It wasn’t until I started my degree around three years ago that I was immediately aware of the horrors African Americans have historically faced. They’ve been beaten, shot, enslaved and murdered – and that’s just in Alabama.
But allow me to draw your attention to the 369th Infantry Regiment of New York, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, who fought alongside other Allied troops during the First World War.
Well, maybe “fought alongside” isn’t entirely accurate. Being the first African American infantry unit to serve in the American Army, they were effectively sent into hell by their commanding officers.
They were the first infantry unit to cross the Rhine into Germany, during which they sustained upwards of 1,500 casualties. That’s not wounded, that’s definitive casualties. As in outright slaughtered.
If you thought that these soldiers would merely be replaced, you’re unfortunately wrong. For the chain of command gifted the Harlem Hellfighters with merely 900 troops to replace the 1,500 killed in combat, and sent them on their way.
And if you thought that maybe their allies gave them the nickname of “hell fighters,” you’d again be sadly mistaken. For it was actually their enemies, the German troops, that dubbed them as the Hellfighters.
This was partially due to their incredible resolve during combat, and the fact that they never gave up even an inch of territory to their enemies, but it was also due to the fact that the German’s were never able to break them during capture or interrogation.
The Harlem Hellfighters held out in the face of all manner of horrors, and instead of earning the respect of their fellow American troops, they instead earned the respect of their enemies.
Now, if you’re wondering why I’m writing this on a gaming blog, here’s why. The atrociously-titled Battlefield 1 was recently revealed by EA, but a retailer leak suggested that pre-orders would come with the bonus of the “Harlem Hellfighters pack.”
I’m well aware that this could be just about anything, from a single map, to a character for use in the multiplayer portion of the game. But in a perfect world, Battlefield 1 would at least attempt to portray the story of the Harlem Hellfighters.
I’d be absolutely astounded if DICE had the guts to adapt the story of the Harlem Hellfighters, which is partially why I’m not holding out too much hope, but the story of the regiment simply demands to be told to a large audience.
I’ve spoken with various people at length before about how The Last of Us changed my view of the world and my way of thinking. I won’t delve into the fundamentals of why this occurred right now, but this acts as my personal justification as to the power of storytelling with video games.
This attitude of holding storytelling to a higher standard with video games surely equates to the need for more serious, moving source material, and that’s exactly where the Harlem Hellfighters come in to play.
The plight of the Harlem Hellfighters is moving to say the least, and I’d fully encourage everyone to read up about them as soon as you’re done here. They put their bodies and minds on the line, for a nation that largely shunned and rejected them once they returned home.
I believe the story of the Harlem Hellfighters would fit seamlessly into the vehicle of a first -person combat game such as Battlefield. The tale of all that the regiment – and other African units – faced during the First World War simply needs to be told to a large audience, and I can’t think of a more convenient game to tell that tale than Battlefield 1.