Oh my god I
I hate this reading of World War II so
I hate this reading of Steve Rogers so much
Okay I just
Steve Rogers’ story, as much now as it was in 1941, is very much the myth of the United States’ foreign policy identity leading up to, and especially following, the attack on Pearl Harbor. Steve Rogers doesn’t want to kill anyone. Steve Rogers just doesn’t like bullies. Steve Rogers, big strong handsome blond man with a shield, wants to protect the little guy because he knows what it is to be the little guy. Because a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion. It is, therefore, critical to our understanding of Steve Rogers, for the purposes of the cinematic universe, that he should be encased in ice somewhere around 1943 or early 1944, before the U.S. started launching its aerial attacks on the Japanese civilian population. Back when the American strategy in the Pacific was still largely one of island hopping—of pushing the bad guy out of its ill-begotten territories. Along those lines, it is equally important that Steve Rogers’ war is almost exclusively the war in Europe—leaving aside the history of the racialized violence that characterized the war in the Pacific, the European war is one of physically liberating civilians, of pushing the invaders out of people’s homes. Because the U.S., like its captain, does not like bullies.
Steve Rogers was not complicit in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki because on multiple levels, he was not there.
But he would have hated it.
Steve Rogers didn’t go all in for war because his country asked it of him. In fact, until he was chosen to be Captain America, Steve Rogers actively chose to break laws in his attempts to enlist when the army told him that he couldn’t. Steve Rogers went all in for war because it was ideologically sold to him in terms that made sense and that mattered. Because the U.S. was still able to make the argument that it was the country that he wanted it to be. And to say that Steve doesn’t know about Watergate and about Vietnam when all through the Avengers he keeps talking about his lost bearings—(“they didn’t say what we lost”/”I hope I’m the right guy for the job). No, he knows. Whether SHIELD told him up front or he had to ask about it or he went out and sat in the back of a city college classroom to listen to someone about Tony’s age tell him about the sacrifices of his generation that were nothing, from this distance, but the groundwork of the United States becoming the country he never wanted it to be—with the help, of course, of weapons manufacturers like Stark Industries (the weapon you only have to fire once—that’s how America does it.)
of course he knows.
Steve Rogers would have hated the war in Korea. Would have hated the war in Vietnam would have hated the war(s) in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would have wondered why the U.S. didn’t do more earlier to interfere in Bosnia, would have screamed until he couldn’t breathe over its lack of action in Rwanda.
And Steve Rogers isn’t a fool. Steve Rogers knows how public opinion is generated by a man in leggings made out of rationed wool saying empty words in order to sell an identity to a nation in order to convince it to fund a war against unseen others overseas. Saying that America has “grown up” since “Steve’s war” is to ignore the fact that his participation in this machine was always constrained by his own set of ideological terms and conditions—and to ignore the direct lineage that led us from one war into another. And then another. And then another.
Because at the end of the day, America hasn’t grown up. And that’s the point. The point is that Steve Rogers continues to be the dominant myth of our foreign policy identity. Steve Rogers isn’t what we wish we ever were, Steve Rogers is what we think we still are. What we thought we were going into Vietnam in 1954—and what we were convinced we still should have been slinking out of it in 1975. And the basic point, here, for better or worse, is that Steve Rogers isn’t happy with the things that led us from point a to point b. It’s not about the defeat, to him. It’s about the abuse of power, the abuse of strength.
The material point is that Steve Rogers is disappointed.
Steve Rogers is disappointed in part because even the war he was fighting wasn’t the war that he thought it was. And to deny him the reasoning capacity to understand that is basically to reduce him to the same dancing monkey in tights that he was at the start. Steve Rogers gets it, guys. The point is not that he accepts the American mythology uncritically or all the way. The point is that he has been made into the American mythology and that, knowing how it has failed, he now wants to make it right. Because the purpose-driven Captain Rogers has to do something. And where America will not, he still wants to make it right.