We watch “The Winter Soldier”, then see similar actions in our news. Can it inspire us to act?

Summary:  Hollywood produces a stream of superhero movies like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, vividly told tales of successful battles against oppression. They entertain us. But events move against us and we need inspiration. We have strength but not the will to use it. We can find it in our history, in our myths, and even in these movies. Rent a copy. Tell us in the comments how you felt when watching it.  {1st of 2 posts today}

“To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down. And that makes enemies.”
— Dick Cheney speaking to Captain America in “The Winter Soldier”.

“People need stories, more than bread, itself. They teach us how to live, and why. … Stories show us how to win.”
— The Master Storyteller in HBO’s “The Arabian Nights”

"Winter Soldier": Helicarrier Crash
Imagine the CIA crashing into the Pentagon.

Do we watch movies to gain new perspectives (as in this speech by Loki) and insights about our changing world? Or to grow accustomed to the dark forces changing our world, shock therapy so that we can read the newspapers with excitement but not hysterics? Consider the recent Captain America film “Winter Soldier”, an obvious allegory to the New American revolution begun by GW Bush and Obama.

Fury: This is Project Insight. Three next generation helicarriers synchronized to a network of satellites that locate objectives. Once launched they don’t need to come down. These new precision long range weapons will eliminate thousands of enemies per minute. Satellites read terrorists’ DNA while they hide. We’ll neutralize many threats before they happen.

Captain A: Punishment usually comes after the crime.

Fury: We can’t afford to wait that long.

Cap:  Point a gun at Earth and call iit protection? This isn’t freedom. This is fear.

We watch with excitement as our representative band of heroes — Captain America, the Falcon, and Black Widow — fight our government and win. It’s entertaining. But it’s only inspiring if when it touches our hearts. And we need inspiration to act, for our leaders build programs similar to Project Insight. As Andrew Cockburn explains:


The CIA has become notorious around the world in recent years for its leading role in incinerating high value targets with drone-fired missiles. This campaign, enthusiastically endorsed by President Obama, has been based on the presumption that the removal of individuals identified as enemy leaders is to the benefit of the United States.

Meanwhile, over at the Treasury, officials … have worked to perfect the use of economic sanctions to target selected individuals.  … recently developed techniques permit the economic incineration of a specific target.  Just as drones can strike across the globe, so economic missiles launched from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control are directed at distant targets regardless of whether the U.S. has jurisdiction — the mere threat to freeze a bank, or a bank with which the target does business, out of the New York money market is almost invariably enough to do the job.

… In the 1999 Kosovo war, for example, when our government was already enamored with precision targeting, friends and associates of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic were the subjects of “crony targeting,” their homes and businesses struck on the presumption that they would pressure the leader into surrender. Today, selective friends and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin are being sanctioned, banned from traveling, their overseas assets frozen, their businesses cut off from lines of credit,

Interestingly, these modes of offensive warfare employ similar language. Laser-guided Hellfire missiles are “smart” weapons, while economic warriors like to talk about “smart” sanctions.  CIA drone targeteers selecting victims on the basis of their behavior – so-called “signature strikes” – talk about “conduct-based targeting”, while David Cohen has used the identical phrase to me in discussing his office’s approach to selecting targets. {Cohen is Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence; Obama nominated him as deputy director of the CIA.}

Let’s expect to see these techniques used in America; as we have seen so many methods of COIN used (e.g., on the Occupy protesters). It’s the next logical step. The government surveils our email, our telephone calls, our bank accounts, and the movements of our cars. They seize our assets with little reason, giving us little recourse except costly litigation (see reports by the ACLU and articles at Reason). The next terrorism scare (real or manufactured) might blend the two so the government can go beyond their current methods of attack (e.g., income tax audits, increased regulatory scrutiny, police abuse) to signature strikes on your finances — or, eventually (now that Bush and Obama have build the machinery) outright indefinite detention or assassination.

There’s ample legal precedents for this. In Britain Parliament could decide your guilt without trial and levy punishment by a Bill of Attainder. In our more efficient system the President does it himself by a secret process leading to a “disposition matrix“. He’s ordered the death of at least one American citizen (al-Awlaki). The process has worked so well, with so little protest, that we should expect it’s more frequent use with a wider array of powers.


We’ve come so far in the 13 years since 9/11.

How much more powerful will the security services grow by 2027? Who will stop them?

We could  hope for the arrival of men and women in tights wielding fantastic powers. That’s what peasants have done for millennia, dreaming of a world after death when justice triumphs and their oppressors are punished (the 1% always encourage this).

Or we can use the machinery the Founders bequeathed us. It lies idle today, but remains powerful if used.

“The price of freedom is high. It’s a price I’m willing to pay.”
— Captain America, speaking to us.

… They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary as our government. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? … Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

We are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The three hundred millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible. … The conflict is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the streets of Washington! The conflict is inevitable — and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. …

— Patrick Henry to the Virginia House of Burgesses on 23 March 1775. Full text here.


For More Information

Another perspective on this film:

See all posts about…

  1. Sources of inspiration
  2. Art, myth, and literature
  3. Reforming America: steps to political change

Posts about heroes:

  1. A philosophical basis for the Batman saga.
  2. The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes.
  3. Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit.
  4. We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America.
  5. Our choice of heroes reveals much about America.
  6. Hollywood’s dream machine gives us the Leader we yearn for.
  7. The Lone Ranger tells us about America.
  8. Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?.



1 thought on “We watch “The Winter Soldier”, then see similar actions in our news. Can it inspire us to act?”

  1. Remarkable that no one has commented on this post. This movie seemed to me a transparent effort to rewrite very recent history — “Yes, America momentarily descended into Orwellian panopticon surveillance and undeclared martial law…but it’s OK, because spandex-clad superheroes saved us and made everything hunky-dory again!”

    Uh…no. America still languishes under Orwellian panopticon surveillance, and undeclared martial law. The Ferguson MO incident, in which a bizarre no-fly zone got declared in a region patrolled by “police” dressed in military gear with military weapons and SWAT tanks, shows us just how totalitarian the imposition of martial law has become for essentially trivial reasons.

    Viz., I was alive during the 1965 Watts riots. No tanks in the streets. No riot-armored soldiers with automatic weapons. A no-fly zone was not imposed despite whole city blocks getting torched.

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