(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Men and women love to play dress up. From a very early age we’re taught that whatever it is you want to be when you grow up, you should dress like it, and if you dress like it long enough other people will expect you to be it, too. That’s why parents buy plastic stethoscopes and white lab coats for their kids, why you aren’t going to see as many Brett Favre jersey’s at Pop Warner football games this fall, and why dads get a little nervous if they catch their sons parading around the house in mom’s old shoes and church hats. Of course Rich Iott would like us to believe that what we were taught growing up wasn’t true at all. That dressing like something doesn’t mean you want to be like those people or their beliefs. Otherwise how else could a man running for Congress justify dressing up as a Nazi soldier on the weekend for years of his adult life.
About a week ago the Atlantic Magazine and “Real Time with Bill Maher” did stories that have brought the little known race of Ohio’s 9th Congressional District into national spotlight. The district, which runs along Lake Erie and includes Toledo, Ohio, is pretty solidly in the hand of Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) who has represented the 9th since 1983. Her opponent, Tea Party favorite Rich Iott, would’ve just been a Republican sacrificial lamb had it not been for photos surfacing of him dressed as a Nazi grinning, drinking beer and palling it up with his son and friends. Now he’s a national story although not for the reasons that he should be.
I don’t necessarily believe Rich Iott is a Nazi, he claims that the photos of him and friends cheesing for the camera dressed as the Panzer Wiking division of the SS were part of a reenactment group that he used to be a part of. He’s even released photos of other reenactments he’s done from World War I, and the Civil War. Iott claims that he and his fellow re-enactors studied the actions and history of the division and shared their research with local schools and clubs. I wonder if that included how the Wiking division ran Jewish prisoners through a gauntlet, shot them at close range and threw them in a pit. Or that the Wiking division was home to Joseph Mengele, the Nazi “Angel of Death” who performed bizarre and inhuman experiments on men, women and children at Auschwitz. In all of those father-son bonding weekends out in the woods it never occurred to Rich Iott how disgusting, anti-patriotic and offensive such activities were? Anybody that tone deaf to American history shouldn’t be serving in the federal government. Of course the issue isn’t just the whole “Nazi thing” but war reenactors in general.
There are thousands of men and even some women who engage in war Reenactments all over the country, even some minorities have been known to dress up as Union and Confederate soldiers. Some reenactment groups, like the 37th Calvary in Texas make a point to show that they have Black members who participate in their mock battles as well. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who wants to dress up as enemies of the United States as an excuse to tailgate and live out some war fantasy doesn’t deserve to serve their nation in Congress. Someone dressing up as a Confederate soldier, White or Black, let alone a Nazi whom we were fighting just 60 years ago, is showing a lack of historical empathy that I think would make them less than qualified for the job.
This is not the “who had it worse” game. It’s foolish to compare the Holocaust with slavery or the genocides in Rwanda or any of a slew of man-on-man abuses in world history. However, I think that anyone who chooses to bask in the reenactment glow, whether it’s former slave owners or Nazis has every right to do it, but I sure as heck don’t want them representing me.
I would hate to think that in the congressional elections of 2070 that there would be candidates out there who spent their weekends in the mountains reenacting the planning and execution of 9/11. I doubt voters would tolerate that, just like today’s voters shouldn’t tolerate Confederate or Nazi reenactors without good reason. Either way, Rich Iott has re-learned a lesson about dressing up that he should’ve learned when he was a kid. Let’s just hope his son’s Nazi photos don’t show up on Facebook when he’s applying for college.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College.)