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How ‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’ Paid Tribute to Black Soldiers Who Served in World War II

The new opus of the saga achieves a fine feat that must be acknowledged and admired.

‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’ promotional poster / © Presse Citron, Activision-Blizzard

The new opus of the famous video game saga ‘Call of Duty’, released in September 2021, surprised everyone in terms of story. Indeed, it marks an important point and difference in the saga’s history because not only is it the first Call of Duty game in which you play a Black protagonist, but it also pays poignant tribute to the Black soldiers who served in the Second World War and whose exploits, sacrifices have been erased from history — and for that alone, I think this game deserves very special attention.

Now, it’s important to know that I’m a huge video game player myself — I grew up with it, I was always raised with it, I was actually born (for the expression) with a controller in my hands. Video games are in my blood. And as for the game saga Call of Duty, like almost all video game lovers, it has a very special place in my heart — at least for the first opuses, but that’s another subject.

It should be noted that there are very few games — if any — that represent minorities, that have players play as ethnic minority characters. Assassin’s Creed 3 with Connor, a Native American fighting in the American Revolution, or… Call of Duty: Vanguard with Arthur Kingsley, a Black British soldier sent with his unit to fight the Nazis and prevent them from winning the war. These are the only two games I can name.

However, as Assassin’s Creed 3 was released in 2012, it doesn’t logically fit into the same box as Call of Duty: Vanguard — today, we are in the sad “age” of wokism — a term used to describe the intention to want to better integrate ethnic and gender minorities and ensure their rights are equal to those of White people — and this was not the case 10 years ago. So there was absolutely no problem with playing the character of Connor. But with Vanguard, it’s not the same.

In this new opus, we play as Arthur Kingsley, a Black British soldier deployed in France with the British Expeditionary Force, during the Second World War, following the United Kingdom’s declaration of war on Nazi Germany. Arthur Kingsley is accompanied by three other soldiers whom he commands and who accompany him in his quest to bring down the Nazi regime — and what is particularly symbolic is that they are a female Soviet soldier, another British soldier, an American soldier, and an Australian soldier.

The Soviet soldier and the Australian soldier, together with Kingsley, constitute the minority peoples. Australia being a member of the Commonwealth, the Soviet Union being an “enemy” nation of the West, and Kingsley being black, they are subhuman compared to the so-called advanced Western nations. They are therefore not respected, they are underestimated and despised. And although all three represent symbols, the case of Arthur Kingsley is far more powerful, far more important — and it’s on his subject that this article focuses.

Arthur Kingsley is a Black soldier. British, yes, but above all Black. The game’s developers wanted to highlight another forgotten, unknown and, above all, denied facet of history: the intervention, the presence of Black people in the Allied armies, by shedding light on the way they were treated in these armies, here, in the case of the British army during the Second World War. Because yes, we, Black people, did serve in both World Wars and in other conflicts — we were the “reserve army”, the colonial troops of the former colonial powers who deployed us on all the war fronts to help them fight the enemies.

Kingsley is the representation of the Black British soldiers who served in the Second World War. And the depiction of the unabashed and brutal racism he experiences is realistic, real, and above all brutal — when watching the game on YouTube or playing it, it’s important — very important — to constantly keep in mind that it is the mid-1940s: the African colonies were still relevant, there was a very strong feeling of superiority of the “white race” almost everywhere, Black people had no rights, no legitimacy against White people, they were caricatured, mocked, insulted. We must bear in mind that this was absolutely normal at the time.

Colonial soldiers during World War II / © The New York Times

And all the more so because it’s a Black man who commands a small group of soldiers, who gives the orders — which at the time was simply inconceivable and unacceptable. To give power, authority to a being of the inferior race is to sell the white race to cattle. It’s to be inferior to the « savage », uncivilized and undignified people. Arthur Kingsley is the representation of the Black soldiers who performed feats, heroic acts during the Second World War, in the fight against Nazi Germany, but who have been deliberately erased, forgotten from history.

What makes Call of Duty: Vanguard and its main character — Arthur Kingsley — so symbolic is the fact that Kingsley is inspired by — based on a real-life Black British soldier who served in the Second World War: Sergeant Sidney Cornell.

Little is known about Sidney — unfortunately, this was the case for many Black soldiers who served in the First and Second World Wars, and whose military prowess were hardly or never documented. What little is known is that he was « an amateur boxer in Portsmouth », that his father was African-American and that he was a paratrooper in the British Army’s 6th Airborne Division and the first black soldier « to drop in behind enemy lines » on D-Day, June 6, 1944. For his achievements during the Normandy campaign, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

When he was still a private, « he served as a company runner and was tasked with delivering messages between military outposts after the battalion’s radio communications failed », to quote Newsweek. He carried out this dangerous mission for five weeks during which time he was severely wounded, but this did not stop him from his task. In recognition of his bravery during the Normandy campaign, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and given leadership — sadly, he tragically died at the age of 29 in April 1945.

It’s easy to see that there are many similarities between Arthur Kingsley and Sidney Cornell: both rose through the ranks of the British Army through perseverance, courage, and determination, despite their skin colour.

These two men — although one is fictional — represent all the forgotten Black soldiers of the Second World War who performed memorable, impressive military feats and showed perseverance and courage, but who were deliberately erased from history due to the circumstances of the time. And Call of Duty: Vanguard is a fitting tribute to them.

This new game marks a change in the saga. The Call of Duty games about World War II shows the commonly known side of the conflict, the one involving White soldiers fighting against Nazism, and put aside, forget the Black soldiers who helped them. History, in general, is whitewashed and it’s important to change that, to show the other side of it. Actor Chiké Okonkwo, who played Arthur Kingsley, said in an interview with Sky News: « The great thing about Vanguard is that it’s not necessarily about ‘forced diversity’ at all in my opinion, it’s about taking a different look at the different fronts of that war. »

The slogan « go woke or go broke » is used by people who are opposed to what they call “wokism”. They use this term when they learn that a production (movie, video game, TV show…) features a person from an ethnic or gender minority as the main character or a character with a very important role. And Call of Duty: Vanguard is no exception. People don’t even try to understand that this is a depiction of a totally unknown facet of history, of the Second World War — and the fact that they are directly and senselessly shouting « wokism ! » is sad.

All we can do is admire, despite what people think, the beauty of the game, the message it conveys, and, above all, the way it pays a poignant and powerful tribute to these forgotten soldiers of history.

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AfroSapiophile is a hub for critical thinking and analysis pertaining to civil rights, human rights, systemic racism and sexism across politics, entertainment, and history.

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Eden Bouvier

Eden Bouvier

Former Law student and now prospective Political Science student, I write about my African heritage and international politics | My Twitter : @whoreguimaraes

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