An Indianapolis museum and Fort Harrison State Park in the capital are teaming up for a Vietnam Experience Re-enactment on July 17 and 18.
The program co-sponsored by the Museum of 20th Century Warfare will recreate American units opposing Vietcong forces in a public battle. Hobbyist re-enactors will be dressed in authentic or recreated uniforms and use Vietnam-era equipment and weapons to drill, exercise and simulate combat.
Such re-enactments are apparently on the increase, and they seem a little -- what's the word? Tasteless? Edgy? Creepy? It's one thing to watch a bunch of salesmen and school teachers dress up and play soldier for Civil War or Revolutionary re-enactments, conflicts in which all the participants are long dead and buried. The audience can forget about the tragedy and loss of war and concentrate on the spectacle or the historical significance. It's another thing when the war in question is still part of a national trauma we aren't over.
But if they're done well, and we can learn something from them, maybe they're worth it. I remember watching a Civil War re-enactment in Fort Wayne a few years ago. Though it was meant to depict a generic battle scene rather than a specific campaign, they took pains to be faithful to the way the men fought -- which was basically to just walk toward each other while firing. I remember thinking at the time: How could people do that, just keep walking into the fire while men all around them are falling with mortal wounds? The thought has stayed with me ever since. It's one thing to know that war is about old men sending young men to their deaths. It's another to contemplate the state of mind that makes the young men so willing to march to their fates.