Monday, April 8, 2013

Case File 07 (A Soldier's Legacy)

The Best at What They Do

Two of Marvel's most storied characters are Wolverine and Captain America. Not only are their own individual tales rich, but they share a great deal of common history. Both are survivors, masters of martial combat, and soldiers. Captain Steven Rogers and Corporal Logan are veterans of the greatest war in human history, the second world war. Each man has legacy in wake of their service. Sadly these legacies are separate and echo truth in reality.

This is sad because one legacy is everything that both men deserved, while the other is a travesty that no soldier deserves, yet so many recieve.

The American Icon

Steven Rogers was born in 1922 to Irish immigrants. He was scrawny and sickly boy, who grew up into a scrawny and sickly young man. Because of his frail constitution he was ineligible for military service. Despite repeated attempts, and going as far as lying to recruiters, he was always turned down. The German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine, selected Rogers as the test subject for project "Rebirth"; which was testing a "super soldier" formula. The super soldier serum turned Steven Rogers from physical weakling, fragile as a preteen girl's sense of self, to the pinnacle of human speed, strength, agility, and endurance.

On that day, Captain America was born. Sadly, Nazi spies assassinated Dr. Erskine. With his death the formula also died. Originally Rogers was meant to be the first, instead he became the only. Since he was the one and only he was utilized as an icon, in addition to being a soldier. Thus, Captain America put on his signature suit and was given his shield.

He fought the Nazis and his arch nemesis the Red Skull, cementing his legacy. Before the war ended he was frozen in ice, surviving thanks to the super soldier serum, and being preserved for decades. Some seventy years later his body was discovered and he was revived. Steve woke to a world very different from the one he left.

There are two important effects upon him and the world, as a result...

Canonization of American Saints
Similar to Catholics, an important part of the American mythos is the deification of idols, post mortum.

In death, our heroes become larger than life.
This applies to our soldiers more than any other. This is in part a coping mechanism for the families and the nation as a whole: the dead live on, in their sacrifice and service. Service of the national interest is the second part of this canonization. If the dead are deified, they can be used as icons to inspire and motivate the nation and its people. Captain America's "death" canonized him; so when we returned to the world, he greeted as a god of sorts. This put him in the odd position of fighting against his own legacy, at times. A "dead" person cannot object to how their iconography is depicted or used...Captain America is one of a super select few that have had the opportunity to do so. Since he has become deified, and the icon of him is so powerful, upon his return, Steven Rogers recognized the importance of maintaining his own legacy. This is not merely significant to him, but to the nation and world at large.

Ultimately, all American icons could carry the same potential power, though not to the same extant. When their deaths and memories are used in "the interest of the nation", an advocate is needed to defend or uphold their sacrifice, since they cannot. If we are going to deify our deceased heroes, then it only stands moral reason that we treat them as holy. To regard something as holy, is to hold in regard higher than yourself and your purposes. In short, if we do worship our dead, then we must not use them for petty political or personal gain.

With that said, there are moments that call upon a power greater than what can be personally summoned. To combat a threat like the Nazis, or one similar in scope, then the world and nation needs the power of iconography. It is a thin line between needed and abused power, and complicated knowing when it is appropriate or not. But this is the responsibility that falls to us, in the absence of heroes; we must rise to their standard.

You Can Never Go Home

Much like Frodo at the end of Return of the King, Steven Rogers can never go back to "normal". Where as Frodo has simply changed too much as a person to be happy in his old life; Steven's has passed by him. In the decades since he was frozen, his life and the world he knew has disappeared. He went to war and when he came back, his home was gone.

Home is more than your place of habitation; it is your place of common association and comfort. In a similar fashion: friends are more than people that you know, and family is more than those who you share genes with. Friends and family make a place home. This is why Steven cannot go home, his loved ones are gone and the world is very different from the one he knew.

For every soldier coming home, this is not a fictional tale. When they leave, they return to a home that is not home. The horrors, tribulations, and just day to day mechanics of war prohibit a true return to normalcy. They are different people than ones who left. In addition to them changing, their worlds didn't stop moving when they left. People grow older and change, children grow up, elders die, accidents happen, love interest find new people, and friends move on.

Essentially, their lives start over upon their return. Just like Steven Rogers, American soldiers often have to start from scratch. While they may be adored, they are lost. Praise and acclaim cannot replace a lost life. Only, though time, a new life can fill in the hole left by the lost one.

Proud to be an American
Since he comes to us as an icon, a shinning example of all that we aspire to, we accept and adore him. His pain and struggles are things that we are willing to deal with because they do not reflect poorly upon us, our nation, our system, or our world. Captain America is clean, and doesn't pose a threat to the mythos or system of America; he reinforces them. The sad truth is that we accept Captain America and soldier like him because they don't threaten us. We are not held to account for any crime that the system or the mythos has committed.

Their iconography can used to advance the nation interest and morally reassure our decisions. Dead soldiers are much easier to use for these purposes: for they can't object, or corrupt their own divinity by virtue of being human.

The Ultimate Weapon

Wolverine was born James Howlett, the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Howlett and Thomas Logan, in 1880's Alberta. As a boy, Logan killed the senior Howlett, in retaliation for firing him after learning of his wife's affair. In a fit of rage, his genetic mutation awoke, and with hid bone claws he killed his father. His life has never been normal or pleasant.

He took on the name Logan and fled with Rose, his childhood babysitter. As it has become the pattern of his life; Logan fell in love with Rose and she was killed shortly after. For decades Logan lived in the wild north, alongside a pack of wolves. Always moving, even when among humans, Logan made a life for himself...
doing what he does best, and it ain't pretty.

The combination of his claws and such an advanced regenerative ability, turned Logan into the ultimate weapon: a nigh unkillable killing machine. Naturally, he flourished in war. Logan is a veteran of World War I, World II, Vietnam, the CIA, black ops, and SHIELD. There is no more experience soldier than the Wolverine. Later in life, he would be an X-Man, Avenger, and head master at the Jean Grey School of Gifted Youngsters.

Given his impressive life and service, why is he not celebrated like Captain America?

The Moral Expense of American Power
Succinctly said, Wolverine is intentionally forgotten because of the horrors inflicted upon us. After his time spent with black ops, Logan was put into the Weapon X program. The purpose of the program was to create the ultimate weapon, similar to how the super soldier serum was meant to create the ultimate soldier. The main difference being informed consent. Steven Rogers was presented with a procedure where the likely side effects had been clearly enumerated. There was very little to no deceit.

Weapon X however, possibly abducted Logan. Even if they had received his consent, they certainly did not share the true intent of the experiment. The program started by surgically binding the metal admantium to his skeleton  Combined with his regenerative abilities, this effectively made Logan indestructible. The trauma of the procedure would have killed any other subject. It is important to note that his regenerative abilities means that he can recover from any injury. What ever pain is inflicted on Wolverine is still felt, regardless of whether or not the injury endures.

Following the physical mutilation was psychological torture. Logan's mind was wiped and reprogrammed to be a mindless killer. By mind wipe, I mean amnesia induced by trauma.After they had removed his free will, memory, and moral judgement he was loosed as an assassin. Logan has been forced to do unspeakably evil things, devoid of his own agency.

These crimes done against him were done in the name of the national interest. He was abused as a guinea pig to defend the nation and government, who had entirely forgotten his worth beyond being a weapon. They objectified him as a tool and not as a person. As a soldier, that's what was expected of him. To combat enemies like the Nazis, the powers that be; were willing to commit many of the same acts that they had condemned.

This is the moral expense of maintaining such a high level of military power; soldiers becoming tools, not people. A machine the size of the modern military industrial complex, cannot recognize the individual worth of a soldier as a person. Morality is phased out as we lose scope and touch with humanity; resulting in a system that justifies the morally, ethically, and legally repugnant under the banner of the national interest.

Wolverine is the by product of this amoral, inhuman system of weaponizing people. By making him a weapon, we deprive him of his humanity, which justifies his treatment as a tool.

Broken, Forgotten, Shunned, Dangerous
Why are war heroes who survived the war forgotten, when those who died are deified? There are two answers to this question: the first is an indictment of society, the second is an indictment of the instituions that society allows for.

1.) Inconvenience: after cutting through all the patriotic bullshit, most people don't want to deal with surviving veterans because they don't want to have to deal with them. War and violence have consequences that are neither quickly or easily reconciled. The night terrors and PTSD don't stop simply it stresses your family. You can't simply turn a switch of 'ready for combat at any moment' to 'perfectly well adjusted in normal society. For most people, it is easier to ignore these messy, complicated issues all together; as opposed to helping another person cope or reconcile.

2.)Threat: the institutions that people quietly abide are threatened most by their own work. People will go out of their way to turn a blind eye, but certain sights cannot be unseen. While the humanity that is absent from the institution is not absent in the people, the people do not readily defend it in fear of the consequences of turning a blind eye. For if they did look, they might realize that the institutions they have made are every bit as bad as the monsters that they are trying defend themselves from. To see and acknowledge the horrors committed on their behalf, would result in the moral realization that the institutions must be destroyed. But that would be even more inconvenient.

For these two reasons, the people and institutions have a vested interest in minimalizing the exposure of the forgotten soldiers. This is also why they are not deified: to deify them means to consider them holy and respect them in kind. The inevitable conclusion they would reach, is that the tools of war deserve far better than they have received. They deserve their humanity.

Born In the USA
Yes, I know he was born in Canada...but that's not the point!
Go listen to Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, actually listen to it, and don't just let easy patriotism wash override the rest of your brain. In fact, here's the lyrics, so you have no excuse...

Born down in a dead man town 
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground 

You end up like a dog that's been beat too much 
Till you spend half your life just covering up 

Born in the u.s.a., I was born in the u.s.a. 
I was born in the u.s.a., born in the u.s.a. 

Got in a little hometown jam 
So they put a rifle in my hand 
Sent me off to a foreign land 
To go and kill the yellow man 

Born in the U.S.A... 

Come back home to the refinery 
Hiring man said son if it was up to me 
Went down to see my v.a. man 
He said son, don't you understand 

I had a brother at Khe Sahn 
Fighting off the Viet Cong 
They're still there, he's all gone 

He had a woman he loved in Saigon 
I got a picture of him in her arms now 

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary 
Out by the gas fires of the refinery 
I'm ten years burning down the road 
Nowhere to run aint got nowhere to go 

Born in the u.s.a., I was born in the u.s.a. 
Born in the u.s.a., I'm a long gone daddy in the u.s.a. 
Born in the u.s.a., born in the u.s.a. 

Born in the u.s.a., I'm a cool rocking daddy in the u.s.a.

Most people consider this song to be mindnumbingly patriotic or openly resentful of America. Both are wrong. This is a song about real people in a real place; not an icon on a shinning hill.
For NOOO reason, what-so-ever!

For those who are willing to accept the consequences of fighting a war, especially the aftermath, understand that this is a song about the long road back from war. Just like Cap, Wolverine can't go home; but unlike Cap, it's not because his home has changed. Wolverine never had a home. He only found one in the aftermath of the horrors visited upon him. After the evils we abide had broken him, the people who helped him put himself back together became his family, and their house his home.

It's a good thing they treated him well. We weren't going to.

Why I Say "We"
You'll notice that I have been referring to the citizens of the US in the fictional Marvel universe as "we" and "us". I've been doing this because they are representative of "us" in the real world. What they are responsible and held to account for, applies in reality.

please post questions and comments to the post on my blog @

No comments:

Post a Comment