We started using full-face helmets to enmask our troops sometime in the fourth decade of the war, because “top psychologists” claimed that a faceless enemy was more terrifying. There was also something to be said for the effect on the soldier who wore the concealment: they were given a layer, albeit thin, to protect them not only from minor assaults and damages, but also from some degree of the emotional impact of what they were tasked to do. It worked much the same as it did in the theater: when actors wished to change character and play pretend that they were other people, donning a mask went far in helping them achieve the desired state. So it was with the soldiers, many of whom would paint the fronts of their featureless visors with all manner of decoration: skulls, card suite symbols, wild and alien eyes, national flags, and so forth. They could shift some of the blame for what happened at the end of their weapons to the helmets, and at that it wasn’t much of a stretch. They were already allowed to blame their commanders for the grander strategic failures of their combats; assigning a small bit of responsibility to a head covering was seen as a bonus.

This led to all kinds of complications when it came time to remove the helmets, and to retire from service the killing machines who wore them. Initially, veterans were allowed to keep the devices when they were discharged, along with their sidearms and sabers. This turned into reports of masked vigilantes and criminals engaged in every manner of horrific act back on home soil, and whenever captured and tried (which was a rare occurrence, as these former soldiers would, more often than not, go out in a blaze of glory or kill themselves rather than face trial) they would plead insanity and try to convince the courts that “the helmets had made them do it”. Could it be that the spirits of war and murder inhabited those devices? Psychologists tried to blame post-traumatic stress, but as the incidents mounted it was clear that the epidemic had a more complex explanation.

The fact was that it took more than a ceremonial discharge to take the “war” out of a “warrior”. We loosed on the civilian population hordes who we had trained to kill, people we had rewarded for state-sanctioned murder—in some cases, for upwards of a decade or more of their lives—and then thanked them for their services before booting them back out to normalcy. What did we think was going to happen? Add to that a tool, in the form of the mask, that offers a layer of psychic protection, and you have a recipe for disaster. Even after we stopped including the helmet in the discharge package, they were making their own or purchasing them from private contractors and reconstructing them. Everything about our military prowess was excellent, but the only way for our weapons to truly retire was for them to die on the battlefield. Ten years after the institution of the full-face helmets we had more civilian dead on our home soil than we had in any foreign conflict zone.

No one called this an embarrassment. For us, it was a catastrophe.

2015.01.28 – 2023.08.25

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