Ethical dilemmas in reenacting

Two centuries of uncomfortable military head gear.

So, I’m totally digging my new reenacting gig but when I was first looking around at possible units to join and beginning to focus on the 35th Regt. of Foot grenadiers, I had a bit of soul searching to do.

You see, part of the uniform is a bear skin hat.

English: Black bear in the Canadian Rockies

I consider myself a pretty big proponent of animal rights so this did give me pause.  Could I justify (and, more importantly, should I even try?) purchasing such an item?

It occurred to me that while I don’t eat land (or airborne) animals I certainly use a plethora of products derived from dead animals.  Animal products are so ingrained in the manufacturing of our products that it’s a fools who thinks he can eliminate their use. Limiting their use, however, is always a good option.

Except in this case.  There is no alternative, synthetic material to use.  It is the bearskin or nothing.

So, I’ve been comforted by the following:

  • bear hunting in these parts is heavily regulated and the population is not only healthy but expanding
  • hunting that does go on is population culls, meaning they are going to happen regardless.  In other words, it’s not a question of demand pushing the hunting
  • Assuming, therefore, that these bears are going to be killed, it seems we should consider it an obligation to use the remains with respect.

These hats are both expensive AND represent a long and proud historical legacy which, combined with the origin of the material, ensures they are treated with respect.  Also we use them to teach others about their history (including demonstrating how people lived and dressed in the 18th century as accurately as possible), and that is a noble cause.

And it’s not like there are any good alternatives.

The British Ministry of Defense has been willing to consider alternatives to the bearskin hats that their Guards regiments use for a few years now.  PETA is claiming to have made a suitable alternative but it clearly wasn’t easy.  In any case, it’s not like the synthetic material (called ‘bear28’) is available.  And even if it was, I’d have to find someone who could work with it and fashion it into a hat.

So, for the time being, we’ll be keeping the bearskin.  Besides, I do look pretty amazing in mine…


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