Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Liberty on the Big Screen: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Welcome to the first installment of "Liberty on the Big Screen". In this series I examine specific films as they portray and advocate the principles of liberty. This week we are going to take a look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier. (WARNING: SPOILERS!)

In this sequel, Captain America must save the world from SHIELD's own giant flying aircraft carriers as the evil organization Hydra has infiltrated SHIELD from within. To make matters worse, Hydra has brainwashed Captain America's old friend and turned him into an evil super soldier. This movie, by the directors' own admission, is meant to make a political statement. Let us analyze and interpret that statement.

The Myth of Patriotism

Near the beginning of the film, Nick Fury shows Captain America the secret SHIELD program, Project Insight. The project involves building gigantic helicarriers that can fly around the world and, combined with military intelligence, can take out alleged "bad guys" wherever they are. Right away Captain America not only questions the need for such awesome firepower, but also the moral right to carry out such a mission. He says to Fury, "You hold a gun on everyone on Earth and call it protection. This isn't freedom. This is fear."

This is a healthy attitude to have. We must be skeptical. Unfortunately, there are many voices on the right and left of the political spectrum that will immediately shout down such a questioning attitude. People who do not believe that the military or police should have such unstoppable power are labeled "unpatriotic". If "patriotism" means the acceptance of an all-powerful militarized authority able to brutally murder anyone who crosses its path, I pass.

SHIELD Employees Were "Just Doing Their Jobs"

Captain America did the right thing by rejecting violent military aggression. However, in doing so, he became a fugitive from the law. He was a "criminal" by legal standards. What does that tell you about the law when good people can become criminals by simply doing the right thing? There is so much more to the truth than what the state (any coercive government) will tell you. We have all been taught (in state schools, of course) that the "law" is sacred and should be obeyed. We were lied to when we were told that only bad guys have anything to fear from the law. The truth is that what is on the law books is often wrong and it is morally acceptable to resist such things.

Not only did Captain America have to avoid the "authorities", but he also had to violently subdue several of them, even those who were not members of Hydra. Additionally, he destroyed billions of dollars worth of military equipment. This use of force against SHIELD employees and facilities was completely legitimate as Captain America was acting in self-defense, and also the defense of everyone in the world. Similarly, violence is justified when you must act to defend yourself or others against aggression, no matter what the law books say. If that thought irks you, remember that the rebels in the Revolutionary War were basically cop killers. There is no arbitrary line where defensive force against the "authorities" suddenly becomes justifiable. It is always justifiable. However, depending on timing and popularity, someone who employs defensive force against authorities will be labelled either a traitor or a hero.


Hydra had an ace up its sleeve in the Winter Soldier. He was a completely brainwashed super-assassin, always ready to accept his next assignment to eliminate some threat to Hydra's plans. At one point in the movie when he questions his orders he is physically abused and told that he is wrong to disobey. While we may not have to actually worry about brainwashed cryogenically frozen World War II soldiers with robotic limbs, the Winter Soldier does symbolize one of the state's greatest assets: obedience.

Generally, people are taught that obedience in itself is a virtue. In addition to this, most people do not learn enough to know when they should disobey. The state takes advantage of this all the time. Our political class always reverences adherence to the law (while violating it themselves). People are trained to obey the orders of the police, no matter what those orders are. The state accepts young men and women into the military and expects them to go along with the overall objective, no matter what that objective is. Like the Winter Soldier, people get abused by authorities all the time when they question the orders barked at them. At the end of the movie, Captain America only survived because the Winter Soldier disobeyed orders. Disobedience, when applied correctly, can be one of the greatest virtues an individual can have.


In the movie, SHIELD (basically a stand-in for the US military) is planning to combine military intelligence gathered from around the world, an algorithm programmed to identify future "threats", and giant weaponized drones capable of preemptively eliminating said threats. Everyone just went along with it, assuming it was ultimately for the best. Had it not been for the intervention of Captain America and his friends, Project Insight would have been fully operational and, assuming the rest of the Avengers do not exist in this movie, would have been completely unstoppable.

How can we apply this lesson to the US military? Most people believe that, whatever the military does, it must be for our good. American servicemen are basically worshiped by everyone (how many times have you stood and clapped for a veteran without knowing anything about him?). Most people accept and even encourage the military invasion and occupation of other nations (the absolute worst way to "support" the troops). Unfortunately, even if those things are done with the best of intentions by those in power (unlikely), it creates the perfect incentive for very evil people to take hold of government and use the military for their own purposes. The military that you might support right now can be instantly transformed into something that can destroy you and everything you love. Such a nightmarish scenario cannot easily be undone.


Near the end of the movie, our heroes have acquired massive amounts of data implicating SHIELD/Hydra in its quest for world domination. Black Widow wastes no time in uploading all the data to the internet to make it accessible to everyone even though it means revealing her true identify to the world. Black Widow does this even at the risk of aborting all legitimate SHIELD activities. In the end, it was justified in order to keep evil at bay.

Many people in the real world have been involved in publicizing classified information because of the enormous amount of wrong-doing done by the state. Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden are just three examples of people doing the right thing in the face of extreme risk to themselves. And it is amazing what can be accomplished by simply making the uncensored truth available to the public. This movie directly supports the actions of WikiLeaks and other efforts to make people aware of classified information.

An Evil Organization is Not Required

In the Captain America movies, Hydra was apparently destroyed at the end of World War II but it quickly reorganized and secretly infiltrated the newly-created SHIELD. Hydra realized that people would always defeat a direct challenge to their freedom so they changed tactics. Using their secret influence, they affected world events to cause chaos and confusion throughout the decades. Violence and terror were used as tools so that the people would beg for a mighty protector. When SHIELD finally became everything that people wanted, Hydra was ready to strike and finally realize their plans for global oppression.

How does that translate into the real world? There is absolutely no way to prove the existence of a secret evil organization that has taken hold of the US government. I am not surprised, since there does not need to be any such organization for evil to have a firm grip on power. The existence of the state is the only ingredient necessary in order for tyrants to reign and control us. The existence of the state automatically creates positions of immense power and influence. Those positions need to be filled and the most power-hungry members of society are immediately drawn in.

We all know that this is true! Virtually everyone recognizes the fact that politicians are obsessed with their own power. They are literal megalomaniacs! It is absolute folly to presume that politicians will go into the job with the intention of benefiting the average person. Our political leaders do not need some secret organization to help them do bad things. They do not need to quietly whisper to each other their allegiance to some ideology. Their quest for power in the political system will automatically ensure that evil will win every time! The only way to ensure that evil people do not rule over us is to eliminate positions of power. The only solution is the elimination of the state.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes a statement that is clearly opposed to the idea of the United States as a global policeman. It is opposed to the massive amount of spying done by the NSA and other intelligence organizations. It is opposed to the use of drone attacks and other aggressive military actions. The state is dangerous and the things that it tells you should never be taken at face value.

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