In Warhammer 40k what fans are most exposed to in the games, and in the art, is the heroic actions of heroes such as a Guilliman, Kantor, and the members of their vast Imperial Guard. What we don’t often think about, or see within this universe is the fact that the soldiers of humanity are human. They have hopes and dreams, they get hurt, they mourn the loss of their friends, and they suffer from the effects of war on their body, their relationships, and their psychology. One of the only mediums that really goes in depth into the humanity of the Imperium’s warriors is the books.
For instance, there is a great passage in the novel “Dark Imperium” where a Primaris Marine is dropping down onto the battlefield and snaps a few pictures of the ships mid-battle to paint later. It’s little things like this that reminds the readers, that despite the fact that Space Marines are genetically modified, and heavily augmented super soldiers, they are still humans. This is once mentioned in the video game “Space Marine” after Captain Titus ends his battle with the forces of chaos and returns to base limping, and badly damaged. Lieutenant Mira remarks how Space Marines are human after all, Titus replies “More than you know”. Space Marines are heavily indoctrinated, and as a result they know no fear. What of those who are not augmented?
The Imperial Guard are the largest military force in the Imperium of Man, their trillions defend the Imperium from the threat of Xenos, Heretics, and Traitors. It is no doubt that out of the millions of men who serve the Imperium many of them suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For instance, in “Dark Imperium” there is a character, a guardsman who is severely traumatized from his encounters with the Death Guard, to the point where he is unable to properly function and simply freaks out when touched, screaming “fifteen!” over and over. There is also a quote from Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn who mentions the effects of war on the Imperial Guardsmen
“It remains a sad truth of the Imperium that virtually no veteran ever comes back from fighting its wars intact. Combat alone shreds nerves and shatters bodies. But the horrors of the warp, and of foul xenos forms like the tyranid, steal sanity forever, and leave veterans fearing the shadows, and the night and, sometimes, the nature of their friends and neighbours, for the rest of their lives.” (As written by Dan Abnett)
In the book “Execution” by Rachel Harrison, there is a moment where a Commissar is shown to take comfort in the time she spends with one of her Guardsmen. She listens to stories he tells her of his experiences in the guard, at the same time the two share tea together. It brings a humanizing touch to these Imperial Soldiers. It shows that despite being soldiers, and despite the responsibilities of a Commissar, these two are still human who at some level need to be comforted. Further in the book it is revealed that the Commissar, in an attempt to improve morale, lied about reinforcements coming to support the regiment she was fighting with as they were essentially fighting an uphill battle. Spoiler Alert, they win with incredibly high casualties. It is when she is confronted by the Guardsmen with which she shared so many comforting tea sessions with that we come across another humanizing moment. As this Guardsman confronts a woman he thought to be his friend, he is reminded that above all, she is his Commissar. He is reminded to stay out of his feelings and know his place. It is clear by his reaction in the book that the realization hurts him on a deeply emotional level.
So how human is Warhammer’s Humanity? They are as human as we are, but they have been exposed to a world much darker, and hopeless than our reality. A world where most people inhabit vast hive cities of billions, where the lowest levels live worse than rats. They live in a world where for most the only escape is to serve in the Imperial Guard, this is a destiny that only removes you from your home world, and puts you on a worse off world to face traitors, xenos, heretics! If you live long enough to retire, your life will NEVER be the same. Inquisitor Eisenhorn even mentions of a group of guardsmen who managed to make it to retirement only to succumb to PTSD induced paranoia which resulted in them slaughtering innocent civilians.
This is what I enjoy about Warhammer 40k, I enjoy immersing myself in a world of heroes, only to be reminded that these heroes are human too. That despite being super-soldiers, Space Marines love to paint, despite being bad ass Guardsmen that a girl can also enjoy cake. I love those details about this franchise.