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Conscripts from birth: War and soldiery in the grim darkness of the far future

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/05/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Fantastika Journal
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)47-60
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe (hereafter referred to as 40k) is one of the biggest and most well-established Science Fiction universes in circulation today. While it has been critically underrepresented to date, this paper seeks to assert the relevance and value of 40k for analysis, and explore some of the real-world implications of the themes the universe explores.

Of particular focus in this paper, is the role of the super-soldier Space Marines, and the historical context of the 40k universe, the Horus Heresy. During this time, the Warmaster Horus fell to Chaos, taking many of his brother-Primarchs with him. These events sparked a galaxy-wide civil war between those loyal to the Emperor, and those loyal to Horus. While the individual Space Marines themselves tended to stay loyal to their Primarchs, the whole Heresy reveals a fundamental paradox at the heart of military ethics. Given that the Space Marines are trained and indoctrinated the obey orders without question, how much choice did they really have in betraying the Emperor? Was it even a choice at all?

This paper will explore these questions and many more, alongside their real-life implications including the Nuremberg trials and the My Lai massacre of the Vietnam War (1968). This paper will also explore the use of emergency powers used to justify the suspension of law, and the creation of zones or spaces of exception as described by philosopher Giorgio Agamben. In a modern-day world of black ops, drone strikes, and the never-ending ‘war on terror’, Games Workshop’s 40k universe has never been so relevant. To adjust a phrase synonymous with 40k: “In the grim darkness of the future-present, there is only war”.