War Games: Inside the World of 20th-Century War Reenactors

Overview

D-Day with beach umbrellas in the distance? Troops ordering ice cream? American and German forces celebrating Christmas together in the barracks? This could only be the curious world of 20th-century war reenactors. A relatively recent and rapidly expanding phenomenon, reenactments in the United States of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War now draw more than 8,000 participants a year. Mostly men, these reenactors celebrate, remember, and re-create the tiniest details of the Battle of ...

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Overview

D-Day with beach umbrellas in the distance? Troops ordering ice cream? American and German forces celebrating Christmas together in the barracks? This could only be the curious world of 20th-century war reenactors. A relatively recent and rapidly expanding phenomenon, reenactments in the United States of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War now draw more than 8,000 participants a year. Mostly men, these reenactors celebrate, remember, and re-create the tiniest details of the Battle of the Bulge in the Maryland Woods, D-Day on a beach in Virginia, and WWI trench warfare in Pennsylvania.

Jenny Thompson draws on seven years of fieldwork, personal interviews, and surveys to look into this growing subculture. She looks at how the reenactors' near obsession with owning “authentic” military clothing, guns, paraphernalia, and vehicles often explodes into heated debates. War Games sheds light on the ways people actually make use of history in their daily lives and looks intensely into the meaning of war itself and how wars have become the heart of American history. The author's photographs provide incredible evidence of how “real” these battles can become.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
While most people have heard of Civil War reenactments, which draw huge crowds, those of 20th-century wars are lesser known. Thompson, who first became aware of reenactments in June 1993, found these latter-day stagings so fascinating that she decided to conduct her dissertation work on them and performed seven years of research, leading to this book. Through a combination of personal interviews, analysis of newspaper articles and photographs, and surveys, she takes an in-depth look at the world of 20th-century war reenactment. Thompson estimates that more than 5000 participants a year, mostly men, engage in reenactments of World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Although Thompson was accepted by most participants, a number of men resented her conducting observation studies of their private activities. She learned many things that surprised, saddened, and angered her, and she expects readers of this book to experience the same feelings. This rather unusual topic, coupled with creative story-telling, should stimulate readers to a wide variety of emotions. Recommended for large public libraries.-Tim Delaney, SUNY at Oswego Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A historian debuts with an overlong, quotation-cluttered account of the war-reenaction subculture, a world she found herself not only studying but inhabiting for seven years. Thompson begins with a snapshot of the war-reenaction movement (its portrayal in the media and in the popular imagination) and then reveals that she eventually attended 43 "events." Her description of the first-a Battle of the Bulge reenactment in 1994-is a highlight: she experiences the basic fish-out-of-water phenomenon in a Pennsylvania field but finds herself curiously attracted to the hobby that is practiced almost entirely by white men. She then charts the growth of the movement (Civil War reenactments were the first, and remain the most popular) and shows how "presentations" of WWI and WWII, Korea, Vietnam and, lately, the 1991 Gulf War have gradually attracted participants. Thompson describes splendidly the fascinations and fetishes of the men involved. Many spend substantial dollars assembling authentic uniforms. They speak disdainfully of those they call "farbs" (people who wear anachronistic clothing or otherwise break character); they squabble among themselves about minutiae (those overly zealous about costuming are "Stitch Nazis"); they condemn the general public and Hollywood for their failure to appreciate historical detail. Even Saving Private Ryan, says Thompson, brought snorts of disapproval from the reenactor cognoscenti for occasional farbiness. So what happens at these events? Costumed middle-aged men (most of whom never served in the military) run around in the woods shooting blanks and searching for "magic moments"-experiences so "real" that they bring gooseflesh. Then they e-mail one anotherand talk on the phone endlessly, reliving great moments, flaying farbs, making plans. Thompson relies too heavily on a questionnaire with a low return rate and can't seem to bring herself to say more than a few harsh words about the rampant racism, sexism, and overall crassness she witnessed. She concludes that most everyone involved is "pretty cool."The writer fires too many blanks in work that always requires live ammo. (40 b&w photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588341280
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2004
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenny Thompson spent seven years attending war reenactments and getting to know their participants. She has taught American studies and history at the University of Maryland and Roosevelt University and lives in Evanston, Illinois.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : those guys need therapy : the hobby of war reenacting
1 Hazardous activity for my own recreation, enjoyment, and pleasure : the Battle of the Bulge, January 1994 1
2 This must be something they do in California : a history of war reenacting 29
3 Something a little strange : belonging to the hobby 50
4 I lead two completely separate lives : membership in the hobby 76
5 Dog and pony shows : public events 95
6 We must police ourselves constantly : behind the public mantra 117
7 It's not on the page anymore : the private face of reenacting 141
8 Look! I'm a stamp! : the ownership of history 164
9 I'm dead! I just want to party! : behavior problems 185
10 Farbs you find everywhere : the problem of appearance 206
11 Preaching a version of the gospel : research 231
12 How to play army without everybody getting pissed at each other : camaraderie 250
Epilogue : let's see what she's writing 274
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