Why do people build so many WWII German subjects? Many possibilities have been raised, and here are three reasons I think we are missing: poor history, subject visibility, and perceived elan.
Matt at Doogs’ Models recently published a follow-up to his classic piece, “fetishising the enemy.” The original asked why scale modellers build so many WWII German subjects given that they were, you know, the baddies. The follow up doesn’t really add much to the original thesis, but brings it into the perspective of a far more troubled world.
One thing to clear up before we go any further: this isn’t an “I disagree with you and can’t do so privately” post. It is intended as a “yes, and…” where the “yes” means “I agree that your points and evidence are valid,” and the “and” means “here are more points or a way to take the logic further.” Matt is one of the main voices in scale modelling that I listen to, and together with Jim, was a major factor in my learning to build better models.
Matt’s original post on this topic really got me thinking. Why did I want to build the subjects I was keen on? It also made me start noticing what other people did, and how they talked about their choices.
So you don’t have to flick back and forth, here are the key points from the original post:
- There are more German WWII kits than for other nations, especially in armour,
- Manufacturers build them because people buy them,
- …But people may buy them because they’re available,
- There are many rationalisations for building them, which don’t really stack up
Now, Matt makes a distinction between people who build the odd German subject and those who build them predominantly. I think that’s a good idea, but where Matt’s concern is (rightly!) with the latter, I would like to raise the perspective of the former. Let’s go through these issues quickly, then I’ll raise what I think is missing.
Why do people buy German kits? Because there are so many to choose from.
Why do manufacturers create German kits? Because people will buy them.
Sure enough, this is a great example of where introducing the human element really messes with the invisible hand of the markets. Economic theory posits that due to supply and demand, markets will reach an equilibrium point. However, in this case there are two factors which combine to create a market which will at the very least be heavily pro-cyclical (if you’re not into economics, that means that once you have a certain behaviour, you will get more and more of it. Like if you buy high and sell low because you think the market will continue its current trajectory.)
The first of these is that investors want to be sure a kit will sell, so they fund more of the same. The second is a bit more complex. We tend to gravitate to the “best” kit of a given subject, and the more choice there is, the “better” we assume that best one to be. So Tamiya’s Zero for example may not be seen as great because it’s the only 1/32 kit, whereas when it comes to Bf-109s in 1/32 there’s Trumpeter, Revell, Eduard, Dragon, and probably a few others. People then obsess over which one is best. Amusingly, this behaviour is even seen when comparing different DML boxings of the exact same sprues.
So yes. I agree that part of the reason is that the kits are available, and that this is self-reinforcing.
“I bought this kit because economic imperatives and nudges told me to,” said no one ever. Of course we rationalise our builds. At this point Matt loses me a little, but perhaps that’s because he’s talking about the people who only build these subjects rather than occasionally. Back in the original article, Matt raises three rationalisations that he’s heard most often, none of which he finds very convincing:
- Interest in the history
- Engineering greatness
- They look cool.
Matt dismisses these as unconvincing. It’s an interest in specifically German history. The engineering wasn’t that great. Okay, they might look cool but that’s shallow*. “There must be something deeper,” he says.
Exactly. This is where we get to my “yes, and.”
What I think is going on
My proposed addition to the thesis is that modellers are interested in German subjects because they are more visible, and they are associated with a perceived elan. What do I mean by that?
Visibility is simple: for the average person with a passing interest in military history, WWII German subjects are what they will see and believe were great. This is simply because of the vast majority of “history” documentaries which are poorly researched, take the notoriously unreliable memoirs of German officers at face value, and basically just fellate the Wehrmacht, the skills of their troops, the quality of their equipment, and their fighting spirit as those snappily-dressed chaps were unjustly crushed under the mass-produced dross of T-34s and Shermans, with their poorly-trained armies. Sound familiar?
The truth is very different, and yet the fiction is being drummed into a population that wants entertainment more than serious history.
This also ties into elan. Elan is a combination of spirit, skill, and intuition, the ability to make audacious moves and make them work. I posit that elan directly translates into the subconscious as “coolness”. It’s that romanticism of “knights of the air” or “tank knights” which the way German troops are portrayed makes them fit rather neatly. Consider the endless gushing over Wittmann: it’s because he is seen as this lone wolf warrior, the sort of Hollywood hero figure. Whereas the Allied armies are portrayed as weak, scared, moving carefully in groups because it would take dozens of Shermans to withstand one daring Tiger. I think it’s the same in the air war: the RAF with their tightly choreographed and inflexible tactics against the innovative Germans with their two-ship formations. Bomber crews stolidly waiting to die while on bomb runs in massive groups where the target was an entire city: no skill needed there, right? Same at sea. Those lone warrior or “wolf pack” U-boat commanders are portrayed against bumbling convoy escorts and the big fat targets they were guarding.
Therefore, I think these two fit together. The sheer weight of distortion and outright lies glorifying the Wehrmacht while denigrating the Allies make people subconsciously think those guys are just cooler and while you don’t want to admit glorifying what they stood for, hey, you can separate the heroic soldier from the evil regime, right? Personally, I don’t think you can, or should. Further, as we finally, belatedly look past taking the German officers’ memoirs at face value, we see that almost all the perceptions I put forth above are incorrect, or at least misleading, and that the cosy myth of the “clean Wehrmacht” is an utter fabrication.
Remember, they were the baddies.
*This one has bugged me ever since reading the blog. Surely I build things because they look cool. Doesn’t everyone? Has anyone ever got a kit out and said, “yup, this one is nice and dull. Let’s build that, but this time, I’m going to make it extra dull.” Looking at the kits that I own and the builds I have done, they come in two flavours:
- Stuff I think looks cool
- Stuff I think looks interesting.
Unlike many scale modellers, I have no personal connection with any of this. I build these things because I think the real thing looks cool, and having miniature ones on my shelf looks cool. It’s the same reason I’ve had since childhood, but at least my skills have improved.