“I don’t like bullies.” This is the reply of Steve Rogers (the soon-to-be Captain America) when asked why he was trying so hard to join the military and fight in World War II. This simple platitude, repeated throughout the film, serves to distort the political analysis of an entire generation of the world’s working class. For millions of workers, the fight against fascism was not just a question of battling “bullies” like Hitler and Mussolini. The world’s working class fought the Nazis because it saw both the danger of fascism and the promise for workers that the Soviet Union embodied.
In many ways, the distortion of political motivations in Captain America is just as bad as the racism of films like “300” and “Transformers 2” because it obscures the history of our class and its ability to understand and evaluate complex political situations. Captain America fights with a multi-racial, multi-national squad of soldiers, including a Japanese-American and black soldier (the film fails to address the U.S. Army’s racist policy of segregation during WWII). Where is the story of their understanding of racism, capitalism or imperialist war?
Japanese in the U.S. often went to war under duress, as the only escape from the internment camps and as a way to try to prove that they deserved citizenship. Black soldiers went into war fighting for the Double-V: Victory against fascism abroad and victory against racism at home. This demand came out of the political struggles for civil rights that began in the labor struggles of the early 20th century. The denial of these rights after the war would reignite the struggle when soldiers returned home. In the years leading up to the war, thousands of workers from around the world voluntarily risked their lives to battle the fascists in Franco’s Spain.
Captain America’s distortion of the past reveals many important details about the ruling-class politics of the present. Along with changing the character of working-class resistance against fascism, the film embraces characteristics of fascism that the U.S. ruling class admires.
Capitalism’s fetishism of technology is revealed in both the creation of Captain America and in the military weaponry of the Nazis. Steve Rogers is turned into the hero through a special serum and machine. Using a mystical energy source, the villain creates a weapon that instantly dissolves its targets. The obsession with technology seen in capitalist society reflects a political reality: Vastly outnumbered by the working class, capitalists constantly promote technology as the power to maintain their class rule while pushing workers further to the margins. Inventions like the atom bomb were meant to take workers, who are considered unreliable by capitalists, out of the equation when it came to imperialist war. Yet their technology is no match for a united working class, a lesson the U.S. bosses learned well from their war in Vietnam.
The embrace of the Nazi eugenics program stands at the center of the film, bolstering U.S. racism. After reducing workers’ hatred of fascism to a “dislike of bullies,” the film then proposes a “novel” solution: take a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white man and genetically alter him, turning him into a super soldier to fight the Nazis. They declare a plan to build a whole army of these “supermen,” a “master race” if you will. They take Hitler’s dream and turn it into a celluloid reality. The film exposes the U.S. ruling class’s long obsession with racism and theories of genetic racial superiority (for more on this history see Edwin Black’s “War Against the Weak”).
Ultimately the film embraces the worst realities and myths of Nazism and it wants the viewer to embrace them as well. It distorts the mass worker movement against fascism that eventually crushed the Nazis because the ruling class would prefer that history did not repeat itself. Captain America sells workers (with their children as the target audience) Nazi-esque open fascism by draping it in red, white, and blue and hiding behind the façade of “innocent” comic-book fun.