Today I had the opportunity to attend a military fair. I had never been to one before this and was told it was going to display many items from the two World Wars so I went along.
I’m not one for war and conflict and personally advocate a non-violence approach and generally oppose the death penalty and use of violence to resolve conflicts.
This was not the usual kind of place for me to attend but out of interest of history and to cover the story I went, though at times I felt kind of like a vegetarian might feel touring a meat packing factory.
Being an avid history student I know there is hardly any time period in our world history that is not marked by some kind of war or conflict, in fact we tend to keep time by them. We often refer to times in history to their proximity to a major war, like pre-WW1, post WW2, the Vietnam War era etc.
On the European continent (including XYZone nations) they use a similar barometer to keep track of time, and since there has hardly been a time in their long history when there has not been some kind of war, invading force or conflict on their soil (they even overlap at times) that the list gets quite extensive. From the Roman times until the recent wars for Independence of the 1990’s, including major involvement in the two World Wars.
History books show record to these grim events with such striking regularity and hauntingly tragic results that it can seem like a grim horror novel, the only difference being that it is not fiction at all.
Because conflict and war has always been at their doorstep and battles fought in their own fields, hills and plans there is so much of it left around of actual remains in both records, artifacts and small arms that museums big and small do not need or see the historical value to protect or collect more of these items for future record that it ends up in private hands and displayed and sold in fairs like this one.
I’m told the organization that holds this event started out with an archaeological and preservation agenda but it was clearly now an annual shopping bazaar of these things I term ‘military items of historical importance’.
I’d break up the attendees into three groups; firstly there are the collectors, people who know and collect pieces of memorabilia from a chosen era or war and know what they want and are looking for to build on their existing collections.
Secondly there are the reenactors. People who know and like a certain time period and are part of groups, web forums, clubs or other groupings of like-minded enthusiasts that reenact events for fun. Some have even gotten more organized and partake in a growing number of tourist orientated battle reenactment events. They might also be collectors but are also out to buy cheaper replica items and uniforms to use as props for acted events where original items are to valuable.
Lastly the tourists, just people wanting to pick up an old souvenir be it a radio, lamp, book or bombshell to show friends back home.
These people often looked for the odd, old, interesting or peculiar things to put on their wall or shelve. Some are knowledgeable and looking for specific things but most are just looking for a “trophy” war relic.
Even now as I write this I can’t really describe the mixed emotions I felt walking around a place like that, so rich in history and artifacts, replicas and military surplus that the good, the bad, and the ugly seemed to catch my eye at every turn and I had to discern how to deal with this crossfire of emotions continually.
The fascinating thing for me was the hands-on approach one was able to have on things.
Nothing was restricted by glass boxes and felt ropes as is the usual museum approach to history, so I found myself touching nearly everything just out of disbelief that I was actually face to face with objects from the last hundred years.
There were swords, muskets, old rifle parts, helmets, phones, oil lamps, and really anything imaginable to choose from. From the well preserved to rusty items dug right out of fields, all were there to be yours for the right price.
The historical value was phenomenal but one has to wonder how they got there and what history each object has had.
I was reminded of the film “The Red Violin” that tells the story of a violin made in during the Renaissance and it’s experiences and owners up until the present day.
Each item here has also had a long and colorful past as it has changed hands to end up on these tables, and perhaps by the end of the day find a new owner and chapter in its history.
Many items did.
As I walked around I looked but could not find the perfect object or souvenir that would help me remember these events in time. I finally relented that these were not my wars and nothing here belonged to nor needed to end up with me.
I did see some wonderful paintings and photographs that really told great stories of places and people and conflicts but I did not settle on any.
I saw others buying knives, machine-gun shell casings, deactivated hand grenades and land mines.
I think I’d have a hard time using a hand grenade for a paperweight or a shell cap to keep pencils together on my desk. It seems kind of disturbing knowing that they might have been used or intended to harm others.
What drew my interest for some reason the helmets. They seemed to tell a human story of protecting the wearer regardless if they were historically “good”, “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, they were all human and had a head to try to keep on their shoulders as best they could.
I took this picture that I think captures both history and a human feeling having these helmets all lined up in no particular order or importance, as the saying goes, “we are all every man equal”.
Some obviously were never used in battles in this part of the world but have all somehow ended up here at this fair for sale. Here is basic information that I was able to learn.
1. Late 1970’s double layered helmet. (USA)
2. From my understanding this is a Yugoslavian National Liberation Army (1940’s) helmet, but also later used by Yugoslavian and Croatian armies by just replacing the red star with their national coat of arms.
3. Vietnam War helmet. (USA)
4. Nazi WWII helmet. (Germany)
5. Perhaps Austro-Hungarian era (I did not really examine or ask about it)
6. Royal Yugoslavian Army helmet (pre-WWII)
There was a lot of WWII items around from Nazi Germany that was historically fascinating and at the same time a bit troubling to finger through all kinds of things from a brass “SS” ashtray to Auschwitz guard helmets, a worn out Gestapo leather coat someone tried on for size and a 1941 hardback edition (in German) of Adolph Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf”.
I flipped through this book remembering the scene in the film “The Last Crusade” when the Indiana Jones’ character has a brief run-in with Hitler. In the film Hitler autographs Jones’ journal thinking it is a copy of this very book.
Well this was no adventure movie but it was a real original copy of the book in my own hands.
I noticed it had a large portrait picture of him in the preface page and his signature. He was clearly an egotistical man whose pride and ambitions caused so much pain in the world but for a brief second you almost get a glimpse that he too was just a man.
A man who clearly made many wrong choices.
Two impressions I had over all were that there was not any international visitors, media or museum collectors (that I could see) buying or paying any attention to this event.
The things of some historical importance to me must not mean much on the actual world history market, or are just not aware of events like this taking place and have just left these historic objects to be bought and sold to private collectors or “trophy hunting” tourists in this market style fair.
The other was the atmosphere. There were all these things laying around that many people and cultures would be offended by or consider hate symbols like swastika flags and emblems, fascist memorabilia and even an American confederate army flag on one wall, but it was all just your every day people and small time merchants selling what they had and not meant or taken to mean or incite anything.
There were no neo-Nazi’s, white supremacists, hard-line communists promoting their ideology, nor were the people who bought them. Just history collectors in their own little way.
It shows the political tolerance and understanding in Slovenia currently, and I doubt this same event could have taken part in other European countries without protest, feuding factions or a political undertone.
Tito, Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler were all represented here in some shape or form, not for what they did, their militarily accomplishments or ideology but just as historical figures.
I kind of wonder what they’d think of this capitalist event taking place today, and in a country that they all somehow influenced during their lifetimes.
I know history is valuable and worth something, but I do have a hard time with people putting a price tag on something historical (and probably striped from blood soaked battlegrounds) and selling it like fruits and vegetables.
Having said that I did see a photo book one man had of his private collection and it was impressive and well preserved and cared for. It also is not costing the state anything for upkeep, unlike a museum, so it seems these “micro museums” of sorts are serving as a good alternative for the time being as these guys really do care and want to preserve history in their own way. Not to mention are also willing to pay the sometimes expensive price tags needed to get and add to them from fairs like this one.
As these World War items get older and harder to find I imagine prices will only skyrocket and these little personal collections might turn out to be good nest eggs for their owners, starting yet another cycle of money changing hands for them. It really is just another business venture, however small in scale (at least in this fair, just held in an obscure town’s sports hall) and a small niche market.
It just goes to show that the profits from war never really end. One man’s loss is another’s gain.
A new war only marks a new era, thus spawning new uniform models and weapons to collect and battle events to reenact.
What will people be buying and selling from our era of the ‘Global War on Terror’ one hundred years from now?
Will we ever learn to get along with one another and have a golden age of peace in the world? I really hope so, and that it starts real soon.
This site encourages all constructive comments, criticisms or alternate views on these writings. Please feel free to express your feelings on this article for other readers by leaving a comment, thank you. -Author
Read Full Post »