The Impact of Historical Reenactments
It doesn’t require a vast knowledge of history to know who was victorious in World War II, yet amateur historians like me continue to attend WW II reenactments. This past weekend was my eighth visit to the annual World War II Days held in Lockport, IL. I knew who would emerge victorious but I still went. There was a bit of a twist concerning this year’s reenactment that got me thinking about why I attend every year.
The three day living history event hosted Civil War and Vietnam War reenactors, but the main focus, as the title suggests, consisted of living history demonstrations and a reenactment of a battle from World War II. The battles reenacted have varied during my past seven visits but the premise was always the same, U.S. and allied forces battle and defeat a German force. The twist this year concerned the opposing forces. There were a few groups of reenactors that portrayed U.S. forces in the living history portion of the weekend, but the battle that was reenacted was between Soviet and German forces. Watching a Soviet force defeat a German force got me thinking about history from a long view. Germany was an enemy that needed to be defeated and the Soviet Union was an ally that was needed to defeat Germany, but history has shown the Soviet Union (maybe I should say Joseph Stalin) was not the great liberator of the masses it (or Stalin) presented itself to be. As I walked among the German, Polish, Soviet, and U.S. camps I got to thinking about how living history events and reenactments show us how fluid history can be (I don’t mean this in any sort of revisionist history way). History is a fluid timeline that in some ways folds back on itself. Reenactors exist in the present with a full knowledge of what has happened between the historical events they reenact and the modern day in which we all live. These living historians provide us with an experience from the past tempered with knowledge of the present.
Attending World War II Days gave me cause to think about the roles each of the major allied and axis powers had in the war and its outcome. The event allowed me to, for a brief moment, put myself in the time that was World War II and it left me thinking as I went home about the long term relationships those powers had after the war and how they shaped the world we live in. Living history events and reenactments, if done well like Lockport’s World War II Days, give us the opportunity to think about history and its impact on our lives, and this is a good thing.