people of the world share a responsibility to remember these monsters for who they were. We must all reject nonsensical explanations about the accomplishment of “incredible things.” The word they needed was “unspeakable.” The idea that the Waffen SS were “idealists” who shared a “basic desire to be free” is obscene, and makes it all sound like “Hitler Heritage.”

        • Kevin Levin Oct 10, 2010

          Well, of course I agree with that. I was trying to draw attention to the extent to which black Americans may look with suspicion on people who play loose with Confederate heritage.

    • Andy Hall Oct 10, 2010

      Marianne wrote:

      I am hopeful the voters will not be distracted from that one fact. Yup, an idiot.

      Iott is running in the Ninth Ohio which, as I understand, has only been in Republican hands four times since the New Deal. So it was probably a safe seat for incumbent Marcy Kaptur (D) anyway. This just makes it more so.

      When a district is so solidly leaning toward one party, one of the results is that the opposing party atrophies to the extent that there’s no vetting, no hurdles, no backroom deals done to make sure that the candidate is actually a viable one. In the district next to mine, Tom Delay’s old district, the Ds are so completely worn down and disorganized that a young LaRouchie won the Dem primary outright — no runoff — campaigning on a platform of colonizing the Moon, impeaching the current president and throwing off the yokes of oppression imposed on the United States by the Federal Reserve and their puppetmasters in London.

      To some extent, that’s what’s going on now with the rise of so-called Tea Party candidates. When you start polling them about positions and views on specific issues, they’re indistinguishable from right-leaning Republicans, but the national party is so discredited and inept right now (hello, Michael Steele!) that some really whackjob candidates are popping up, people who would never have a chance in a healthy party.

      Yeah, Iott appears to spell his name without the “di” in the middle.

  • MississippiLawyer Oct 10, 2010

    Comparing Nazi’s to Confederates = EPIC FAIL

    I guess up where he is from they do think there is a similarity between the two. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a comparison as it was saying that they are both “the bad guys”. Although of course to me I’ve never considered Confederates to be the bad guys. I don’t view Union soldiers as the bad guys either.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 10, 2010

      The Civil War is much too interesting and important to reduce the men who fought it to one of good guys v. bad guys.

      • Ken Noe Oct 10, 2010

        I can’t help but note that according to the story, he was a strictly Union reenactor. So he’s willing to portray the Waffen SS but not the Confederate army? I’d love to ask him a question or two about what went into that choice.

    • Margaret D. Blough Oct 11, 2010

      Actually, it was Mr. Iott who originally made the comparison.

  • TF Smith Oct 10, 2010

    Come on, this is a man in his 40s or 50s who plays dress up…and his choice of costimes is the uniform of the SS?

    The guy’s a loon.

    The older I get, the more I think the US should have a draft, just to give idiots like this guy a taste of what he has never experienced…six months in the ranks would have benefitted this yahoo no end…

    • John Buchanan Oct 12, 2010

      Sir, your characterization of Mr Iott as a loon gives a bad name to loons world wide!

  • Margaret D. Blough Oct 11, 2010

    Also, many of those volunteers in the Eastern European countries who cast their lot with the Nazis volunteered to be guards in the extermination camps and, IIRR, members of the einsatzgruppen before that.

  • Michaela Oct 12, 2010

    I agree with Marianne Davis that there is a clear distinction as she explains between Waffen SS and Wehrmacht soldiers. My uncles (both 19 and 21 at the time) served in the Wehrmacht. They were FAR from being the type of soldier and supporter of the Nazi regime that the Waffen SS soldiers were. As a German I am appalled and I literally feel nauseated looking at the images of Mr. Iott. If Mr. Iott thinks any German could dress-up to “celebrate” his or her heritage in Germany like this, I would strongly recommend to be prepared to see that person be in court: It is forbidden to do so in Germany.

    Any speculations whether Mr. Iott sympathizes with Nazis? Sure he does: he dresses like one, he makes derogatory comments about gays and he openly celebrates the part of German history that is the most destructive in European history and with no doubt 100% connected to Hitler’s regime. When it wags its tail like a dog and barks like a dog AND dresses up like a dog… you get my point.
    I would like to invite Mr. Iott and his lot to celebrate my country’s history with Friedrich Schiller, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Heinrich Kleist, Thomas Mann, Martin Heidegger, Arnold Schoenberg, Otto von Bismarck, Konrad Adenauer, Otto Hahn, Lisa Meitner, and Friedrich Bonhoefer, to name a few. But that would require some reading, and in general an educated approach. By the way I can only recommend “Studien zum autoritaeren Charakter” by Theodor Adorno. Great study of self for Mr. Iott. To be absolutely clear: We Germans do not need descendants of Germany that celebrate the consequences of the Holocaust!

    Mr Iott, your lack of education and your idiotic sexual phobia make you an excellent tea party candidate…and another irresponsible and boring politician.

    • Sherree Oct 13, 2010

      Thanks for chiming in, Michaela.

      Your comment made me think of two fairly recent films that explore the complex relationship of German soldiers to Nazi reality, and of German citizens to the Nazi past–Das Boot and Walk on Water.

      Until I saw Das Boot, I did not believe that there were German soldiers who were not also ardent Nazis. I am not certain of the historical accuracy of this movie, however. You are in a much better position to judge that.

      Walk on Water is an Israeli film and it is superb.

      I have always admired Friedrich Bonhoefer. As I have mentioned here before, one of Bonhoefer’s poems was read at my mother’s funeral, Bonhoefer had such an influence on her lifework.

      Mr. lott is Mr. lott. I haven’t spent too much time thinking about him, and don’t intend to start. It gives me too much of a headache and is pretty much a waste of time.

      Regards to you and to Kevin and his contributors.

    • JH Oct 25, 2010

      As someone who supports the Tea Party and despises both the republican and democratic parties I find this mans actions deplorable. Many Americans such as myself lost relatives fighting the Germans. His glorification of the German soldier is Un-American.

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