Drums, Skinheads, Ice People and Reenacting,
Why There Will Always Be War
by Jonah Begone
Written in 1992
November 1992 represents my tenth year in reenacting. You may remember it was ten years ago that the CBS miniseries Blue and Gray aired, which reawakened my high school interest in the American Civil War. (This despite the fact that at the time I was struggling for academic survival as a sophomore in electrical engineering!) Shortly thereafter I met two reenactors, got hooked and allowed myself the luxury of thinking there was nothing weird about dressing up in wools - a work mate of mine called them "dead men's clothes" - and running around sweating profusely on the weekends. By my experience, attitude and any residual sense of rationality I should have given up on reenacting years ago, yet I have not. Why not?
I talk to our current Imperious Adjutant on the phone almost every day, and together we hash out brilliant answers to today's most pressing questions. A middle-aged, cynical, quasi-military "Think Tank," if you will. Reenacting is a part of our conversations despite the fact that we are both so burned out that "nuked" would be a better description of our current mental attitude. Yet we have both arrived at what we believe is a fundamental allure of this hobby: it is an escape from the bliss of domestic life.
I will be the first to admit that the only more depressing sight than a toy-strewn bedroom is a corpse-strewn battlefield, but guys seem to lose sight of this and march off to war anyway. Some people, however, never know what they've missed. Look at President-elect Clinton: he could have had imperishable memories of Viet Nam like our Imperious Adjutant but instead wakes up in the morning and stares Hillary Rodham Clinton full in the face. (I'll take a bloated corpse any day, thank you.)
I have a recording of an French and Indian War-era tune "Two Recruiting Sergeants," about the efforts of two members of the 42nd Highland Regiment ("The Black Watch") to get men and boys to '"list." The whole thing is sung in a Scots dialect that would bring tears to a Scotsman's eyes, and a revealing lyric is the following: "Oh Laddie d'ya have a sweetheart and a bairn? /You'll soon be free of that ill-spun yarn/One rattle of the drum and that'll pay for all/So 'list Bonnie Laddie and come awa'." Joseph Joubert once wrote "The noise of the drum drives out thought; for that very reason it is the most military of instruments." He's right, and those two recruiting sergeants were aware of the fact. The rattle of the drum represents escape from the day-to-day sameness of domestic life, and I strongly suspect that each of us, while happy at home, occasionally hears a drum banging away in the back of our heads. (How else would you account for the fact that we keep attending terrible events?) Being Sunshine Patriots we won't actually enlist or do something silly like that, of course, so off we go to Salem Court House, Great Meadows or whatever else is being offered. Hell hath no fury like a noncombatant.
Perhaps our love of things military - real and sham - is just a manifestation of a shared culture. In the "Guidebook for the Politically Correct," an "Ice People and Sun People" theory is described. As you may have guessed, Ice People are white guys of mostly northern European extraction whose primary motivation is the exploitation and domination of militarily less-developed cultures, the Sun People. Sun People are more humanistic and nurturing. Ice People are responsible for all manner of environmental disasters and world wars. (Oddly enough, Ice People invented the printing presses, word processors and data transmission schemes which Sun People use to propagate goofy Ice People/Sun People theories, which, predictably, is the product of Sun Persons.)
Our Imperious Adjutant and I have observed that when Sun People run amok the result is inner-city riots and lootings. When Ice People run amok the result is world wars. In this anniversary year of Columbus, it might also be well to mention that we'd still be waiting for Sun People to cross the Atlantic and discover the Old World with their birch bark canoe technology, if things hadn't happened differently.
A regimental sage once speculated that it was just a matter of time before we hear the pitter-patter of German hobnailed boots on the road to France again. In a related story, as I write this article, the skinheads - neo-Nazis - are causing the German government grief. What's going on here? Things gotten too cozy at home? Maybe we need to import full-scale reenacting to Ice People cultures to stave off another global war.
H.A.L. Fisher once said that "History is one damn thing after another," so with this quote and the above speculations about why we reenact (and wage war) the unit mucky-mucks are hard at work on an evenly paced but satisfying reenactment schedule for 1993. I look forward to hearing Ice People folklore around the campfire, perhaps far from home.