While the news is full of reports of environmental climate change supporters and deniers, something that isn’t getting much media attention (thankfully) is the change in the military collecting environment. That is, until the last couple of years during which the winds of retribution shift with the “anger theme of the day.” Recently, our hobby has seen an onslaught on the memorials we revere, the relics we collect, and the venues where we interact with each other. For military collectors, this climate change is real.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
With many United States citizens politically polarized, the two opposing sides turn their wrath against symbols that they believe represent their opponents’ interests. In the past year, those of us in the hobby have felt this with the dismounting of monuments, calls to cover or closet flags, as well as the outright ban of the sale of historic memorabilia that some feel should only exist in museum collections, at best, or outright destroyed, at the extreme. For the first time in my life, I have felt that collecting may have a negative impact on my reputation, family, and community. Something has gone seriously wrong. But what can we do?
Since the advent of the internet, I have come to appreciate that the attention of many people can be held for about a five-day interval before the weekend arrives, and a fresh news cycle kicks in. It seems they wait for the next week to tell them what should be offending them and making them angry all over again. So, I have learned to practice a 7-day waiting period before becoming too alarmed about any perceived threats.
The assault on personal collecting isn’t going to end soon. As long as the country remains politically polarized, individuals and groups are going to identify people, symbols, and thoughts that they can condemn. The psychology isn’t tough to understand — in a political climate where individuals feel powerless, they will identify targets that will provide them with a sense of control. Often, the causes are misguided and really don’t affect change, but they make the instigator feel oh-so self-righteous. Most likely, many of us remember playground bullies who acted very similarly.
WHAT WE CAN DO?
A lot of collectors say it is important to preserve certain forms of “disagreeable” militaria so that it is available for future generations. For the vast majority of us, however, the short-term question becomes, “How do we continue to buy, sell, and collect items that a portion of society views as ‘unacceptable?’”
I have given a lot of thought to that question. And while I have come up with a few options, I don’t think I have a solution. In the meantime, I feel our choices are limited to:
- Hang on to the items that are currently “controversial.” As I alluded to before, a lot of activists have a short attention span.
- Own the show venue and host “closed shows.” If our shows are held in public arenas, expo centers, or even VFW clubs, we must submit to the rules of the venue owners. If they say, “No swastikas or Confederate flags,” well, then, that’s that. It is their building, their rules. On the other hand, if a club owned a building, they can control who enters it and what goes on inside of it.
- Try to change public opinion. I am not so sure this will work…and I have a cautionary tale regarding this:
At the recent Show of Shows, I had no fewer than 10 individuals, at different times, stand in front of me (one came behind my tables without invitation) and rant about how the “others” don’t understand the importance of the hobby. One person went on for more than 10 minutes of my valuable show time to explain how “Jews wore the uniform too,” citing some odd explanation about actors who were Jewish but wore German uniforms on the ancient television show, “Hogan’s Heroes.”
The person who came behind my tables wanted to read a letter he had written — word for word — that he felt I should publish in Military Trader. He was adamant that I could not “change a single word of it…” (that really endears one’s self to an editor!).
To these and anyone else who broached the subject, I quickly said, “I understand. I am ‘one of you.’ I collect. I get it. You don’t need to convince me.”
But you know what? That wasn’t enough. These individuals, while having good intentions, had crossed over the line of the rational to someplace not dissimilar to what our opponents occupy. Their level of intensity reached that of zealousness. I even had to tell the guy behind my table that he was making me extremely uncomfortable and that I wanted to take a break. His reaction? He became defensive, demanding to know how he was making me uncomfortable. That sure didn’t help his cause!
Here were at least two people with whom I shared a basic philosophy, but their method of communicating their beliefs was so off-putting as to make me want to get away from them. Zealousness will not help our cause. This sort of proselytizing isn’t going to convince anyone, and it risks further isolating the collecting community.
For those who want to preach, I suggest considering a path that will convert the herd rather than frighten the individuals. This can be accomplished by running for local office or school board where you can impact large communities. It can also be accomplished by actively supporting candidates who share your view (and by actively, I mean, allocating time to work for the candidate, not just giving lip service). Closer to home, you can educate your community through volunteering at your local school or museum. Sure, none of these are as satisfying as getting into someone else’s face, but any of these paths are more likely to affect changes in viewpoints.
And finally, the one thing all of us can do is work with show promoters to accept and enact the rules that they have to impose on the shows. The show promoters are on our side…they want their shows to survive and be profitable. If that means, telling all of us to lay down the Hitler heads, don’t display Rebel flags on a staff, or don’t parade around in SS uniforms, that’s okay. It isn’t going to ruin the hobby — in fact, it is the only chance we have of saving it!
So, please, keep thinking, be rational, and be in it for the long game. We all understand the importance of the relics we cherish — even if our neighbors don’t.
We probably won’t stop the ice caps from melting, but we can change our collecting climate by being wise — wiser than our opponents, patient, and engaged at our community (or higher) level.
Preserve the Memories,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine