Join 3,524 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"We Just Witnessed a War Crime"
January 4, 2013 2:33 PM   Subscribe

The first thing we learned about war re-enactment is that it's fucking terrifying having guns fired at you, even ones loaded with blanks. The second thing we learned is a common re-enactor's dilemma called "The G.I. Effect", which is basically that people playing Americans don't like to die. So sometimes they just don't.
It's Like Vietnam All Over Again, pt 1. Part 2
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (61 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah.. about those blanks..
posted by mediocre at 2:41 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


For the longest time I have had the theory that for every FPP there is a somewhat relevant Mitchell & Webb - sketch.

English Civil War re-enactors
posted by Authorized User at 2:45 PM on January 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


"It's Like Vietnam All Over Again.."

except for that dying part.
posted by HuronBob at 2:49 PM on January 4, 2013


The first thing we learned about war re-enactment is that it's fucking terrifying having guns fired at you, even ones loaded with blanks. The second thing we learned is a common re-enactor's dilemma called "The G.I. Effect", which is basically that people playing Americans don't like to die. So sometimes they just don't.

Where is this quote from? I couldn't find it at the video source.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:52 PM on January 4, 2013


yeah HELLO..anyone who played cowboys and indians as a kid should know damn well...THE COWBOYS NEVER WANT TO DIE. Actually, the Indians don't either.
posted by spicynuts at 2:53 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quote begins ~6:30, pt 1)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:55 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where is this quote from? I couldn't find it at the video source.

It's from here.
posted by axiom at 2:56 PM on January 4, 2013


... and People wonder why America has such a hard Time getting People of their Gun-Addiction, when War and "Action" is so deeply embedded (from TV Shows to this "Hobby").
posted by homodigitalis at 2:57 PM on January 4, 2013


I helped participate in American Revolution and colonial-period reenactment as a kid, and I spent years looking forward to the day I'd be old enough to join the militia. I wanted to play the Obligatory Redcoat - I was totally excited about getting to pretend I'd gotten fatally shot and die all over the place on the town square a couple times a year. (They wouldn't let me join because they thought I was a girl and couldn't comprehend the idea of someone cross-dressing in a reenactment group, which is illogical on multiple levels but they were also jerks who once sent someone home with public shaming because they realized she'd used machine-stitching to finish a petticoat, so forget those people anyway)
posted by titus n. owl at 3:00 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


They do this in the UK too. Here's a very detailed primer on 'getting the look' right for Vietnam-era combat troops.

It's such a swirling miasma of cultural signifiers, history and the dark attraction of violence, but I can still see why people do it. I've been on exercise with the TA here in the UK and, basically, field exercises where there aren't actual landmines or IEDs are often quite fun - essentially 'aggressive camping'. But I was getting paid to do it and had most of my kit issued. Most of my squadmates were relatively fit and there was an actual task. Not sure I'd be up for shelling out a load of cash to wear 40 year old, heavy, worn-out gear and sit in a foxhole essentially playing Cowboys and Indians, no matter how much 'respect' was being paid to the veterans of the war I was pretending to refight.

That said, if a bunch of these guys are vets themselves and this helps them deal, then good on them I guess. And if a few more people learning about the day to day realities of infantry fighting moves us an infinitesimal amount closer to no longer needing young guys to hump the boonies in the future, then I guess that's a good thing too.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:02 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you're a Vietnam war re-enactor who doesn't want to die, show up naked and painted blue.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:04 PM on January 4, 2013


About those blanks. Well, at least they gotta be blanks....

Although, it should be noted, there are adapters available that will make the weapons a great deal safer. Regardless, even a weapon with blank ammunition should not be pointed directly at a person.

from TV Shows to this "Hobby"

I've got a lot less problem with either than with concealed carry and "stand your ground" laws -- not to mention the gun show loophole and so on ad infinitum.

(Don't forget that many action movies and video games come from, and are sold in, countries with much stricter gun laws than the US. There isn't a real correlation.)

It's such a swirling miasma of cultural signifiers, history and the dark attraction of violence

I have to wonder what an analysis of Civil War re-enactors vs. Vietnam re-enactors would come up with. (I'd also like to know some current estimates for participants in various re-enactment scenarios.) That said, many re-enactors seem to be completely steeped in the minutiae of kit or tactics vs. the signifier stuff that people readily assume (the same is really true of SCA medieval re-enactors I know).
posted by dhartung at 3:07 PM on January 4, 2013


Quentin Tarantino should totally make Coming Home in a Bodybag his next movie.
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I hadn't heard of actual Vietnam War re-enactors before. Prior to this the closest I'd seen was that one episode of TV Nation where they had a bunch of Civil War re-enactors do the evacuation of Saigon. (They also did the Hiroshima bombing. There was a bright light and then everyone fell down.)
posted by ckape at 3:13 PM on January 4, 2013


...and couldn't comprehend the idea of someone cross-dressing in a reenactment group...

Weird, my sister is into reenacting and regularly cross dresses at events and nobody says a word about it. Perhaps you need to find a more inclusive group.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:18 PM on January 4, 2013


Also check out the book Man Of War, it's about a guy who spent a year hanging out with different reenactment groups, Romans, Vietnam, Rev War...etc.

Teaser videos here.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:22 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a culture war reenactor.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:24 PM on January 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the reenactment militia in my hometown was run by some people who could have used a rectal stickectomy. Most groups are way more tolerant and inclusive, from what I've heard. Unfortunately I moved out of the region of the country that does colonial-period reenactment, and the only historical group in my current area is a Confederate Civil War group, which is a time period I'm not as into - and a historical group I have no interest in aligning myself with even for imaginary weekend play-time, personally. (I guess I could volunteer to be their sacrificial bluecoat, but like I said, it's not a time period I'm super into.)
posted by titus n. owl at 3:26 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could be persuaded to help re-enact the sexual revolution.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:27 PM on January 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm a Cold War re-enactor.

We mostly sit in small soundproof rooms two stories under major cities.

And we wait.
posted by The Whelk at 3:30 PM on January 4, 2013 [35 favorites]


I'd also like to know some current estimates for participants in various re-enactment scenarios.

There are currently about 30,000 paid members of the SCA (600-1600 Europe, basically) and about 60,000 total participants in SCA events.

As of 2011 there were about 30,000 American Civil War reenactors.

The Sealed Knot (English Civil War) is the largest such group in the UK and has about 5,000 members. But as I understand it English Civil War reenactment is comparatively fractious, so I'm not sure of the total number who reenact that period.

I don't know about other periods or wars. Vietnam is clearly pretty fringe. World War II reenactment seems roughly comparable to English Civil War reenactment. For example, a large annual WWII event sees about 400-500 reenactors, compared to large annual SCA events, which typically have a few thousand to several thousand participants.
posted by jedicus at 3:38 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a Cold War re-enactor.

Me too. My favourite reenactment scenario is when I visit the faux Soviet Union as a faux diplomat and get seduced by a faux honeypot. It's the most fun, except the photographs.
posted by juiceCake at 3:41 PM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


For 25 minutes and a 5 GBP donation I was a Roman soldier near Hadrian's Wall. I did not die. I just tripped over my own shield.
posted by infini at 3:42 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Me too. My favourite reenactment scenario is when I visit the faux Soviet Union as a faux diplomat and get seduced by a faux honeypot. It's the most fun, except the photographs.

fauxtographs?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:43 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I always just end up at the faux Bulgarian shipping department given faux fake numbers about production that I'm supposed to ponder as I drink my faux cocktails and ponder the faux situation before getting faux shot in the back.

(As someone who owns an authentic period Ike jacket that we has worn outside in front of peopple I feel like I should extend more charity and empathy toward my brothers in Pretend Arms)
posted by The Whelk at 3:43 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


homodigitalis: “... and People wonder why America has such a hard Time getting People of their Gun-Addiction, when War and &lsqyuo;Action’ is so deeply embedded (from TV Shows to this ‘Hobby’).”

I really, really don't think war reenactment hobbyists are in any way a measure of the proliferation of guns and gun violence. But if they are, then please note that Germany is in trouble, too.
posted by koeselitz at 3:53 PM on January 4, 2013


How do they know who is dead?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 3:53 PM on January 4, 2013


jedicus, thanks for looking those up. I was actually just vaguely wondering why there aren't more re-enactors of e.g. the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection, the Occupation of Haiti and other various Central American corporate subsidiaries.... and when do we get re-enactors of the Gulf War, the Iraq War*, and Afghanistan?

* Obviously there was this re-enactment.

Anyway, Vice -- I was amused that in Part 2 one of the re-enactors could only spit out some recycled Full Metal Jacket dialog when trying to be period authentic. Or maybe that's the point -- even the guys who were in the shit are re-enacting the movies. Yes, I'm veering more cynical than in my first comment.
posted by dhartung at 3:54 PM on January 4, 2013


How do they know who is dead?

Smell.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:55 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pardon my umbrella, The Whelk.
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, the presence of blow fly reenactors is a dead giveaway.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:59 PM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is interesting – Wikipedia: List of Historical Reenactment Groups
posted by koeselitz at 4:02 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was actually just vaguely wondering why there aren't more re-enactors of e.g. the War of 1812,
posted by infini at 4:16 PM on January 4, 2013


Heh, infini, from our regular July 4 symphony card you'd think it was the same war!

Having finished Part 2, I was fascinated at the re-enactment of summary executions. I had a little bit of impression that was maybe done because the camera was there and so they could re-enact, you know, keeping the press away from the Bad Things, and self-justify them in interviews. But is it something they do normally?

Also interesting was the "war correspondent" who switched to carrying a gun. I'm sure there were a few who played it like that, but how did she process it as a re-enactor?

Finally, the racism question was also broached by both the language of re-enactors and the fake Asian accents of the NVA players. I know I wouldn't have a bit of a problem with a Confederate played by a Yankee with a bad Dukes of Hazzard accent, and not much for a WWI/II re-enactment with movie-bad Jerry or Fritz German even speaking as a German-American, but it was really discomfiting to hear all that for Vietnam.
posted by dhartung at 4:32 PM on January 4, 2013


How about war pre-enactors? USA vs. China. The world vs. Switzerland (the Gnomes). etc.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:42 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Re-enactments should definitely allow crossdressing, especially Civil War era stuff. Quite a few women tried to disguise themselves as boys and volunteered. Many of them weren't discovered for quite a while and some not until the end. In other units, they knew perfectly well the soldier in question was female but went along with the charade because the woman in question knew how to fight and was a good friend.

I can't see why a group of men who wanted to play soldier for the weekend wouldn't go along with the fun of pretending this girl in uniform was just a shy boy whose voice hadn't broken yet and had this odd habit of pissing in the bushes by himself rather than using the ditch privy with all the rest, but was a heck of a good fighter and so this oddness was alright with them.
posted by honestcoyote at 4:44 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thirty years from now, on some hot July 4 weekend, there will be an Iraq War re-enactment. A group of guys in a restored humvee will drive down a dusty road. A suspicious package hidden in the bushes and loaded with fireworks will go off. The humvee screeches to a halt. Two guys, both probably a little overweight, fall out and smash small vials of fake blood while another group of middle aged men hiding in further bushes will open fire with ak's loaded with blanks. They'll exchange fire for a while with the survivors in the humvee firing back with the roof-mount. Eventually firing will cease, the faux marines will drag the "dead" Iraqi's from the bushes. They'll pause a moment for photographs from the tourists, and then everyone, dead Iraqi's included, will head off for the picnic and fireworks display. A Dubya impersonator will be at the event as comic relief, posing for pictures with cute girls who have no idea who he's supposed to be.
posted by honestcoyote at 4:59 PM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


And this happens... on the moon!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:02 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd be into WW1 reenactments. Climb over the trench. Walk forward. Die. Go have a something to drink.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:02 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules."
posted by kirkaracha at 5:03 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


infini: "For 25 minutes and a 5 GBP donation I was a Roman soldier near Hadrian's Wall."

Dude, I totally saw these guys when I was at Arbeia in South Shields, did you do it there?

It was the first time I'd seen re-enactors who weren't American (not that one stumbles across re-enactors all that often during random foreign tourism unless one is doing battlefields) and it made me feel obscurely better that this is an international weird hobby, not a local one.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:08 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a Cola War re-enactor.

Our "battles" are awesome, if a little...belch-y.

"We lost a lot of good men, that day on Fanta Ridge..."
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 5:15 PM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm a Lodoss War re-enactor.
Mostly we stand around in windy places wearing capes. Looking grim. Or smug. Or cute. Except when we're INCREDIBLY ASTONISHED/ENRAGED!

I think the thing about the Civil War is that you can re-enact it. There were slower formations. A sort of pageantry to movement and still (with the exception of say, Longstreet) these grandiose charges that lend themselves to mass role playing.
Cannon fire. All that.
Vietnam you'd actually have to do some small squad stuff which is like herding cats for someone who wants to be seen. And if there's any realism, you can't be seen at all.
It'd devolve into a lot of standing around and talking with no one seeing or doing much of anything....so yeah, pretty much what the video shows.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:17 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


the man of twists and turns: "How about war pre-enactors? USA vs. China."

Back in the 90s I spent part of a summer taking photos with an armored unit of the National Guard doing that in eastern Washington.
posted by the_artificer at 5:17 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do they re-enact the rape and torture of civilians, the wholesale destruction of infrastructure, the genocide? Or is that something that's conveniently glossed over?
posted by monospace at 5:20 PM on January 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Both my daughter and my son's fathers just missed going to Vietnam, by about maybe 100. My son's father had a friend who had died over there. Then, one day, his friend called him up. After 35 years, he was still alive. He just didn't want to come home to Illinois, because it was too bad, so he'd gone onto Texas. Anyway, he drove up from Texas on his motorbike, with his 3rd wife on back, and attended our party, which was just one of those stupid Chicago baseball parties. 8/8/88 the baseball thing.

I looked at this guy's face: wrinkled beyond fuck. I looked at my husband. Plump. A bit of a chin. Happy. So happy. Friend: happy to be home and running around with his 3rd wife. They road out the next day.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:23 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


rectal stickectomy

In case you missed it in titus n. owl's comment.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:55 PM on January 4, 2013


Several people I know are into re-enacting the War on Drugs. I'm hoping to put together a group to do the War on Christmas.
posted by fredludd at 7:00 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was good. Thanks for posting. I liked the guy's approach.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:07 PM on January 4, 2013


Not all reenactors fight battles, some row boats up and down rivers.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:29 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]



Thirty years from now, on some hot July 4 weekend, there will be an Iraq War re-enactment.

I'm guessing this is already a thing. Photographer Alec Soth took portraits of an Airsoft group that reenacted Black Hawk Down a few years ago. I would be surprised if some of the famous battles in Afghanistan and Iraq weren't already part of this scene.
posted by missmerrymack at 7:48 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]



Dude, I totally saw these guys when I was at Arbeia in South Shields, did you do it there?

It was the first time I'd seen re-enactors who weren't American (not that one stumbles across re-enactors all that often during random foreign tourism unless one is doing battlefields) and it made me feel obscurely better that this is an international weird hobby, not a local one.


If you've ever read Asterix the Legionnary, there's a lost Egyptian tourist who accidently ends up in a cohort, thinking he's on a package tour. Well, that's me in the Roman get up. I really don't know if it was South Shields but I believe they move around a bit in the general locale. International weird is a good way to put it ;p
posted by infini at 8:35 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess given our collective fingers behind collective screens we could do a metafilter re-enactment of the drone wars which technically could even be called the clone wars cos they're mass produced right so its a cloned drone. Never mind.
posted by infini at 8:38 PM on January 4, 2013


War games re-enactors. We have paintball and the SCA and that's about it.

Personally, someone call me when I can get my Dream Park on.
Barsoom Game preferably.
posted by Mezentian at 10:05 PM on January 4, 2013


Even muppets do reenacting.
posted by boilermonster at 10:11 PM on January 4, 2013


We were kids, man!
Buckle couldn't find his legs....we were gonna go cruising when we got home.
We were gonna go cruising in his Solara, man.
posted by Auden at 11:08 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a Cold War re-enactor.
We mostly sit in small soundproof rooms two stories under major cities.
And we wait.


That's re-enacting what would happen if things got Hot. Here's how you re-enact the Cold War:

1) Watch The Brady Bunch.

2) Idly muse whether it would be better to hide in the furnace closet or just go outside and get it over with as quick as possible if they interrupted Sam and Alice flirting with an announcement that missiles were coming in over Los Angeles.

3) Go refill your bowl with Doritos and wait for The Rockford Files to start.

Oh the glamour of those heady days!
posted by benito.strauss at 11:39 PM on January 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I feel young again, now there's a fight I could fight right on the frontlines.
posted by infini at 11:40 PM on January 4, 2013


I was actually just vaguely wondering why there aren't more re-enactors of e.g. the War of 1812, the Indian Wars...

The SCA group I belong to routinely uses a reproduction prepared for the 2003-2006 Corps of Discovery expedition recreating the Lewis and Clark expedition and is now maintained by the Wood River historical society and a group called the Illinois free trappers who we've come to get along with famously. (There's a weird dynamic in historic recreation where everyone else is either DOING IT WRONG! or it's some kind of love fest.)

Anyhow, at their rendezvous, you will see people doing all sorts of 19th century stuff, including a lot of periods where starvation and exposure was killing more people than gun fire. (Though, arguably, a lot of days during the Civil war were probably like that.)

The SCA's last Pennsic war (the biggest one we do) was just under 10,000 people from a peak of just under 16,000 people or so I recall - admittedly I was hanging out in my linen boxer shorts and long t-shirt and drinking heavily but I'm a stickler for authenticity.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:15 AM on January 5, 2013


I'm a man o' war reenactor. I float motionless on the ocean surface for hours and painfully injure anyone that touches me.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:41 AM on January 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


I once told my Great-Uncle, a veteran of the Italy Campaign in the Second World War, about how there were now WW2 re-enactors. His response was basically, "What the hell is wrong with them?"
posted by Atreides at 10:01 AM on January 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


« Older Tommy Edison has been blind since birth. He wants ...  |  I went skiing today and looked... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments