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The Avengers and U.S. foreign policy

Elliott Pearce | Monday, September 24, 2012

I saw “The Avengers” when it played as the SUB movie a couple of weeks ago. In addition to gratuitous amounts of magical and technological destruction, the movie contained one very striking scene. In it, Loki, the movie’s main villain, commands a group of innocent bystanders to kneel before him outside of a museum in Germany.

“Kneel before me. I said… KNEEL!” he shouts. The crowd nervously kneels down. “Is not this simpler?” Loki asks, surveying his new subjects. “Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.” One old man stands up in the middle of the crowd.

“Not to men like you,” he declares.

“There are no men like me,” Loki retorts. He is a member of an ancient and extremely advanced alien race that the Vikings once worshiped as gods when they came to earth. Loki fancies himself a god and wishes to rule the world as such at the head of an alien army.

“There are always men like you,” the old man answers back. Loki, angry at being dismissed by a senior citizen, fires a bolt of energy from his glowing spear at the old man. Just before Loki’s laser beam vaporizes the wide-eyed geriatric, Captain America leaps in front of the old man and blocks the beam with his shield. The laser ricochets right back at Loki and knocks him down. Iron Man and Black Widow soon join Captain America and aid him in capturing Loki.

This three-minute scene from an action movie beautifully illustrates how the dignity of the human person always asserts itself. Every so often, powerful men start to believe that they are superhuman and can crush their fellows like insects. “An ant has no quarrel with a boot,” Loki says later in the movie. The victims of these self-styled gods and supermen, though, recognize that these people are mere humans who have let power go to their heads. Courageous people stand up to these tyrants, revealing that their beliefs about the nature of the human person are wrong. We are made for freedom, not slavery, because our wills are subject to no one but ourselves. Force may be able to compel and even destroy the body, but it has no control over the mind.

The movie also makes an interesting statement about America’s role in the world. Captain America saves the defiant old man from destruction and reflects Loki’s violence back at him. Most Americans would like their country to be a defender of freedom that shelters the innocent behind its star-spangled shield. They would like to see murderers, tyrants and despots “get what they deserve.” As recent events have shown, though, defending freedom is not as simple or easy in real life as it is in the movies.

Last summer, the United States worked with several other nations to help the Libyan people stand up to a brutal tyrant who had been suffocating them with an iron grip for more than thirty years. The conflict ended with the death of Muammar al-Gaddafi, the capture of Libya’s capital, Tripoli, from his forces and the installation of the National Transitional Council as Libya’s interim government. This outcome looked to all like a resounding success. However, around the same time that “The Avengers” was playing in DeBartolo, an angry mob ostensibly protesting the release of an anti-Muslim movie killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Similar violent protests have taken place throughout the Middle East.

Something tells me there is more to this near-simultaneous series of attacks than a single, universally condemned movie. Wherever there is a power vacuum in the Middle East, a member of the loosely affiliated network of radical Islamic terrorist organizations rushes in to fill the gap. Tyranny in that region and around the world is like a hydra; if one head falls, another takes its place. For example, Al-Qaeda is reported to be allying itself with the uprising in Syria in the hopes of taking power there if the current Assad regime falls.

The people of Libya, Syria and other nations threatened by actual or potential oppressors still want and deserve our help. Libyans escorted our pilots to safety after an American plane went down on their soil and waved American flags once Gaddafi was gone. But we cannot stomp around kicking over anthills and creating more problems than we solve as we have in the past. America must find a more subtle and comprehensive way to combat tyranny in order to stand up for the dignity of the human person in today’s dangerous world.

Elliott Pearce can be reached at Elliott.A.Pearce.12@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.