Take a look at the picture below. Take a nice long look. Does it offend you? Does it make you feel unsafe? What offends you or makes you uncomfortable? I ask, because what I see in this photograph are two classic pieces of military equipment from World War II. Both of these rifles were produced in the critical year of 1942. The one on the left is a Mauser Karabiner Model 98 kurz (Kar98k). The one on the right is a U.S. Rifle, Cal. 30 M1–also known as the M1 Garand. One was likely carried by a German soldier serving an evil regime. The other was likely carried by a United States soldier who helped free the world from that evil regime. Both are collector’s items these days. Both were purchased legally and are stored safely. Neither of them are used to commit crimes and neither of them are used in terrorist activities. These rifles are a part of history. Holding these old warhorses helps take you to a different time–a time when these battle implements were the standard-issue rifles for German and American troops. The feel of the wood and steel, the smell of the leather and oil, and bearing the weight of these substantial pieces of equipment help those of us in later generations understand a little bit about the burdens our ancestors bore.
Recently, I posted this photograph on Instagram (check me out at @oldmauserman). The caption read something like this: “I’ll take ‘Things Built in 1942’ for $1,000, Alex.” The photo generated positive feedback for a few days. There were no negative comments, and no complaints. I did not receive any direct messages expressing concern or offense. Yet, just after the photo received its 4,000th “Like,” I received a message from Instagram.
My post had been deleted. No real explanation was given, despite me asking for one. I posted a similar photo and asked that whoever had reported me let me know what I had done to frighten or offend them. It has now been over one month, and I’ve not received any messages from anyone about what is wrong with this photograph. Two things bother me about this.
First, of all of the offensive and frightening things on Instagram, two historic rifles lying quietly on an old stump seem to be a little low on the scale. On any given day, I can scroll through videos and photos on Instagram that are–to me–quite a lot more offensive, suggestive, or frightening than two old pieces of history. These are not “assault rifles” and nobody is dancing around with them firing indiscriminately into the air or blindly into the woods. They are simply lying there, having their picture taken. They are not loaded, and they were not fired in the making of the pictures. Yet, someone must have reported the photo.
Yet, more importantly than pointing out the hypocritical action of removing one photo while leaving millions of others that are more threatening, offensive, or suggestive is the fact that in removing photos like this, Instagram is removing an opportunity to discuss history. I won’t pretend that all of my posts are deep, scholarly discussions of historical importance. In fact, most of my posts are introduced by a sentence or two, sometimes a joke or a reference to a holiday, an upcoming weekend, or some significant historical date. Sometimes, I post photos of a firearm or other military equipment with a cup of coffee. Yet, regardless of the caption, many of the photos generate discussion about strategy, tactics, personalities, regimes, campaigns, equipment, or other aspects of the Second World War and the generation that fought it.
I do not have the largest Instagram following, but I have learned that there are a lot of people who want to learn about and discuss the world’s greatest conflict. In response to my posts, I have had people ask about veterans I have met, places I’ve been, and campaigns I’ve studied. This has given me an opportunity to do on Instagram what I once planned to do as a career–teach. Photos of M1 Rifles have generated conversations about General Patton (who deemed the rifle “…the greatest battlefield implement ever devised.” In response to posts of Mosin rifles, I have gotten into conversations about Operation Taifun (Typhoon), and Hitler’s interference in the battles before Moscow. A photo of a vintage German rifle cleaning kit once started a conversation about how to care for the old pieces of history that some of us collect. These are just three examples of the many conversations that started with a photo of a rifle or other piece of military equipment. I have been told that I’ve inspired some of the younger generation to learn more about history–especially World War II history, and at least three young gentlemen have started their own collections of artifacts.
I suppose I am a bit hypocritical, too, in that I remove extremist comments. I am not averse to discussing the dictatorships of the first half of the twentieth century, but I do not feel a need to tolerate inflammatory or threatening statements. Questions such as, “How did a nation that produced Beethoven and Brahms also produce a Himmler and support a Hitler?” deserve to be discussed. In fact, I would urge that they MUST be discussed. Having read hundreds of books on World War II, I can often offer some insight on how things evolved the way they did, and what factors shaped the events of the interwar and war years. Indeed, I often find myself commenting on the similarities between certain leadership styles of that period and traits of certain world leaders today. Of course, with these kinds of observations, I inevitably warn that those who are ignorant of history are susceptible to making the same kinds of mistakes that enabled dictators in the not-too-distant past. These conversations do not have to be vicious political arguments (though they sometimes work in that direction). They do offer many people a chance to stop and seriously think about the times we live in, the factors that shape our world, and the dangers that hate, intolerance, greed, political correctness, and ignorance pose to us all.
Reality dictates that I address the gun violence aspect of my post. It is true that this nation–and others around the world–continue to experience unacceptable levels of violence. I have a hard time, however, understanding the connection between photos of World War II rifles and deranged individuals who commit acts of violence. All of my firearms are similar to museum pieces (with one exception, which is a reproduction of a World War II rifle). Nowhere on any of my posts do I advocate violence, criminal activity, riots, overthrow of any government, or any other such acts. I have seen many posts on Instagram that are racist and insensitive. I have seen others that are hostile to religion. Of course, there are thousands that are sexually suggestive, and millions that include foul language. You’ll find none of that in my posts. You also won’t find me reporting every post that offends me or makes me angry.
I am hopeful that the deletion of my post of the M1 Rifle and the Mauser was based on a report made by someone who didn’t take time to look at what I post, or someone who just had a bad day and didn’t really care. I expect, though, that someone saw something in the photo that triggered them. I would like to know–truly. I have continued posting photos–photos of guns, military equipment, puppies, tanks, clouds, flowers, trees, airplanes, plates of barbecue, the United States Capitol, and all sorts of other things that catch my attention. I hope that anyone offended or threatened by my photos do one of two things: Post a comment and let me know what you are thinking and how it is affecting you, or stop looking at the photos and don’t follow me.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I would welcome any comments that treat this subject respectfully.