In 1974, John Watson, an anthropologist based at Harvard University, assessed twenty-three cultures to compare the behaviour of warriors who wore masks or disguised their appearance with war paint, with those who did not. He found that masks do more than conceal our identity, they dehumanise us, segregating us clearly from our victims. Sure enough the masked warriors were significantly more vicious than their unmasked peers, with an 80 percent increase in their likelihood to torture or mutilate their victims, or to kill those who were defenceless. Individual liability is stripped away and replaced with anonymity, a curtain behind which the most terrible acts of brutality can be conducted without the fear of social repercussions. Furthermore the mask dehumanises the aggressor in the eyes of their victim, inducing a sense of fear which only provokes more violence from the masked antagonist.
The Imperium marches on fear far more than brotherhood. In the brutal wars of attrition used to hold the Empire of Man together at the close of the 41st Millennium there is little time to build up bonds with ones fellows before they are swept away by ruthless war. Far quicker and more expedient to drive the ranks forward not because they fight for a greater cause (although they know that the Emperor is with them, guarding their souls as they use their flesh to guard His realm) but because going back is more frightening than going forwards.
Thus my sergeant wears a helm that separates him instantly from his men. Masked and faceless he is marked out as a killer to be feared, both by the enemy and those he leads. To those he commands in battle he is not a man, a complex and flawed creature like any other, but an avatar of authority. His voice is the voice of the Imperium, his will is the will of the High Lords and to the men gathered before him in some grubby trench on the fringes of the Thorn Moons he is as close to the Emperor as they will ever come. He cannot be appealed to or reasoned with for that unyielding mask is the face of the Imperium and in his hands lies power over mortal flesh and immortal soul alike. So when he commands that his men go forward what else would they dare to do?
Nothing fancy this time, indeed this was probably the simplest conversion I’ve undertaken in a long time, but the bits just clicked and I know better than to over-egg a pudding when I feel it’s working.