History – picking the bits you like

This week I came across the following:

Verdun is an online video game where multiple players can take part in the fighting of World War I. The idea for the game was based on the 1916 Battle of Verdun.

 Even though the Battle of Verdun took place in 1916, two years after the Christmas Day Truce, the Verdun game designers decided to build in an extra section where gamers could call a truce in commemoration for the centenary of World War I,

The new sections give players the option to take a ceasefire and re-enact the truce. They can play football, have snow ball fights, make fires and sing Christmas carols with their opponents, rather than fighting.

The players can continue fighting at any point, but the designers felt it was a poignant feature to include at this time.

The Christmas Day Truce of 1914 is an iconic story and image of peace amongst bloodshed during World War I and still resonates today. Both sides of the conflict emerged from their trenches to meet in no-man’s land and enjoy a brief time of peace and festivities at Christmas.

The rest of the article can be found HERE but my first thought was ‘Presumably not getting hung up on fussy details like there were to the best of my knowledge no truces between the French and Germans (the French wanting the German out of their damn country), there were no Christmas truces in 1916 and last but not least the Battle of Verdun went from mid Feb 1916 to early Dec of the same year so didn’t actually straddle the Christmas.’ But on further reflection I find this kind of thing annoying.

The obvious response is, this is just a computer game, so who the heck cares? The answer I think is anyone who gives any kind of damn about history. At the start of this the centenary period I’ve largely been avoiding any kind of documentaries on the subject of World War One, which might surprise people as my interest in military history is well established. There has been a lot of what I wouldn’t even call revisionist history, I’d call fairytale history. The Christmas truce and football game in no-mans land is one of these fairy tales. Another popular one is tales of shell-shocked men dragged in front of kangaroo courts before being summarily shot. The problem with them, is that they aren’t actually true.

Certainly there were sections of the front where there were ceasefires on Christmas day 1914 but equally other sections saw fighting and casualties which because they don’t fit with the fairytale we don’t tend to hear about. Between the French and the Germans to the best of my knowledge there was no Christmas ceasefire because the French wanted the Germans out of their country! In the late eighties the BBC made a TV comedy series called Blackadder Goes Forth, which was set in the trenches of WW1. (Americans might not have heard of this one but it starred Rowan Atkinson also known for Mister Bean) It was really great, laugh out loud comedy with a final scene that remains powerful no matter how many times I’ve seen it but too many people seem to loose sight of the fact that it wasn’t a documentary.

The problem with fairytale history is that it at best twists that narrative puts a focus on items well out of proportion to their real relevance and at worst is used to justify personal agenda. So yes it is just a computer game, it is also spread falsehood and I believe that matters.

 

 

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