Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Conflict and Contemplation in the 41st Millenium

This was originally posted on October 23, 2011.

Warning: This post will discuss some graphic and potentially uncomfortable topics.  You have been warned.

Disclaimer: I did not make up any of this story-related material.  It is 100% what the makers wrote.

Nerddom is big.  That’s a simple fact that everyone needs to grasp at some point in their lives.  Because of its size, it encompasses thousands of different hobbies of any kind, from video games to trading card games to collectables and so on.  One of the more obscure ones, yet still fairly popular, is models and miniatures games, an important fact to know for today’s topic, the complex, popular and edgy Warhammer 40,000.

For those who aren’t familiar with this game, I’ll try to keep it brief.  Warhammer 40,000 (also called Warhammer 40k or just 40k) is a tabletop strategy-miniatures game that involves two or more players sending their own personal armies against each other to battle on a board of customizable terrain.  The setting is thus: it’s the 41st millennium and everything sucks for everyone.  Each one of the different races of the galaxy falls are morally grey at best and each have pressing problems that are spelling doom for their people.  Humanity, or the Imperium of Man, is on a constant downward spiral, their technology degrading and their God-Emperor on death’s door in a vegetative state a la Terry Schaivo.  The ancient and prosperous Eldar are space elves who have been reduced to nomads, as their home planet was destroyed by their more hedonistic brothers accidentally creating a dark god with a metric fuckton of sex and debauchery.  The highly advanced Tau lack the technology to travel farther than their own cluster, but they are the kindest species out there… to those who follow their ways.  Everyone else gets perforated with lasers.  The forces of Chaos are corrupted marines and demons following the will of the four Chaos Gods. The Dark Eldar, once Eldar but now corrupted by Chaos, raid wayward ships and worlds, capturing people to kill, maim, and violate through every possible orifice, possibly even ones that they make themselves.  The Orks are a constantly warring race that lives for and actually reproduces through fighting.  The Tyranids are a race of space-traveling omnivorous insects that eat everything in their path, including entire planets.  The Necrons are… space robot zombies.

Each race has various reasons for hating the others with no hope of reconciliation and shooting them on sight, so long as there isn’t one worse to shoot at instead.  The tagline explicitly states as much: “In the grim dark future, there is only war.”  This is the point where the story loses a lot of credibility, if the preceding points weren’t enough.  No society can function if there is only war, especially if they were in the sorry state as the ones mentioned; they would expend their resources and be reduced to cannibalism after the first twenty years.  Societies would also have a difficult time prospering without some form of cooperation, since, again, they would exhaust their own resources in no time flat without trade.  And finally, let me put something into perspective: if all the nations of the world went to war right now, the planet would be lifeless.  Scaling up from nukes to the orbital bombardments and cannons that rip open a hole into another dimension and you have the same problem with the galaxy as a whole.  The whole thing really does smack of contriving an excuse to give all the miniature armies an excuse to fight one another on a whim for the sake of the game, but that’s only if you look at it from a purely story perspective.  Warhammer 40,000 functions a lot better if you think of it as an allegory/parody of the concept of war itself and the existing war machine.

This connection holds up especially well when you realize that the armies and races mentioned have comparisons to real life entities.  Specifically, the armies of Order (Imperium, Eldar, and Tau) represent primary world powers, while the armies of Destruction (Orks, Necrons, Tyranids, Chaos, and Dark Eldar) represent conceptual threats that “justify” the need for war.  The most obvious comparison is the Imperium of Man to America, parodying the almost puritanical values that the country was founded on and having it revolve around a godlike being which is on the verge of death (and the concepts of prejudice and xenophobia turned up to eleven).  The two main divisions of the army are also reminiscent of the American military.  The Space Marines, an army of nine-foot-tall behemoths inside powered armor and standing as the ultimate line of defense in the Emperor’s name, represents the ideal of a soldier like the ones advertised on TV (“The Few, The Proud, The Marines,” “Be All That You Can Be,” etc.).  The Imperial Guard, on the other hand, represent the actual soldier, platoons of scared men in standard gear being sent out to the frontlines who are very likely to, and probably will, die horribly.  The Eldar are reminiscent of the regal societies in Europe, having existed far longer than the other societies and willing to sacrifice anything, even the lives of people, to save just one of their own.  The Tau, with their identical armor, masked faces and their motto “For the Greater Good” are clearly communism, their hordes of well-trained infantry reminiscent of the conscripts of old.

Now to the armies of Destruction.  Unlike the armies of Order, the things they represent are more abstract than nations or any normal group; they represent things that we take up or have taken up arms against in the past.  The Orks, who reproduce through fighting and have technology that only works because they believe it does, represent pagan savagery.  The Dark Eldar could be seen either as piracy or as barbarism, similar to that which goes on in Somalia or Uganda.  The Tyranids are the untamable wild, beasts that will tear us to shreds unless we thin out their herds.  The Chaos are the big one: they represent political or religious opposition.  They look exactly like us, but are “corrupted” versions that wish to harm and destroy the foundations of which we live, and once one of us is converted into them, there is no hope of return, save death.  The Necrons are… space robot zombies.  Okay, there’s a little more to it than that.  The Necrons represent the ultimate enemy, one that everyone fears that they will face one day.  It is an enemy that will never stop coming, never accept diplomacy, never stays down when it’s killed, and you can never, ever find where they come from.  Call it death or fear itself, it’s still the same threat whichever way you slice it.

There’s other evidence to be found all over, like in the brutality of the weapons; the soldiers of this universe wield such mauling machines as hybrids of chainsaws and swords or guns that eviscerate people with filament wire.  The visceral nature of these weapons could be a parody or commentary of the brutalities on the battlefield, far more visceral than what Hollywood shows us.  Even the Squats, an old army of space dwarves that the company discontinued and wrote out of the universe, could be seen as a representation of the passing of the Industrial Revolution and the antiquation of the old ways of war.  But there’s one aspect that really drives the comparison to the war machine home.

It never.  Ever.  Stops.

Be it powerful nations or smaller ones, two or more people will always be spilling each other’s blood and there will always be conflict somewhere in the world.  And in direct response to that, the battles of 40k will never cease; the races and armies will never lay down their arms until they all drop dead.  In fact, the metaphor is outright stated in the description of one of the Chaos Gods, saying that as long as there is war, he will exist.  It practically proves the point with that statement, using the Chaos God as a stand-in for the world of 40k itself.

In the past, I’ve complained about the world of 40k being an unpleasant place to live; there was nowhere to be a normal person or for any sort of joy at all.  I always realized that was the point, but now I realize why.  War is hell.  And when war is erupting across the stars, then hell comes straight from heaven.

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