By Matt Gordon
That is a picture of Drew.
He is a guy I know that I cannot tell you anything about. Drew might have won multiple Nobel Peace Prizes and could be an advocate for pandas. He might be able to solve a Rubik’s Cube with his toes or have the power of levitation. Yes, I’m talking flight. Drew could make his body lift off the ground, all bluster and wonder, and I wouldn’t remember it. All I can tell you about Drew is his name and one other thing, for all other things about the dear man are ruined for that one other thing. When I met Drew he said two very simple words that make every other thing about him—past, present, and future—irrelevant. Here are the fated words:
Yep, Drew does them. Loves them. All sorts of them, I guess. He is part of some big brigade out of Kansas City and he and his “pards”—that is apparently what reenactors call one another—strike off into valleys and up mountains to point unloaded cannons and guns at one another and play a very advanced game of dress up.
I have two words for this.
The first is ABSURD.
Isn’t this all absurd?
It is a huge commitment. These “soldiers” travel all over the US (though I’m sure things like this exist in other parts of the world, too—we can’t be the only deranged ones, right?) and gear is extremely expensive.
You can get hurt too. Drew tells tales of dehydration after long marches in full gear in torrid weather. He’s gone on sixty mile treks, spent six days in the wilderness, and has had an eight-pounder cannon go off—whatever that is?—directly on top of him, an incident from which his ears are still attempting to recover.
My own ears likewise try to recover from hearing the absurdity of it all. I just don’t understand how it all works. Like if I enlisted as a pard, I’m pretty sure I’d just never die. I’d be like Mel Gibson in The Patriot—you know, the movie where he pretty much defeats the entirety of the British army with a single gun and flowing locks? I’d go full-on Terminator mode out there. Or, one better, I would die. But then I’d be the resurrection soldier and come back to life. I wouldn’t slink out of the tomb nonchalantly like Jesus, either. I’d reanimate like they do in professional wrestling: a lone fist begins to wriggle upward, beckoning the crowd to join their frenzied voices to my cause, my life. Then, fist raised fully, body would follow, and I’d spring to spry feet and Jackie Chan all those around me. Oh, the terror they’d feel at this undying menace of the battle field.
Another option would be to go futuristic on them. This happens in war all the time. One army has a secret weapon, just off the production line, ready to roll in to battle like a German Panzer. I wouldn’t go futuristic like Star Wars. First, it would be bad form and I have no clue where to get a Wookie. Second, for all the technology and space ships and whatnot, hand-to-hand combat is pretty lackluster in a galaxy far, far away. Basically I can get a little handgun blaster that has about zero percent accuracy rating, or I can sword fight with a laser beam. I mean, for all the skirmishes they are having in space, you’d think they’d gear up?
I would. I’d show up to the Civil War with a grenade launcher. I’d have drone support and full tactical gear. I’m not sure where I’d get all this gear, but probably any current political rally would suffice in procuring at least some of my goods—or in this case, “bads.” The Union Army would part to make gilded path for my grand entrance, and I’d walk to the front demanding the immediate surrender of my Confederate foes. Drunk with battle lust, I wouldn’t allow them to surrender, however. I’d charge with my arsenal ablaze, making fake mince-meat of my fake enemies.
“Well, there are rules, dummy.” I’m sure Drew would say.
“Yeah, one,” I’d answer. “All’s fair in love and war. Also, home for dinner.”
Speaking of dinner, that is another thing about these battles. Drew tells me that you eat based on your role and your army’s lot. Meaning that sometimes you eat like a king, all hog roast and mirth. Other times you are lucky to scrounge up a can of hot peaches, scooping the slimy sustenance out with shaking hands.
Nope. Not gonna do it. I’d have Uber Eats out to the front on the regular. There is no way I’m waging war—civil or otherwise—on an empty stomach.
Drew hasn’t asked me to join him yet, but I’m sure the invite is coming, and then I’ll show him a new way to war.
The second word that comes to my mind is AWESOME.
I will never understand what compels someone like Drew to pard-up and peace out, off toward a pretend war away from real family. I wouldn’t want to hike and get bitten up by bugs or lie pretend-dead in a field for hours waiting for some pretend medics to come and carry me to the pretend infirmary. I don’t want to be hot or cold. I certainly don’t want an eight-pounder cannon to be anywhere near my head—or any other part of me, for that matter.
And what Drew and the pards have grasped through all this pretend is that the soldiers of our great and terrible wars didn’t want to hike or be bitten by bugs or lie in real agony hoping for a medic (who also didn’t want to hike and get bitten and get shot) to come by to take them toward potential healing. The heroes and less-than-heroes who entered the fray would have rather been at home with their families, at peace. But that tranquility was somehow threatened, so into the fray they marched.
Orwell said that whoever controlled the past controls the future and who controls the present controls the past. He was speaking of totalitarianism, and how it, like so many bad things, comes when we forget. When we forget what war costs, for instance, and misremember what it paid for.
Drew and his gang of misfits, in their expensive costumes, march off to pretend to die to keep a guiding memory alive. We must honor those courageous among us, and we must remember so that courage was not in vain. We march into the past in absurdity to allow the present to avoid it.
Drew hasn’t asked me to join him yet, but I’m sure the invite is coming. I’ll probably say no. I don’t have the stomach for even pretend battle. I mean that literally: I dislike being hungry. Whether I join up or not, I’ll be grateful all the same, and as Drew and the gang march off to Gettysburg, I’ll remember them and hopefully much else that matters.