Captain Amerikkka: Whitewashing History
Captain America [sic] is an obvious work of fiction. The Nazis never had day-glow, power-of-the-gods weaponry, nor did the US have super-human soldiers. However, there is a frightening whitewashing of history that occurs in this Hollywood super-hero flick. The United States involvement in WWII is one of the only times the US has been even nominally correct in its belated efforts to curb Nazi Imperialism. However, the history of WWII is much more complicated than America = good, Nazis = bad.
The film opens with Nazi officer Schmidt discovering an ancient artifact in Norway that is possessed of the power of the gods. Schmidt intends to use this to create incredible weaponry with which he might take over the world (classic). The film’s protagonist is a small-statured young man, Steve Rogers, who is desperate to join the army to fight the war in Europe. He attempts to sign up many times, but is declined due to his numerous health problems. Dr. Erskine, who defected from Germany because he did not want his discoveries used by the Nazi regime, eventually discovers him. Rogers is sent to train for a special unit and is eventually selected for a life-changing procedure because of his exceptional determination, kindness, courage, and brains. Rogers is made into a super-human by Erskine’s serum and a machine of Howard Stark’s invention (predecessor to fictional war-criminal and arms dealer Tony Stark). He is used by the U$ as a piece of propaganda, traveling the country promoting the sale of war bonds. It is not until he arrives in Europe to perform for the troops that he enters the fray. Rogers frees several captured soldiers from the grips of the evil and crazy Nazi officer Johann Schmidt. It is revealed that Schmidt was treated with an incomplete version of the same serum used on Rogers as he rips off a mask revealing a “red skull” beneath. Rogers saves Amerika from certain destruction by crashing a plane armed with weapons into the Arctic and sacrificing himself.
One of the most important players in the war were the Red Army of the Soviet Union. It is often argued that the Soviets, who lost many millions of people (estimated between 23.4 million and 26.6 million) to the Nazi invaders, were the real reason for the defeat of the Third Reich. However, the Soviets are conspicuously absent in this film about a hero of WWII. There is not a single mention of the eastern front, or those who fought there. The war is mis-characterized as an Amerikan adventure in Europe. There is no real understanding of the social forces that brought so much of the world into a bloody war. The film is a perfect example of how Amerikans routinely glorify themselves and distort history.
Captain Amerika represents the everyman Amerikan. He is the bravest, the smartest, the nicest, and now he is the strongest. He is also a cracker. White chauvinism is evident in the choice of the WASPiest looking actor to portray Amerika’s ultimate soldier. This blonde-haired, blue-eyed, muscle-bound man represents settler Amerika, not America the continent. If we were to have a real Captain America, he would represent the denizens of the continent of America, the indigenous and colonized peoples, not the white settler (m)asses.
This film has a tendency to mystify or glorify the Nazis. The movie paints them (or the main Nazi henchman) as purely evil with no rationality. The Nazis regime was one of terror and blood. They were an aspiring empire like all empires (and pale in comparison to the Amerikan empire in its centuries-long project of land theft and genocide) and were driven by motives of expansion and imperialism. The movie portrays the Nazis as lunatics exercising their sadistic tendencies (which some Nazis certainly did). However, the machinations of the Nazi war machine had clear aims. The Nazi regime carefully planned their numerous invasions including, France, Poland and eventually the Soviet Union. This movie portrays the Nazis as an abstract evil that can only be fought by the forces of abstract good (i.e Amerika).
Captain Amerika relates something of the Cult of the Soldier that still holds strong today. Captain Amerika represents the ultimate soldier and is revered as such. His fellow GI’s are also treated with great respect. The Cult of the Soldier exists today as well. The pigs in Iraq and Afghanistan are admired by many Amerikans as being the guardians of the “Amerikan way of life.” They certainly are guardians of the Amerikan way: invasion, atrocity, imperialism. Captain Amerika romanticizes this affection even further. Rogers is portrayed as a handsome, caring, intelligent man who “never backs down from a fight.” He is a hero in every sense of the word, in body and mind. The modern western media often characterizes U$ soldiers as men beyond reproach, just as Captain Amerika appears to be. The reality is these men commit atrocities and war crimes in oppressed nations, including, but not limited to rape, torture, and the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as Depleted Uranium.
The whole super-hero genre is an homage to Amerikan exceptionalism, and this film is no exception. Steve Rogers is the only one of his kind. The serum, developed by Dr. Erskine, is lost when a Nazi spy assassinates the doctor. Rogers is the only recipient of the treatment (besides Red-Skull) and is now privy to superhuman strength and healing. He mounts a successful one-man rescue mission. He leads his band of soldiers (who are portrayed as exceptional themselves) behind enemy lines. He single-handedly thwarts the crazy Nazi, Red-Skull, and saves New York through self-sacrifice. Amerikans love to believe they are special, just like Captain Amerika, and that they deserve all they steal. The reality is Amerikans are paper-pushers who live high-on-the-hog through super-exploitation. The real heroes of the world are not super-human; they are men, women, and children who fight together for their own liberation.
The character of Peggy Carter is also a demonstration of Amerikan values. The film, in an attempt to appeal to a modern audience, shows Carter punch out a soldier in the beginning of the flick. However, this show of force is nothing more than pandering to the female chauvinist pigs that would make up the audience for this film. Peggy Carter is not an important character to the film. She neither drives the plot nor develops as a character. She parades around the base in her form-fitting military uniform with lovely hair and painted lips. She is not an independent actor on the plot or even as a soldier. Her part in the film is as a sexual object. She exists so that the virginal Rogers might have a love interest. She exists only for Captain Amerika to kiss (or fuck) when he’s done saving the day.
The reality of WWII is much darker than the pretty package offered by Captain Amerika. It was not handsome GI’s in uniform, or red-lipped women with perfectly coiffed hair. It most certainly was brutality, blood, and atrocity. The Nazis were not the only side to engage in atrocity. US soldiers committed a fair few of their own, particularly in the Pacific Theater. Amerikans took few trophies on the Western front, because the men they were fighting often enough looked just like them. However, the practice of collecting human trophies was common in the Pacific Theater, where US soldiers frequently took fingers, hands, teeth, and even skulls from among the dead who did not look as European as the Nazis did. E.B. Sledge, a marine deployed to Japan, recounts when a fellow troop showed Sledge a trophy the troop had collected, “He explained that he thought a dried out Japanese hand would be a better souvenir than gold teeth. So when he found a corpse that was drying in the sun and not rotting, he simply took out his kabar and severed the hand from the corpse.”1 Amerikan soldiers were nothing like the squeaky clean GI’s of the film. They were frequently war criminals, not freedom fighters.
Hydra is a fictional Nazi organization from the film that conducts research in an effort to develop better weaponry. Red Skull and his simpering assistant, Dr. Arnmin Zola, develop weaponry that harnesses the power of the gods (acquired earlier in the film). This type of research and development pales in comparison to actual Nazi R&D. The Nazis routinely experimented on human subjects in an effort to improve combat technology. “Subjects were exposed to various gases, infectious diseases, subjected to extremes in climate. Many subjects died as a result of these experiments and many more were executed or vivisected.” 2 The flashing blue lights and vaporized guards from the film turn the very real violence of Nazi “science” into comic book action. The technological development of WWII was certainly about the search for more effective armaments; from the earliest advances of aerial bombardment (such as the Norden bombsite) to the development and deployment of nuclear weaponry. However these developments did not result in the clean corpse-less death of a comic book movie, it resulted in the death of millions of civilians and the destruction of entire regions.
Steve Rogers explains his reasons for wanting to enlist: “I don’t like bullies.” Rogers’ ironic quip sets the tone for the whole movie. There is no bigger bully than the United States and its centuries long project of land-theft and genocide. If you don’t like bullies, Steve, you’re on the wrong damn side. Captain Amerika never indicates just why the Nazis are so darn evil (or why Amerika is do darn good for that matter). The movie relies on Westerner’s ahistorical conception of WWII and the Nazi regime to depict a crazy villain out for world domination. Certainly world domination was part of the project, but in a more sophisticated sense than the classic villainous motive. The Nazi regime was focused on empire. They committed genocide and invaded and slaughtered millions. There are concrete reasons why the Nazis were “bad.” The Nazis were not just about some crazy asshole on a treasure hunt. This kind of accounting of history diminishes the real struggles and terror of war. The implications of whitewashing history go beyond misunderstanding WWII. All of Amerikan history is whitewashed (literally) from the genocide of the first nations to the U$ / NATO attacks on Libya. Captain Amerika is just another part of Amerika’s continued attempts to distort history in its favor.
Defeat U$ Imperialism and Its Lackeys, Especially Captain Amerikkka!
1 Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed : At Peleliu and Okinawa. Oxford University Press: 1990
2 “Guatemala Syphilis Experiments, Another Crime Against Humanity by the U.S.” anti-imperialism.com