America the Avenger

BY MARGAUX BAVILSIK

Who’s your favorite superhero? The childishly egotistical, but somehow endearing Iron Man/Tony Stark? The misunderstood billionaire troglodyte, Batman-Bruce Wayne? Pubescent Peter Parker-Spiderman? Or maybe you’re more of an X-Men person—pick a power, any power. Or you could be traditional, partial to Superman–the man with every power except that of being interesting.

Regarding foreign policy, it is not a stretch to consider the U.S. as a sort of vigilante/superhero. “With great power comes great responsibility,” says Uncle Sam Ben. And the U.S. certainly does have power that far surpasses the abilities of other countries, be it in economic sway or military might. So if the U.S. mimicked a superhero in its foreign vigilante policies, which one does it most closely resemble?[1]

Let’s start with Batman, “the hero [the world] deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” He’s got billions in cash and can buy all the military toys he thinks he needs, including sharp bits of bat-shaped metal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he had U.S. military grade bat bombs too. He claims to be isolationist and antisocial, but frequently intervenes in the region’s socio-political movements and justice system. Additionally, he causes one to wonder if there is any correlation between his continued presence and the unique brand of criminals attracted to Gotham. Is he part of a polarizing system which brings about reactionary movements simply because he is there? Do his actions demand a counteractions? If Batman disappeared and Bruce Wayne went about business as usual, would crime remain ordinary—dangerous and undesirable certainly, but without militant fanatics threatening to detonate nuclear bombs? However, unlike certain global superpowers, Batman seems limited to domestic meddling.

Tony Stark/Iron Man also has all the money and all the toys. Unlike Batman though, Stark needs to be the star of the show, needs to have his entry announced by loud rock-n-roll, and needs credit for being the most brilliant and most clever human being to ever walk the face of the earth. He is driven by personal gain more than vague moral values, even if he likes to impress these tenuous values onto others. He intervenes more broadly than Batman, taking on shady Russians, Middle Eastern terrorists, and even nuclear weapons. While he does engage in philanthropy, it seems to be based on his desire for attention, to throw grand parties and look good. He does abide by the law though, even doing a stint in prison. And he is a businessman first and foremost, whether he is manufacturing weapons, armor, and sustainable energy systems. If there is a market, he is there. Even if he ends up selling weapons to terrorists.

On the opposite end of the economic spectrum is Peter Parker/Spiderman. He too is an orphan, but his beginnings are humbler than most. Parker fights evil and crime in order to protect those he loves, and because he seems to genuinely believe it is partly his obligation. Other times, he gets dragged into massive conflicts with villains because of misplaced and poorly enacted good intentions—situations that became more convoluted and more dangerous because he intervened in the first place.

The obvious suggestion is that the U.S. is more comparable to Captain America (or vice versa) because the Captain is representative of America and its proud (military) values. But Captain America is dated. Not past his prime, but from another era, and so is unable to thrive in the contemporary era. Gone are the sentiments of WWII, where wars were fought between good and evil, freedom and hatred, right and wrong. Things are more complicated now. Other flashier characters have made their way to the field, often crowding him out and overshadowing him. Morality seems more situational, more flexible, and even the best solutions are riddled with controversies.

The Avengers films probably offer the best analogue to America, particularly in the dynamic between Iron Man and Captain America himself. The Captain, the good old boy, frequently comes into conflict with the tech genius/entrepreneur Tony Stark. Their methods are completely different, their strategies and rationales ostensibly incompatible, and their values disjointed and unaligned. Yet at the end of the day, they pursue similar, grandiose global goals of safety and the victory of good over evil (contrived and complicated though it may be). And while they definitely go beyond the limits of legality and convention, they do it not because they want to, but because that their abilities require them to serve and protect others.

Whether or not these superheroes accurately reflect American foreign policy, though titillating to consider, doesn’t have much long term value. Criticisms of the heroes have more to do with construction of a character and trying to entertain an audience with them. This article suggests that because the U.S. has the ability to intervene, it ought to—a drastic oversimplification. However, if America were a superhero, would you cheer for it? Would you want it to cheat death and fight bad guys? Or are the bright Golden Age Comics too garish for this contemporary era? Do we need something more subtle? Are we really finished with heroes?

[1] As the majority of the representatives of the United States (e.g., in Congress) are white men, it seemed appropriate that most of the superheroes suggested here also fit into that demographic. Also, apologies to those who worship at the altars of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, etc. For the sake of the casual reader, most references refer to the latest cinematic storylines.

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Margaux Bavlsik is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at mbavlsik@wustl.edu

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