Paintball and the red badge of carnage

September 19, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

Paintball. How come nobody has thought of paintball?

That's about the only thing I can think of that would significantly improve the massive Battle of Antietam re-enactment, but I think the advantages should not be overlooked.

Look, everyone acknowledges that the greatest problem with an event such as this is getting enough soldiers to "die." Historically, waves of men in Civil War battles would drop with the opening volley of musket fire (and of course a number of soldiers would be wiped out by artillery before the lines even formed up).

But honestly, and quite understandably, what re-enactor wants to drive 12 hours from Indiana only to be plugged in the first salvo and miss the rest of the fun?


By the way, did any of the re-enactors fly here? They must have, seeing as how they arrived from all 50 states. In these days of heightened airport security, I can only imagine the difficulty of checking your saber, your black powder, your 12-inch mortar and your 1841 U.S. Percussion rifle at the gate. I mean, in the Southeast everyone understands, but what of some mid-grade boarding agent out at SeaTac?

Re-enactor: "No no, what we do, see, is dress up in wool on a 90-degree day and stand out in the middle of a cornfield and pretend to shoot each other."

Security officer: "Just how stupid do you think I am?"

So anyway, you have the problem of too few men getting killed and staying killed. This is human nature, especially in an event of the magnitude that only rolls around once every five years. Even if you fall, who isn't going to twist his head around to watch the rest of the fight? Consequently, spectators hadn't seen this many people coming back from the dead since the 1960 Chicago elections.

Paintball solves all this.

The way it stands now, you can see a guy 20 feet away point a rifle at your chest and still get off on a technicality, like "the wind took that one" or "it's just a flesh wound." But in paintball - where you fire soft pellets of red dye at each other, leaving a conclusive mark on your target - there is no arguing. A big red splotch over your heart and you're out.

Another problem it solves is this silly safety consideration, by which re-enactors must point their guns skyward before firing. To watch it, you would think the casualties at Antietam amounted to 23,000 birds.

With paintball you are actually aiming to kill. Now, this does bring up a teensy little problem. A paintball to the eye can, technically, make you blind. So in real games of paintball, participants wear goggles or face shields.

Unfortunately, I don't think there are any 1862 accounts of men going into battle in a slouch hat, butternut pantaloons, suspenders and a Darth Vadar-like visor. But records from that era are spotty at best, so do we really KNOW that Civil War soldiers didn't go into battle wearing impact resistant Mylar goggles, a la Karem Abdul Jabbar? We may be able to slide on that one.

Paintball doesn't, however, solve the remaining problem, which is that - diametrically opposed to history - Southern re-enactors always heavily outnumber their Union counterparts. I'll leave it to imagination as to why this is so.

But Lee must be looking down from heaven wondering why he didn't have this kind of support during the real thing. In fact, at Paintball Antietam, the Rebels would almost certainly win, given the numbers and the probably true stereotype that Southerners are better shots.

I can't be expected to solve all problems in one column, but I'm working on it. One of the options would be a Civil War in which the Southerners begin fighting among themselves. This is Maryland, after all, so if it works for the Democrats I don't see any reason it can't work here.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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