Today, I would like to examine and really explain the themes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
I will admit that comic book movies don't usually make a stand on anything at all. Thus, when this installment in the Marvel Universe established the theme of liberty's importance, it naturally made me pretty excited (even more so than I was just by the fact that it was, you know, Captain America).
In the movie, Captain America finds himself working for S.H.I.E.L.D., a bureaucracy which he believes has too much power and is veiled in too much secrecy. His main problem with this is not that it is inherently bad, but just that he refuses to trust a bureaucracy so large.
Director (of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Fury of course wants to calm his fears about S.H.I.E.L.D., but instead of trying to persuade him that S.H.I.E.L.D. does not endanger liberty, he argues that the slight infringement of liberty is necessary to protect security.
He even goes so far as to show Captain America three highly weaponized helicarriers to demonstrate how they can "Neutralize threats before they even happen."
Captain America responds (all of this is before the Winter Soldier is introduced in case you were wondering),
"I thought the punishment usually came after the crime...This isn't freedom; this is fear."
Benjamin Franklin would approve of Captain America's sentiment. Remember this popular quotation,
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
For the movie, it will turn out that both of these men would be right. During circumstances in the movies that I would rather not spoil for my wonderful readers, the "Bad guys" get a hold of these deadly weapons. The rest of the movie is centered on how to prevent them from using them.
But the bad guys want to absolutely destroy freedom because they believe that freedom is inherently self-destructive. You see, man just can't be trusted with his own freedom, and thus, he needs to be told what to do.
It's a generic and cliche motivation for a villain, but there is a reason for that. It's an argument that has been around for a while and that many intelligent people have fallen prey into believing. Unfortunately, the argument fails for a simple reason. If we can't trust men with their own lives, how are we to trust the same men with the lives of others.
This is what the bad guys show us in their entire scheme. Their means to international security and peace are heinous at best. Trusting them with the power of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not wise at all.
But the Captain makes the case that trusting S.H.I.E.L.D. with its own power is also not very wise. He believes that S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to govern the lives of others just as much as the bad guys do. Though they may still argue for freedom, they have forgotten what that actually looks like in their pursuit of security and interstellar peace.
Captain America sees no real difference between the tactics of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the tactics of the bad guys except whom is targeted. He does not believe that we should trust any bureaucracy with that power.
In fact, at a crucial point, S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to simply regain their own access to their deadly weapons, instead of destroying them. But Captain America refuses to stand for that!
He understands that we have to prepare for government at its worst, not at its best. Not just because that power can be commandeered by those with evil motivations, but because all men can make mistakes, or be corrupted by the seductiveness of power.
Captain America understands that liberty is important and must be protected by limiting the power of the government entirely. We must be careful not to surrender too much power and give away too much liberty to our government in hopes of security.
This may seem costly, but as the Captain says in a really cheesy, yet incredibly awesome monologue:
"The price of freedom is high, but it's a price I'm willing to pay."