Captain America Approach to Foreign Policy
Recently in the American Prospect, Ezra Klein wrote a blog post entitled “A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy” where he describes current American foreign policy in relation to Superman, Captain America, and Jack Bauer. While I understand the point Ezra is making, his understanding of comic book characters comes off as limited, and simplistic ignoring the very rich history both Superman and Captain America have. And “facts” cited are often inaccurate. So first let me set the facts straight:
“Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy.”
Fact: While Superman may be tremendously powerful, Captain America is very much human with extra speed and strength given by the super soldier serum to him. And while I agree both characters follow self-imposed rules, these have lead to questionable power and legitimacy, but more on that later.
“Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law.”
Well, Captain America has killed, and the fact is Superman is famously attacking a gang on the cover of Action Comics #1, pretty sure that counts as vigilante justice and working outside the law.
“Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination.”
#1 Captain America doesn’t have that type of strength. #2 Superman did try to impose his moral authority on the world in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace by ridding the world of nuclear weapons and the comic Superman for All Seasons. Also in Frank Millar’s brilliant Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, Superman is the arm of a fascist United States government imposing it’s will on the world.
“Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them.”
Captain America didn’t form the Avengers, case closed on that part of the argument. They were put together by the very Halliburton like, end justifies the means Iron Man.
“If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11.”
Well the issue here is that both Captain America and Superman were created before World War II. They reflected the Great Depression and unease of immigrants and the populace as a whole. Superman is the immigrant. Shipped off like Moses to our world from a dying planet and being adopted by a mid-west couple. Captain America was a great example of ra-ra flag waving. He was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby who were repulsed by the growing power of the Nazi’s in the lead up to World War II. His first appearance is in Captain America #1 which debuted in 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor. In this issue he is already knee deep fighting Nazi’s something the United States had yet to do. Much like throughout the years Marvel’s Universe and characters were often ahead of the times when it came to international issues or domestic policy. Captain America was a call to action against oppression and intolerance much like the character Jack Bauer is a reaction to the current political climate. Those early Captain America stories showed rather racist depictions of Germans and later Japanese much like Muslims may be depicted unfairly on the television show 24.
The latest layers of the Captain America mythos is what’s truly amazing and what Ezra clearly misses. In a recent origins series it’s revealed that Steve Rogers was not in fact the first Captain America. In truth the super soldier program that created him had a Tuskegee like past leaving many African American men crippled in their later years. His shining beacon of democracy was tainted by the sins of his creation. As mentioned above Captain America entered World War II far before the United States did in the real world.
But this isn’t the last time that he would be a part of a offensive defense of democracy. In the recent mini-series Secret War Captain America was part of a secret operation to overthrow a democratically elected government who was secretly funding and plotting against a terrorist attack on the United States. But what’s most interesting was his turn as a anti-United States resistance fighter in Civil War. In standing up against a Patriot Act like legislation Captain America leads a band of heroes against government regulation. While standing up for the liberty he represents he in turn becomes an enemy of the state and terrorist.
Captain America is America, both sides of the same coin. He represents the interventionist, the patriotic, the benevolent, the aggressive, the diplomatic, the tainted past, liberty, freedom, democracy, a real reflection upon the nation and it’s people. The question is what Ezra proposes in the end, “Do we want the foreign policy of Jack Bauer and John Yoo, or of Clark Kent and George Marshall?” The fact is we have been living the Captain America Approach to Foreign Policy since our founding.