The Problem with Remembrance
EA Games’ Battlefield 1 is the first video game I’ve played in two years. Battlefield 1 is set during the First World War, and the player ventures through several offensives: from the mud of the Western Front to the sands of Arabia and Gallipoli.
The story lines are simple, yet elegant. Though, in spite of this elegance, EA decided to only show the stories of those soldiers who fought for the Entente, the US and Italy – the ‘Allied’ powers during the war.
This struck me as an interesting decision made by EA, because unlike the Second World War where there is a clear ‘bad’ side in the National Socialists and Imperial Japan, the First World War’s line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ was far more obscure. In fact, the motives of each side seem distant to us now. The game itself recognises this, focusing on the specific motivation of characters, rather than demonising German or Ottoman soldiers.
Nevertheless one is left questioning why the player is not given the chance to explore any of the numerous campaigns of the war from the perspective of the Central Powers.
My great uncle and great grandfather both fought in the First World War. My great uncle fought for Australia, while my great grandfather fought for Germany. They opposed each other on the Western Front. Yet, I have always identified far more closely with my British uncle. As a student in primary school, I would brag to friends around ANZAC Day that a family member had served as an ANZAC on the Western Front and at Gallipoli, reticent to mention my German heritage.
Bill Pennell pictured centre front row, as part of the 13th Battalion AIF. Pennell had lived in Britain, but was jackarooing in Australia when the war broke out and joined the AIF
I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s because I’d prefer to consider myself a descendant of the victorious side. Or, it may have been because a great uncle that was an ANZAC legitimised the feeling of having an ‘Australian’ identity. Or maybe, it was because of the stigma that surrounds the German army in the aftermath of the Second World War. An aftermath, which leaves the soldiers who fought for Germany in the Great War completely ignored by history.
In 2009, the last ‘Tommy’ to see action in the trenches on the Western Front passed away at the age of 111. Harry Patch, a remarkably considered and eloquent man received healthy media coverage in the last 11 years of his life, as he began to tell his stories of the war. Patch declined a State Funeral, though thousands of people paid their respects, including members of the Royal Family.
When Erich Kastner, the last veteran of German Imperial forces, died in 2008, there was no recognition throughout Germany. There was no ceremony of great interest upon his death, and his family had to inform the German press of his role in the War before his death attracted any attention.
Ninety-nine years after the end of the ‘war to end wars’, it seems a great shame that the sacrifice of these men has become completely overtaken by the horror which came twenty-one years later. Horrors, which the majority of the almost three million German and Austrian soldiers that fought did not dictate. One would hope that a history of a war written by victors would not condemn an entire generation to historical obscurity.
At the end of Battlefield 1 we are told the ‘guns will rust, and the grass will grow…and we’ll be long gone, but maybe not forgotten’. As someone whose maternal family were later victims to the worst crimes of the Holocaust, I still think it is extremely important to tell the stories of those that fought against the Allies during the First World War – to restore their humanity and perhaps to restore some of ours.