Monday, March 1, 2010

What’s in a name?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

I had been planning to use this quote in a piece about how I feared my guild was about to stumble into a tiger trap that we’ve been in with Kara, Naxx and Ulduar, a trap mentioned last week in Cold Comfort’s ‘The B Team.’ I didn’t get to it yet (if you actually read this blog with any regularity you know that posting with regularity is not one of my strong points), and I’ve since been derailed by something that I came across today while reading the Guild Relations Forum.

The thread, if you choose to look, can be found here. To sum it up, the Original Poster (Bobbow) wonders why his guild name got changed and why Blizzard used the word ‘racist’ in their note of explanation to him. The guild name: For the Reich.

According to Bobbow, his family name is Reich, and he claims complete innocence in the matter. Most of the responses could be summed up as follows: Get a clue. No one calls him a Nazi outright; most seem to think that he should educate himself further on why it’s offensive to many people. There are one or two notes of support for him. Gabrielus tries to claim that ‘Reich’ is not specific to Hitler’s Germany, and that our association of it with Hitler is due to ‘too many people learning history from Hollywood.’

This thing has been bugging me all day. I drafted – and canned – several responses. I don’t know that I will say anything over there at all, but I feel it can’t go without some kind of a response, and what are blogs for? So here’s my take on it:

I’d like to believe that Bobbow is just a clueless kid. His writing style pegs him as someone who’s either young, or a little undereducated. I’m guessing young. Gabrielus comes across as a little older and more mature. He’s got the thread of a good idea in there; unfortunately, he goes in the completely wrong direction. He’s right when he states that the word ‘reich’ in and of itself is non-specific, and is largely defined as referring to the German state or empire. ‘Technically’ he’s right. On the other hand, ‘technically’ I could walk in and call my boss ‘Der Fuehrer’ and have it mean exactly what it means: The Leader. Still, if you call anyone ‘Der Fuehrer’, there’s no doubt who you are referring to. Unless I was so comfortable with my boss, calling him Der Fuehrer might give me a quick trip to the unemployment line, as there's only one person who is known universally by that title. 'For the Reich' is a phrase with similar connotations.

I am an amateur WWII historian. I find the time period fascinating on many levels. One of my non-WoW hobbies is to play ‘histsorical conflict simulations’ (i.e.,, I play wargames). I don’t know if the German soldiers cried ‘For the Reich’ when they fired up the panzers on September 1, 1939 or not. What I do know is that ‘For the Reich’ is so closely associated with Hitler and the Nazis that that question is totally irrelevant. To many people, hearing a phrase like 'For the Reich' is going to call up images of Hitler, Nuremburg rallies, concentration camps -- Blizzard really had no choice but to drop the Ban Hammer on this one.

Finally, I guess what really bugs me about this is not that someone would try to slip a joke past Blizzard, or even that someone might think it’s clever and/or amusing to use a name like this – as Carol Burnett said, ‘Comedy is tragedy plus time’, and John Cleese and many others have proven that you CAN laugh at the Third Reich and Hitler. No, it’s that Bobbow and Gabrielus seem to be so utterly ignorant of the way people can perceive the name. Every day we have another WWII veteran die. My grandfather and two uncles were in the Navy in WWII. Another uncle flew a P-38 in Europe during the war. Two of my friends’ fathers fought at the Battle of the Bulge, and my father-in-law was a Pearl Harbor survivor. They’re all dead now. The memories grow a bit dimmer and, as this happens the voices of the Holocaust deniers get a little louder. I am afraid of what the lack of understanding exhibited by folks like Bobbow and Gabrielus means for us. Laugh at the past where appropriate, but don’t forget it.

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