The Atlantic Monthly has reported (and other media have picked up on the story) that Rich Iott, running for Congress in Ohio, is a member in good standing of a historical re-enactment group. That in itself isn’t odd–lots of people are re-enacters. What makes it unusual is that this a group dedicated to the Waffen SS: specifically the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking.
Iott naturally claims that his participation doesn’t mean he endorses Nazism. The Wiking group’s website (I’m not linking to it, but it’s easy enough to find) proclaims that the group’s members are “in no way affiliated with real, radical political organizations (i.e., KKK, Aryan Nation, American Nazi Party, etc.) and do not embrace the philosophies and actions of the original NSDAP party), and wholeheartedly condemn the atrocities which made them infamous.” Moreover, “we salute their courage and loyalty to put their lives on the line in defense of their native soil, no matter what nationality or government.”
Iott argues that this is all just a way to teach and learn about history, but the most positive spin to put on Iott and his fellow re-enactors is that they are woefully ignorant of the history to which they claim to be dedicated . It’s very nice to say that SS re-enactment involves no endorsement of Nazism, just the heroism of the individual soldier. All sordid details of German conduct of the war in the east aside, the SS was created and existed not as a military unit but a Nazi Party organization. it existed precisely to not be a part of the German military, but instead a direct instrument of Adolf Hitler. Moreover, the fiction of “defending native soil” would be more persuasive if members of the SS took an oath to defend Germany, like the imperial German army did. The SS didn’t take an oath to Germany; they took a personal oath to Adolf Hitler.