WWII History

Hitler. If you're like most people, you probably don't spend that much time thinking about him, but it's safe to say there's a substantial minority that finds him weirdly fascinating despite -- or because of -- his loathsome reputation.

 

I happen to belong to this club. Years ago, when the History Channel first launched with Fuehrer-intensive programming, earning the nickname "The Hitler Channel," I was the target audience. I've read several biographies and just gave my fave to a friend for Christmas.

To be clear, I locate myself on the innocuous end of the "geeky-creepy" spectrum (at whose other extreme you might find, say, the next-door neighbor in "American Beauty"). Nonetheless, it's hard to explain why I find one of the most evil human beings in history "interesting." In fact, it's best not to even try (good rule of thumb: don't start talking about Hitler unless the other person brings him up first). When I do let slip, I find myself struggling to allay the sense of alarm coupled with mild disgust this topic always seems to elicit. The issue boils down to the mistaken assumption that interest somehow equates to sympathy or approval, which it certainly does not. 

My counter-argument: lots of people are interested in sharks -- The Discovery Channel built a whole business around this -- but when your friends are watching "Jaws" and the title character is chewing another poor bastard in half, you don't turn to your companions to demand accusingly, "You actually like this guy?" Same thing with Hitler: just think of him as a particularly evil, land-dwelling shark, with millions of crazy shark followers, and it all makes sense.

Or maybe not. The truth is, I picked up WWII History magazine because Hitler caught my eye, but one glance at the cover features confirmed that this magazine was for me. They had me at "Patton's Tactical Air Support";  I was even more intrigued by "Red Sea Naval War," which I've always wondered about. Down at the bottom there were some teasers: "The Real English Patient, D-Day's Dangerous Weather, German Hybrid Vehicle and much more!" Pretty impressive: even by the standards of military history geeks, this was some obscure subject matter, and that's just what the editors put on the cover! This magazine was arcane, in the most complimentary sense.

"What kind of person buys this magazine?" I mused, reaching for my wallet. My guesses: WWII veterans, nerds (hi!), and paintball enthusiasts drifting towards militia membership. Judging by the editorial content and advertising,  I'd call these ideas pretty accurate -- but there were also some surprising elements suggesting demographics I never would have imagined.

WWII veterans are an obvious audience for this magazine (more specifically, the subset which wouldn't rather just forget the whole thing) along with their friends and family members -- a fact confirmed by the letters to the editor. One veteran of the Pacific theater writes to clarify, stoically, the details of a campaign covered in a previous issue: "We mostly got malaria at Buna anyway and were 90 percent casualties. Some got jungle rot and other disease, but I was lucky and just had malaria." Further on, there are ads offering ex-sailors personalized pictures of their ships with their name, the ship's name, and their years of service.

On the nerd front -- "history buffs" and "Second World War enthusiasts," if you're being nice -- there are ads for tours of famous European battlegrounds, mail-order emporia offering Red Army medals and posters, and "World War II Reenactment Uniforms and Gear." I suppose all this could appeal to Americans who actually fought in the war, but the few veterans of my acquaintance never seemed particularly interested in Soviet regalia (why take Commie medals off some poor dead Russian S.O.B. when you have your own?) and absolutely no desire to recreate the experience of combat -- so on the basis of this unscientific and anecdotal evidence, I'm going to put these ads in the nerd bin.

I was surprised to see a number of ads for video games, which complicated my assumptions about the magazine's readers. For example, the back cover is an eye-catching ad for "Stalker, Call of Pripyat," a first-person shooter game set in the abandoned area around Chernobyl. Since the game's premise has nothing to do with the Second World War, I'll admit I was puzzled about the target audience: either first-person shooter fans are more literate than I give them credit for, or WWII veterans are more tech-savvy (or both?). But the ad clearly wasn't an anomaly: the magazine also has a regular column on "Simulation Gaming," which in this issue devotes two pages to examining the evolution of "Call of Duty," "one of gaming's most colossal franchises.

Which brings us to hardcore gamers' even more antisocial cousins: paintball enthusiasts drifting to militia membership. Here's where it gets creepy: some of these guys probably find Hitler a little too interesting, even by my very tolerant standards. The first hint is an unsettling ad for vintage headwear, including an SS officer's cap, complete with a skull and crossbones, eagle holding swastika, the whole nine goose-stepping yards. My first thought: a little weird, but, okay, someone's got to be the bad guys when you're out reenacting.  But beneath that there's a "Heroic German Soldier's Bust" -- which is just what it sounds like, a bronze statuette wearing the distinctive "bucket"-shaped German WWII helmet. Something for the mantelpiece, I guess?

Then a few pages later there's an ad for "Panzers on Patrol," which can only be described as a celebration of German tank warfare. Offering "Books, CDs, Videos, Flags, Pins, T-shirts, Posters, Daggers & more," the ad highlighted featured items like "Panzer Marches": "Song and marches heard just as the German people did during WW2!" Oh happy day!

Still, I can't claim to be surprised by WWII History's creepier readership: after all, I'm well aware these people exist, if only from being unfairly lumped in with them. As a small, niche interest title -- I don't know the circulation number, but I doubt it's over 75,000 -- the pub needs all the advertising it can get. Moreover, the magazine's excellent editorial content (I loved an article about behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner training pigeons to pilot missiles -- no, really -- and the letter from the editor is a moving eulogy for Marek Edelman, a Holocaust survivor and leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising) excuses any, ahem, foibles its readers may exhibit.

MAG STATS

Publisher: Sovereign Media

Frequency: seven times per year.  

Web site: http://www.wwiihistorymagazine.com/ (doesn't appear to be updated regularly - last issue mentioned is Nov. 2009)

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4 comments about "WWII History ".
  1. Jeff Rutherford from Jeff Rutherford Media Relations, LLC , January 6, 2010 at 3:05 p.m.

    Erik, what's the title of your favorite bio? I'd be interested to know.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 6, 2010 at 3:35 p.m.

    There is nothing wrong with someone interested in a particular time in history. Simply, the good guys study the bad guys so they can find more pre-emtively/in the moment. Is the magazine idolizing Nazis or educating readers on history? Is the pub a biker magnet or white supremist magnet? Who is the publisher(s)? Only since the Washington Times financially upheval began did the publisher become publically known - the moonies - so what have been their motives? More unanswered questions from your review than answering them.

  3. Erik Sass from mediapostpublications , January 15, 2010 at 1:45 p.m.

    Hi Jeff,
    My favorite is actually a two-volume bio by Ian Kershaw: the first volume, "Hubris," covers Hitler's life up to 1936, and the second volume, "Nemesis," covers 1936-1945. Sorry for the delayed response.
    Best,
    Erik S

  4. Jerry Foster from Energraphics , January 18, 2010 at 2:38 a.m.

    I have found the people who know WW2 history inside and out are also the kind you can trust as politicians and friends in that they have their priorities straight - people really respect those who know their history = besides knowing about the Katyn Forest and how US soldiers took no prisoners for about a month after Malmedy, they tend to know how Hitler got elected democratically including the deals he made such as with the Pope who then told the Catholic Party to give him the Chancellorship in return for their right to control education in Bavaria and Baden Wurtenburg. For practical purposes, no soldier of any Army should go to battle without knowing, in detail, what things were like in WW2.

    The Wehrmacht and Japanese Armies were experts at planting IEDs for instance, often inside dead bodies. I wouldn't go on patrol in Iraq of Afghanistan without talking to WW2 and Vietnam vets for that reason alone. The Red Army sent dogs charging to put themselves under German tanks and blow themselves up. If you don't know about that and you or a loved one or friend serves actively in the field now, I may have just saved your life or his or her life telling you.