I have a confession to make. I own, although I do not display, a Nazi flag. I also have (on display in my office) an Iron Cross, a German helmet, and a samurai sword (all replicas). At home I have a collection of miniature diecast German tanks. I have some strange music, too. I own a CD called "The Best of Communism: Selection of Revolutionary Songs." I also have on my iPod a selection of Japanese military marches from the 1930s and 1940s.
Does all of this make me a Nazi, a Communist, or a supporter of Japanese militarism? No. I find all three abhorrent. Yet I also find those ideologies fascinating, just as, although I have no love for war, I find military history fascinating. All this helps to explain why I've dedicated my career to the study of 20th century history. In particular, I want to know why totalitarianism managed to gain so many adherents.
Another confession: at one time I considered becoming a World War II reenactor, and, because because of my German ancestry and my interest in totalitarian ideology, I thought about joining a group that took the German side. I ultimately decided against it, for the same reason that I don't display that Nazi flag that I own--because it would be misunderstood, and used against me. In addition, although I suspected that most of those I would meet in the group would have been motivated by the same things that drove me, I feared that there might be some in the organization who were really pro-Nazi.
All of these things are on my mind today, of course, because of the case of Republican House candidate Rich Iott. On the one hand, I sympathize with the guy, who seems to be nothing more than a military history buff. (He's also portrayed a U.S. soldier in World War I, and soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.) On the other hand, if I ever found myself mulling over a run for public office I'd want to make sure that, whatever the explanation, there weren't any photographs of me in a Nazi uniform floating around.
Should this prevent him from joining the House of Representatives. No. Should it matter at all? Maybe a little. If I were a resident of Ohio's 9th District I'd want to learn a bit more about Iott, just to make sure there were no political undertones to his decision to reenact as a German soldier. Of course, I suppose to be fair we should also ask whether members of this group of Red Army reenactors are Communist sympathizers, or whether those belonging to this organization are clandestine monarchists yearning for the return of the United States to British rule.