Back when I was younger I practically lived for super hero comic books. I lived vicariously the adventures of the heroes and heroines within them. And before I grew up and got “respectable” I wanted to be a super hero and, if I may be frank, a part of me never really outgrew that. And it’s with sadness that I realize I can’t, that the world doesn’t work that way and I would accomplish no more than to get myself stupidly killed accomplishing nothing.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t good inspiration that can be taken from comics. And one of my favorites back before my general disaffection with comics (part of their generally becoming darker long about the mid 80’s–I pretty much drifted away after DC’s “Crisis on Infinite Earth’s”) was Marvel’s Captain America. Well, it was recently brought to my attention that as of the “Civil War” arc of a few years ago Cap was still a worthy source of inspiration:
“I remember the first time I really understood what it was to be an American…What it was to be a patriot.”
“I was just a kid…A million years ago, it seems sometimes. Maybe twelve. I was reading Mark Twain.
And he wrote something that struck me right down to my core…something so powerful, so true, that it changed my life. I memorized it so I could repeat it to myself, over and over across the years. He wrote –‘In a republic, who is the country?
Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a temporary servant: it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. It’s function is to obey orders, not originate them.
Who, then is the country? Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it, they have not command, they have only their little share in the command.
In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country: In a republic it is the common voice of the people each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak.
It is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians.
Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man.
To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may.
If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have your duty by yourself and by your country. Hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of’.”
Cap continues, “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.
This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences.
When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree besides the river of truth, and tell the whole world–
—No you move.”
This, of course, isn’t the first stirring speech that Captain America made. He was noted for them. Another good one, involving his intervention in an altercation between a neo-Nazi group and a group of Jewish counter-protesters. Protest and counter-protest quickly grows into riot. Cap intervenes, breaking up the fight, and…
“All my life I’ve had a habit of making speeches. Some people have criticized me for it. They may be right. Because I cannot express with words the horror I feel at seeing what you’ve done here today.
Don’t you realize that in your attack, you’ve attacked your own freedom as well?
The Freedom that guarantees all ideas–both noble and ignoble–the expression that is imperative if our society is to survive!
[TWIB: speaking to Jewish protestor] You! Can’t you see that in stooping to your enemy’s level–you’re being made over in his image–that you’re becoming the very thing you loathe?
[TWIB: Speaking to Neo-nazi] And You! In your fear and ignorance you deny reality! Rewrite history! I wish I could take you back with me to the day we liberated Diebenwald [TWIB: Presume this is the name given to one of the death camps in the Marvel Universe]–let you smell the stomach-churning stench of death–let you see the mountain of corpses left behind by the corrupt madman and murderer you idolize!
You two aren’t interested in the truth—are you?
You’re only interested in your own self-consuming hate.
Two of a kind.
Even in short bits:
When a government functionary demanded that he submit himself to following government orders:
I’m not Captain President or Captain Government. I’m Captain America.
Or when a General comments that he knows Captain America is loyal:
[TWIB: Touching the hem of a flag] I’m loyal to nothing, General–except the dream.
Since then, the company that put those words in Cap’s mouth seemed bound and determined to destroy the very ideals he stood for.
But the old ones are still out there, and still worthy of being a good place to seek inspiration.
5 thoughts on “Inspiration from a Comic Book: A Blast from the Past.”
Many people have forgotten that America is the idea, not the markings on a map nor a particular piece of soil. It’s something people like Don Lemon don’t understand, but try to influence people into believing, wrongly, that America is the land that we live on rather than the concept in hearts.
G. K. Chesterton noted that America was the only nation founded on a creed rather than “blood and soil.” Indeed, it’s really the only nation you can immigrate to and become one of its people. Sure you might move to someplace else, say, Germany. You can assimilate thoroughly into their culture. You can become a naturalized citizen. And if you do all that with extreme diligence your grandchildren might…might be thought of as “German.” Maybe. If no one around remembers that their grandpappy came from somewhere else.
Whereas here, some of the most “American” people I know are immigrants–Sarah Hoyt, Mike Williamson, others–people I’m proud to call American. They just had to put in a bit of extra effort to get here.
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So…in a riot with Jews vs Nazis…Cap decides that both sides are equal? Uh huh. Who wrote that issue? I’m gonna guess Denny O’Neil.
Way to miss the point.
So long as the neo-Nazi group was doing nothing more than speaking and peaceably assembling, then they were entirely within their rights, to wit: “The Freedom that guarantees all ideas–both noble and ignoble–the expression that is imperative if our society is to survive!”
And when the Jewish counter-protestors actually started the violence (as happened in that issue) they lose their moral superiority, thus, “You! Can’t you see that in stooping to your enemy’s level–you’re being made over in his image–that you’re becoming the very thing you loathe?” And note the use of progressive tense. Cap is describing an ongoing process, he’s not saying that the members of the radical Jewish group had become equal to the Nazis but that they were moving in that direction and really should consider a change of direction if they don’t like that destination.
The answer to odious speech is more speech, not violence, and not censorship. After all, if their speech is so bad then, as another character in another medium put it, “Let him speak, that men may know him mad.” If your ideas really are superior to theirs, then you should welcome the opportunity their speaking out provides. Their bad ideas will make your good ideas seem that much better by comparison.
But when you attempt to censor folks, no matter how odious their ideas, then all you do is get people wondering what you’re afraid of. You don’t convince people that they’re wrong by censoring them. You only show them how little faith you have in your own position, that you lack confidence in your ideas being able to stand up to opposition. As yet another character put it. “When you tear out a man’s tongue you don’t prove him a liar. You only show the world that you fear what he might say.”
And, of course, when you get the government to shut down opposing views, no matter how vile, you only set yourself up for the government to shut you down when it serves the government’s purposes. Anything government can do for you, it can do to you.
Cap, in his original stories, fought actual Nazis in an actual war. Indeed, at the time the comic in question was coming out he was also fighting folk like The Red Skull (actual Nazi), Baron Zemo (actual Nazi), Hydra (Nazi organization). The pathetic skinheads going by that name involved in that protest (and in the US today) couldn’t organize a bake sale let alone the conquest of most of Europe (however briefly they were able to hold onto it). Considering them anywhere near the actual Nazis whatever name they may choose to call themselves is to give them far, far more credit than they deserve. A few thousand (at most) people out of a nation of 300 million. The only importance they have is what the Media gives them in its ongoing attempt to use them to paint anyone to the right of Lenin as somehow being “Nazi adjacent”.