By Mariana Garces
A carefully groomed garden was destroyed, and another retired area man was left confused and yelling inexplicably at inanimate objects. While these occurrences would not normally disrupt a neighborhood, citizens of Ithaca are up in arms over a recent trend in war reenactment that has crept into local backyards like a sweaty, hell-bent Martin Sheen clenching a machete between his teeth.
Having grown tired of violent video games such as Halo and Call of Duty, many men are drawn to the real-life role-playing, not only for the racial epithets and drug use, but also for the brutal warfare. Vietnam War reenacting is growing in popularity in many East Coast rural and suburban towns. Everyone knows someone touched by the Vietnam War in some way, and usually that means knowing a person who avoids talking about the U.S military failure like the plague. Much like Civil War reenactors, these men dress in uniform, carry weaponry of the time, and try to be as true to the sacrifice and devastating struggle as they can without actually risking their lives. Fundamentalist reenactors who founded the new movement even encourage such realistic behavior as draft dodging and going AWOL mid-skirmish.
The group faced some opposition after being found in people’s backyards. Last month, there was chaos at the Oak Hill Manor, a retirement home on Hudson Street, when Vietnam veterans at the home were confused by the violently realistic reenactors. The reenactors jumped out of potted ferns and lit small fires around the property as one member of the platoon played The Doors over a boom box, all the while claiming “Charlie” was hiding inside.
Later that week, a young girl was ambushed while walking her dog. The dog was stolen as part of the mission, and the girl was interrogated for hours about her possible connections to communist allies. Parents of the girl and the president of the Neighborhood Watch demanded the reenactors take their faux guerilla warfare elsewhere.
The reenactment group says it feels stifled by the community and wishes they were less hostile toward their style of “making history come alive.” The platoon is now fundraising through popcorn sales for a trip to Ho Chi Min City (formerly Saigon), where radical members of the group believe their craft can be most accurately performed. Terry Robbins, 26, who laments the fact that he was born after the Vietnam War ended, vehemently defended the group.
“We really just want to get back to our roots, man,” he said. “Saigon is the only place where we can be ourselves.”
Despite the common comparison of the highly unpopular Iraq War to the Vietnam War, many young people still find an appeal in the reenactment trend. Robbins admits that part of the reason he joined the platoon was to relive parts of his favorite Vietnam War films like Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and The Deer Hunter.
Unfortunately for the ambitious platoon, a representative from the Ho Chi Min City People’s Committee released an official letter to the group in response to their recent intention, saying the city wants nothing to do with the reenactors.
Head chairman Quan writes: “The city is not the same place plagued with violence and unrest that it was nearly 40 years ago. There is no place for such aggression here, even if it is for ‘fun,’ as you crazy Americans claim. Not to mention we are the most densely populated city in all of Vietnam, and our metropolitan ways of life will not be conducive to such reckless guerilla warfare, even if it is just pretend.”
While the Vietnamese government will continue to forbid any visits by reenactors, the platoon says it will stick to its guns stubbornly and keep nobly fighting for the right to wage war until the time comes that they must surrender to an inevitable communist takeover.
Mariana Garces is a a sophomore journalism major who saw more fucked up shit in one day in ‘Nam than you’ll see in your whole life. E-mail her at [email protected]