On Battlefield 1, Player Characters and Ethnicities

So in October the newest entry in the Battlefield video game series comes out- Battlefield 1 set, for the first time, during World War 1. I’ve had a few chances to play the Multiplayer Open Beta on PC and I’ve really enjoyed it for the most part. Generally I kind of struggle keeping up interest in multiplayer shooters nowadays because I get to the point where I feel there’s nowhere left for me to go- Another round of death, explosions and Gas? Fine, I guess. More endlessly capturing and losing points? Eh, whatever. It all feels a bit… pointless (Which seems somewhat accurate to WW1, I guess?). The last big multiplayer games that really gripped me were Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 1943, but whether I’d still enjoy them if I went back remains to be seen. Maybe I’m just growing out of mulitplayer games for the most part. Still though compared to other multiplayer experiences, Battlefield as a series still offers some engaging, exciting and atmospheric moments that do genuinely make me feel like the small part in a larger conflict.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Something that’s coming up a lot online when discussing this game and a lot of games like it though is the age-old problem of revisionism. Now Battlefield 1 has, to its credit, done well in avoiding these tropes but not everyone agrees. Many feel that the inclusion of so many player ethnicities (you an essential chose your players race/skin colour etc in the loadout menu) is inaccurate or anachronistic. Many forum posts and comments have bemoaned the idea of such a diverse battlefield, and especially to anyone other than ‘white’ serving on the Western Front. It’s partly a problem that I think stems from looking at WW1 as what David Reynolds called the “Literary War”. There’s been much written before about annoying tropes surrounding the perception of WW1– such myths as the ‘ignorance of tactics’, the ‘unmoving and pointlessness of the conflict’, the ‘Donkeys leading Lions‘, and perhaps worst, the intense focus on the Western Front only, disregarding the often pivotal theatres outside of France and even Europe. These all surfaced again when Battlefield 1 was revealed, and something that has increasingly bothered me is the pervasive idea amongst some that including people of colour in the conflict (especially on the Western Front) is somehow historically inaccurate or (to use their own words) “pandering”. Character models in the game from only what I have experienced have been all ranges of ethnicities, colours and creeds on both sides, something that is certainly not outside the range of believability. Apparently though, to the denizens of gaming communities across the internet, this is inaccurate and unacceptable.

In a reddit thread (that I’m using as an example- it’s merely one of dozens that I’ve seen crop up in the past on the subject, of which many are put in a lot less moderate terms) that I guess is attempting to highlight how ridiculous it is to include people of colour in various armies, you will find numerous comments that purport that the Western Front was somehow a “white front”, only populated and fought by white Europeans. For example-

Most countries did use some colonial regiments, but the European part of the conflict back then had mostly white Europeans. Even in WW2 in the European theatre that was still the case for the most part. I understand people like their ethnicity being represented in a game, but you cannot make history more diverse, it just doesn’t work that way.

As someone pointed out in another thread, while the comment in question said ‘mostly’, what they were actually arguing, and what many posters in the thread are saying, is closer to ‘wholly’, which is, in my eyes, both uninformed and ignorant to just how many nationalities and ethnicities were involved and stationed on the Western Front. Here’s another comment on why the inclusion of black characters is somehow an insult to the Harlem Hellfighters-

Because the Hellfighters actually fought in the European theatre… Dice is just finding random groups of Black soldiers and making them the mainstay of the Europe conflict..

As well as-

Yeah, no. Use Google to look up photos of the trenches sometime and count how many non-white faces you see.

To set the record straight, Colonial troops made up large and significant parts of the British and French Army in WW1, specifically on the Western Front. At the same time the BEF fielded 70,000 men, The Indian Army represented the largest volunteer army in the world, with 150,000 of its 240,000 men ready for immediate service. By November 1914 Indian troops were holding positions around the Ypres. Alongside them were thirty-seven battalions of French troops from Senegal, Africa, Algeria and Morocco. It was many of these men that would later bear the brunt of the initial gas attacks in Flanders in April 1915. As historian David Olusoga puts it-

“By the time the maneuverings of 1914 had fizzled out and the Western Front had stabilised, the fantasy of the “White Mans War” had, like other assurances of the war, been exposed as naive.”

Indian cavalry from the Deccan Horse during the Battle of Bazentin Ridge

Indian cavalry from the Deccan Horse during the Battle of Bazentin Ridge

I think it also it’s important to recognise that front line troops (the ones you may find ‘while googling to look up photos of the trenches’) were only a tiny proportion of the huge machine that operated in the theatre. While the French were more than keen to pour, as Charles Mangin put it, “Reservoirs of [colonial troops]” into the front lines (Some 500,000 wore the uniform of the French army and manned the trenches of the Western Front), most black British troops (with the exception of a small few, see Walter Tull) were used as mass labour behind the lines.

Ironically, the Western Front during those four years of conflict was possibly the most ethnically diverse place on Earth at that time. Muslim prayers were held in the Fields of Flanders, Indian Soldiers observed the Eid Prayers before sitting down to share celebratory meals with their Indian Comrades of other faiths. Ramadan was observed in trenches, troops from the Punjab marked the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi. In British Barracks and hospitals Chinese labourers (Over 100,000 men served in the Chinese Labour Corps) entertained troops and their own countrymen, marking Chinese New Years and Dragon Festivals. French troops were particularly entertained by displays of Tai chi and Martial Arts.

To quote The Worlds War

“The Great European War- as it was then still called- became the greatest employment opportunity in history, and hundreds of thousands of men, from some of the most beautiful lands and islands on earth descended upon Flanders and Northern France. They came from Bermuda, Macedonia, Malta, Greece, Arabia, Palestine, Singapore, Mauritius, Madagascar, Vietnam, Fiji, the Cook Island, the Seychelles.”

To put it in perspective, take the Halbmondlager. This German prisoner of war camp is one of the most bizarre and overlooked parts of the war on the Western Front. It housed almost 5,000 Muslim prisoners who had fought for the Allied side. The intended purpose of the camp was to convince detainees to wage jihad against the United Kingdom and France. Living in relative luxury, the camp included the first ever mosque built on German soil, all intended as part of a “Jihad Experiment” which the Germans thought would help turn the colonies against British and French rule.

Halbmondlager, Germany's First Mosque.

Halbmondlager, Germany’s First Mosque.

This problem is really bigger than a video games portrayal of soldier diversity. At the end of the day Battlefield has included ethnicities to represent more of its player base, but the reaction or veiled excuse to the inclusion of non-white non-Europeans in the conflict as somehow “inaccurate” is further examples of the pervasive and very real white-washing that occurred after WW1. Call me a cynic, but I feel many of these critics aren’t so much disliking the inclusion if black characters in Battlefield purely out of ‘historical accuracy‘. I think this is best exemplified in the strange division between ‘black’ and ‘white’ characters, as if they somehow represent two distinct groups. Even forgetting the British and French, the German army wasnt some homogeneous ‘blob’. To quote again The Worlds War, we’re talking about “30000 Danes, 3 million Poles, other minorities like Serbs, French, Luxembourgers. Even Germany was a patchwork of 5 dutchies, 25 federal states, 4 kingdoms, principalities, annexed provinces, The Hanseatic League… Germany was less than 50 years old and the extent to which each of its nationalities considered itself “German” varied massively”. It’s just for some reason when it comes to debates like this, it boils down to simply the difference between ‘white’ & ‘black’, which I imagine comes a lot from the influence and predominantly American audience. For some reason in a video game with respawning, point control and magically fixable vehicles and planes, the most unbelievable and unacceptable thing is to include a bit more diversity in character models for the games audience to (optionally) enjoy. To quote one commenter-

They’re not even complaining about inaccuracies. They’re fine with the abundance of tanks that work like modern vehicles and the fact that almost everybody is carrying a prototype weapon that probably never saw actual use. Nonwhite soldiers though? Completely unbelievable.

Highlanders and Indian Dogras sitting in a trench, 1915.

Highlanders and Indian Dogras sitting in a trench, 1915.

If you’re interested, here’s a fascinating book called “Our enemies: 96 character heads from German prisoner of war camps“, a propaganda book published by Germany to show the public the faces of various “exotic” or “Alien” soldiers from around the world Germany was fighting against.

 

Sources-

The World’s War– David Olusoga

The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire– BBC

British Library Website

Race and War in France: Colonial Subjects in the French Army, 1914-1918

Germany’s grand First World War jihad experiment– Telegraph

14 Common Phrases and their Nautical Origins

In case you guys missed it, I started a new channel! It’s all bout history videos and the like, and this week is 14 common phrases and their nautical origins, all in time for the anniversary of a first in American Naval history! The video is below, as is the full script and lovely links to all the sources! Enjoy!


Continue reading

A New Channel and A New Series!

Well it’s been a long time coming, but here finally is the first episode of my new History Series! I’ve been busy adapting not only some of my older history articles, but some brand new content that I hope to release on a new channel that I’ve set up specifically for history videos, documentary shorts and other video-essay style content.  Seanachas is still pretty basic until I finish my artwork, headers and consistent thumbnails, but it’s a start! You can see my first video- The First Smoking Ban in History below!

For this the pilot I figured I would try to adapt an existing article I had already written, namely Pope Urban VII: The Shortest Smoking Ban in History as I felt the content and was pretty strong and would make a good 5-7 minute video. You can definitely expect ‘original’ content not featured on the site in the future, but certainly the next episodes will be based on another in my history series that I’ve previously written. This episode was made on a shorter timescale and with more limited resources (namely my laptop tablet rather than PC & Drawing tablet) so I’m hoping future videos will feature a lot more original drawings and content, but I still think it worked out pretty damn well!

Why Seanachas? Well I was playing around with possible channel names for months for something good that covered everything I wanted to do, but the problem was that I didn’t want to limit my channel to just history videos- I hope to feature everything from essays and videos on games, movies, books and other things that interest me, so I needed something that didn’t conform to just history. I picked Seanachas because 1. it’s a Gaelic word for someone who pretty much talks a lot, and 2. I like the sound of it, which is pretty neat.

Now, in the past I’ve mentioned a podcast, rather than videos or content specifically written for a video format, and that is coming! Basically, I have two plans- a podcast series that runs anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and these short, fast paced videos that are much lighter on in-depth content in more ‘trivia’ based. When the podcast will be ready… I can’t say. It takes much longer to script and record, but I think I’ll judge it based on the reception of these videos first. Either way, I hope you enjoy the video and please, let me know what you think!

 

Juggling: It Takes Balls

Illustrerad_Verldshistoria_band_I_Ill_013

What is the earliest film to depict Juggling? Well if the Juggling Information Service’s frankly exhausting list of ‘films that depict juggling’ is anything to go by, the credit goes to two French documentaries from 1895 and 1896; Assiettes tournantes, which is “Reported to contain juggling” according to the JIS, and Jongleur javanais, which “Shows a juggler from Java”. Despite the rather retro geo-cities appearance of the JIS’s website, the 391 strong list has been updated almost every year and it goes to show the dedication and passion people still have to that skill of what the ancient Chinese called “throwing multiple objects up and down without dropping” (a pretty timeless description if you ask me). The history and depiction of juggling may stretch as far back to Egypt around 1994 BCE, according to what appears to be a wall painting of toss-juggling. From then on, it’s description and depictions pop up all over the world, from Ancient China around 800BC, to Greece 600 years later, and then the Roman Empire and even Ireland in the early ADs. Most interestingly however, is that juggling wasn’t the mere parlour trick we might see it as today- it seems in the past, juggling proficiency often spoke volumes of agility and prowess on the battlefield.

Continue reading

My first Polandball Comic!

Today is a proud day for me, for litzippo can into /r/polandball! Okay I know that made zero sense whatsoever. Let me explain. Polandball Comics are a form of online comics, and a sizeable community of artists and fans have grown around the internet sharing and making these cool little comic strips, artworks and niche, nerdy in-jokes for a few years now. “The comic represent countries and are drawn as balls. The balls interact in broken English and poke fun at national stereotypes and international relations.” (via the Simple English Wikia). The Polandball Subreddit, one of the largest communities and creators of Polandball Comics describes them as:

“Wiggly mouse-drawn comics where balls represent different countries. They poke fun at national stereotypes and the “international drama” of their diplomatic relations. Polandball combines history, geography, Engrish, and an inferiority complex. The comic series first became popular on a well known German image board int ze internetz.”

There are very strict rules and in-jokes built around the comics that the community enforces, as well as a lot of dos and don’t. As such, making and posting comics in the polandball subreddit requires a knowledge of how they work and an understanding of the humour & drawing rules. Only then can you submit your comic to the moderators, who will decide if it’s worthy of posting and letting you post other comics in the future. Here’s some of my favourite examples, such as a comic strip depicting a meeting of all the world’s “unhated nations“, a funny personification of some British-Australian history, poking fun at the sensitive national tensions of Germany or this American-North Korean comic. There’s also more complex and historical ones such as this comic about the Boxer Rebellion.

Anyway. after being a fan for many years, my first /r/Polandball comic “One Upmanship” last week was submitted, and what’s more- approved! I’m pretty proud of it, and I spent a whole day coming up with the idea and drawing it. It was well received on the subreddit too, ranking at number 53 of the top comics of the entire month, which made my day!

The comic is below, but here’s some historical back story that might clear up what the comic’s about-

“This comic depicts the Scottish Navy’s Michael, the largest ship of her time when she was launched in 1512. In direct response to her construction, The English King Henry VIII ordered the construction of the Henry Grace à Dieu, which surpassed the Michael in size and armament.

Meanwhile, across the seas the great and fabled Treasure Fleets of Ming Dynasty China sat and rotted in their harbours and moorings, the new emperor uninterested in the massive fleet built decades before for exploration and trade. They were eventually destroyed or burnt.”

polandbfinal

 

Pope Urban VII: The Shortest Smoking Ban in History

 

The earliest depiction of a European man smoking, from Tabacco by Anthony Chute.

The earliest depiction of a European man smoking, from Tabacco by Anthony Chute.

424 years ago today, on the 27th of September 1590 there came to pass two new of records in history. It marked the end of what would be the shortest Papal reign in history, and it also marked the end of probably the shortest and earliest smoking bans in history. Giovanni Battista Castagna, before taking his more street-friendly rap name of Pope Urban VII, was the shortest serving pope in history, having the job a mere 13 days in total, from his appointment on the 15th of September 1590 until his death due to malaria 424 years ago today. A man of considerable esteem and renown for his piety and learning, his sudden death was no doubt considered as sad to his subjects as his appointment to Pope was jubilant- in only his short stay as the moderator of the Vatican and Catholic faith he achieved a lot, especially considered he was stuck down with the illness that would kill him on a couple of days after being appointed. One of his first acts was “to have a list made of all the poor in Rome that he might alleviate their needs”, not an easy task considering the population of Rome would have been roughly 90,000 at the time. After what probably amounted to a heck of a lot of list-related writers cramp, he ordered the bakers of Rome to make “larger loaves of bread and sell them cheaper”, mitigating their losses out of his own purse. Not done with his campaign of poverty-busting, he instigated the construction of public works around the city of Rome to provide jobs to those who didn’t have any. A strong opponent of nepotism, he forbade relatives from getting jobs in the curia (Roman courts and assemblies), paid off debts owed by the papacy and raised the wages of cardinals who received insufficient pay all out of his own pocket. Possibly the most progressive and modern order set down by our short-stay Pope however, was a ban on a pastime that had come to take over 16th century Europe. According to Jack E. Henningfield’s book An Old-Fashioned Addiction, Urban takes the number one spot for:

“the world’s first known public smoking ban in 1590, as [Pope Urban] threatened to excommunicate anyone who ‘took tobacco in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe, or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose’

Continue reading

Henry H. Bliss & Mary Ward: The Unlucky Automotive Firsts

FATALLY HURT BY AUTOMOBILE

Vehicle Carrying the Son of ex-Mayor Edson Ran Over H. H. Bliss, Who Was Alighting from a Trolley Car

The New York Times, September 14th 1899
Henry_hale_bliss_1873

Grand Theft Auto: 1899

So blazed the headlines of The New York Times 115 years ago today in their report that marked a grisly first in American automotive history. On September 14th 1899 68-year-old Henry Hale Bliss, a real estate dealer living in New York City (234 West Seventy Firth Street to be precise, but his original residence no longer exists) became the first man in the Americas to die from his injuries caused by being struck down by an automobile. By the end of the 19th century the automobile was becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of Cities in the western world, and patents for steam, combustion and electric vehicles were being registered since the early to mid-1800s.  State of Wisconsin in 1875 had offered a $10,000 award to the first individual that could produce a practical substitute for the use of horses and other animals (incidentally leading in 1878 to the first automotive race in America, in which five of the seven entries failed to start and the winner completed the 200 mile course in a time of 33 hours after the only other completer also broke down. More successful than perhaps the first automotive race, in which only one vehicle competed.)

Continue reading