Cover image for War games : inside the world of 20th-century war reenactors
War games : inside the world of 20th-century war reenactors
Thompson, Jenny, 1966-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington [D.C.] : Smithsonian Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxv, 341 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E745 .T47 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The first in-depth, insider's study of the strange and often shocking world of twentieth-century war re-enactors 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 twentieth-century war re-enactors. A relatively recent and rapidly expanding phenomenon, re-enactments 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 re-enactors 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.

Author Notes

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

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Thompson's wholly admirable study of the reenactors of twentieth-century wars focuses on the World War II contingent, which is numerically larger than the rest put together (second largest is that for World War I, while other reenactors concentrate on Korea, Vietnam, and the Spanish Civil War). Thompson studied reenactor groups on the East Coast for seven years, especially the reenactors representing the U.S. Fourth Armored Division and the Grossdeutschland, an equally elite German tank division whose kit, for reenactment purposes, carefully omits the swastika. Thompson doesn't elide the faults of the reenactors, which include short tempers, quarrels over historical accuracy, and, occasionally, far-out politics, but she emphasizes that, in a sometimes roundabout way, they are studying history from the individual participant's point of view and seeking both wartime and contemporary camaraderie, a convincing illusion of being in the moment, and a way of identifying with the common soldier's experience. She doesn't give them a clean bill of health, so to speak, but does pronounce them eminently worthy of civilized consideration and only informed criticism, which she supplies in abundance. Approachable even by readers not interested in reenactment, this is a splendid example of a PC sympathizer fair-mindedly studying a largely non-PC phenomenon. --Roland Green Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The patriotic pageantry of the Civil War is one thing, but who would want to reenact the bloody stalemate of trench warfare on the Western Front? Actually, a lot of people. There are at least 8,000 would-be warriors intent on honoring the sacrifice?and, above all, the look?of the unsung soldiers of modern conflicts, be they Americans, British, Russians, Vietnamese or Germans. Historian Thompson surveyed hundreds of reenactors, observed their public living history displays and did her part by attending private reenactments, posing variously as a Red Cross driver, a war correspondent and a Soviet infantrywoman. By day participants march, attack, fire blanks and commit atrocities (reenactors seem to delight in being captured and summarily executed and having their corpses looted), the dead returning to life after a few minutes to rejoin the fray. By night they feast, drink, tell war stories and dirty jokes, and generally bask in campsite and barracks room camaraderie. Most of all, they critique the period authenticity of the tiniest details of other reenactors? uniforms, accessories, haircut, lingo and body type. What do these weekend Valhallas mean? Not terribly acutely, Thompson figures it?s all about her subjects? conflicted feelings about war and masculinity, the ownership of history and ?the failure of modern society to provide social relationships on a human scale.? Or maybe the martial atmosphere just gives men license to indulge their feminine side by obsessing over appearance and excluding others for their fashion faux pas. Anyway, it?s a subculture hell-bent on making a spectacle of itself, so there?s plenty of surface entertainment in Thompson?s engaging and sympathetic study. Photos. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: Those Guys Need Therapy: The Hobby of War Reenactingp. xiii
1. Hazardous Activity for My Own Recreation, Enjoyment, and Pleasure: The Battle of the Bulge, January 1994p. 1
2. This Must Be Something They Do in California: A History of War Reenactingp. 29
3. Something a Little Strange: Belonging to the Hobbyp. 50
4. I Lead Two Completely Separate Lives: Membership in the Hobbyp. 76
5. Dog and Pony Shows: Public Eventsp. 95
6. We Must Police Ourselves Constantly: Behind the Public Mantrap. 117
7. It's Not on the Page Anymore: The Private Face of Reenactingp. 141
8. Look! I'm a Stamp!: The Ownership of Historyp. 164
9. I'm Dead! I Just Want to Party!: Behavior Problemsp. 185
10. Farbs You Find Everywhere: The Problem of Appearancep. 206
11. Preaching a Version of the Gospel: Researchp. 231
12. How to Play Army without Everybody Getting
Pissed at Each Other: Camaraderiep. 250
Epilogue: Let's See What She's Writingp. 274
Glossaryp. 289
Notesp. 297
Indexp. 333